Still, even Disney, the patron saint of Efron's career, is rapidly making plans for a world without Zac. At last count, the original "High School Musical" had officially reached 200 million viewers worldwide, but that was the number trumpeted before it opened in China on Sept. 17. Disney is fast apace plotting local-language productions, with local stars, and has already been running a televised talent show in both Argentina and Mexico to cast the Latino versions of Troy and Sharpay. The new theatrical film reportedly will introduce new characters that can continue the singing and dancing after the original crew graduates. By boosting the ensemble quotient, Disney will be able to avoid a replay of Duff-gate, the implosion of the "Lizzie Maguire" franchise after a negotiating spat with star Hilary Duff.
But for Efron, the teenager from Arroyo Grande who just two years ago was being driven to auditions by his mother, the moment is now. He's popular, wholesome, untainted by the rampant scandal that torched the career of Disney's last sensation, Lindsay Lohan. Big-name directors are going to sniff a lot less dismissively when his name is broached.
"He's going up, up, up," says casting director Joseph Middleton, who once cast Efron in a pilot for director Doug Liman. "Everything is pretty much open to him. There's no stigma attached yet. You're going to have those directors for whom he's going to have to prove himself. He may not be offered the part, but he will have the opportunity to read for the part, and he's a really good actor."