When we talked to Zac Efron about his new movie, '17 Again,' he revealed that he'd looked to his father as inspiration while prepping for his role as a grown man transformed back to his teenaged self. In real life, Efron's not regressing by any means -- from TV guest star to big-screen leading man, he's blossoming, as a star and an actor.
Click through as we trace the evolution of Zac Efron. His dad should be proud. -- By Angie Argabrite
Steve Granitz, WireImage.com
Efron made his acting debut in Joss Whedon's short-lived 2002 cult series 'Firefly,' as the younger version of Simon (Sean Maher, pictured). Though some actors become Whedon-ites, appearing in various TV shows, films and even web series from the 'Buffy' creator, Efron was to follow another -- brighter -- path ...
Zac followed up his first TV gig with guest spots on such shows as 'ER,' 'The Guardian' and 'CSI: Miami' before landing his first recurring role, on the Lori Loughlin WB family drama 'Summerland.' He played Nikki's (Kay Panabaker) cutie-pie boyfriend, Cameron Bale. The blinding light emanating from Efron and fellow future teen idol (and series co-star) Jesse McCartney must've burned the retinas of tween girls across the country.
Efron got his big break in '06, in a little made-for-TV Disney movie called 'High School Musical.' Though the flick featured an ensemble cast, with Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu and Monique Coleman, Zac's portrayal of basketball hero Troy Bolton was a star-making turn for the young actor. And 'HSM' provided not only a career boost for the teen, but a love interest who has proved as enduring off screen as on.
Hudgens played Efron's 'High School' girlfriend, Gabriella Montez, and the pair had such chemistry that their romance continued after the cameras stopped rolling. The couple have stuck together through thick (all that 'HSM' hysteria) and thin (Hudgens' nude photo scandal). That's what we'd call a good boyfriend. Swoon.
Steve Granitz, WireImage
No stranger to screaming admirers, Efron told us that his craziest fan experience just happened in Australia, "when a girl showed up dressed in her mother's wedding dress and proposed. I said 'yes,' so I think I'm getting married now." We don't think Hudgens will be thrilled to hear that news.
Tony Barson, WireImage.com
Don't Stop the Music
The same year that 'HSM2' premiered on the Disney channel, Efron made his major-motion-picture debut, in the highly anticipated musical-based-on-a-play-based-on-a-John-Waters-film 'Hairspray.' Though his role as singing-dancing heartthrob Link Larkin didn't stray too far from 'High School' material, Zac proved he was big-screen ready. Shrieking girls everywhere agreed.
'Me and Orson Welles,' in which Efron had his first starring role in a non-singing and/or dancing film (and a drama, no less), generated good buzz from its Toronto Film Festival screenings. Directed by cult auteur Richard Linklater and co-starring critics' darling Claire Danes, the movie was an early sign that Efron was looking to stretch as an actor.
Getting in 'Toon
Zac first showed he had a sense of humor about his career when he appeared as Billy Joel in the Cartoon Network's irreverent, bawdy series 'Robot Chicken.' He's also credited in the show as voicing Harry Potter, Horgg, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf's character in 'Transformers') ... and a bowling pin. (Note to parents, if you're reading this over your kid's shoulder: We strongly advise you not to let them view this show. Watch it yourself -- you can thank us later.)
The Gang's All Here
The 'HSM' series got so big, Disney couldn't contain it on the small screen. The third installment was unleashed in the multiplexes
-- to an impressive $42 mil opening weekend. That's the good news for the studio; the bad: The 'HSM' stars have outgrown 'High School,' and since they graduated in part '3,' don't expect to see Efron (or Hudgens, Tisdale, Bleu or Coleman) returning. Sure, new kids are being groomed to take over, but can producers capture lightning in a bottle twice?
Fred Hayes, Disney