Zac Efron signs autographs for fans at "The Lucky One" premiere… (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Associated…)
Ever since the “High School Musical” series concluded, Zac Efron has been trying to distance himself from his days as a teen pinup.
But his first major drama, 2010’s tear-jerker “Charlie St. Cloud,” didn’t do much to cement his reputation as a serious actor: The movie earned tepid reviews and didn’t make a significant dent at the box office.
The 24-year-old is hoping things will finally change with “The Lucky One,” the Nicholas Sparks adaptation coming out Friday in which he stars as Logan, a soldier trying to track down the subject of a photograph he believes kept him out of harm’s way during wartime.
“This was a role that was a big stretch,” the actor acknowledged Monday night at the film's premiere in Hollywood, where the carpet was decorated with faux grass, tumbleweeds and hay bales.
“I don't think you could find two different people on this planet than me personally and Logan.
"I really admired his integrity. But he's a Marine. I'm just a musical theater geek.”
Director Scott Hicks said Efron was clear early on about his intention to show a different side of himself in “The Lucky One.”
“We definitely talked about that and his desire to move into a new phase of his career,” Hicks said. "Clearly, this is a very transformational role for Zac Efron. ... The demands of the character were someone who has suffered from a certain amount of stress from the war, so he's very uncommunicative. He's so different to Zac's own personal nature, which is so charming and outgoing and easygoing.”
Efron was also the perfect age to play a Marine, said novelist Sparks, who has seen the likes of Channing Tatum, Ryan Gosling and Liam Hemsworth play leading men in films based on his books.
“He brings such tremendous ability as a performer,” Sparks said. “I think this will lead the ground for him to be a leading man in a lot of different films.”