CATEGORIES Movie NewsDennis Quaid and Zac Efron chew on some dramatic family dynamics in Ramin Bahrani's new film "At Any Price." Golden boy Efron plays rebellious Dean Whipple, a tough teen who would much rather race cars on the local circuit than take over the family farming business. His dad Dean (Quaid) is feeling the pinch of the economy and changing farming climate, where genetically modified seeds are a crucial part of the new economy. "At Any Price," which is part of this year's Tribeca Film Festival, is the latest drama from independent writer/director Ramin Bahrani, who shares writing credits with Hallie Elizabeth Newton. His previous movies include buzzy arthouse favorites like "Goodbye Solo," "Chop Shop," and "Man Push Cart."
Although things between Efron and Quaid get hairy onscreen, they're a chummy duo when we meet to talk about the film. The cast that Efron was sporting at the MTV Movie Awards has since been removed; the injury took place while he was filming "Townies" with Seth Rogen. "I actually hit the floor. It was stupid. It's going to be a funny fight scene, though," he admitted.
Were you familiar with each other's filmographies before you started working together? Were you like, "I'm gonna check out 'High School Musical.'" "I'm gonna check out 'Innerspace.'"
Zac Efron: We actually knew each other because I did his charity golf tournament in Austin a couple years ago. And of course, I'm familiar with Dennis' movies. He's been in so many great films. I've seen probably just about all of them.
So you guys were already comfortable with each other before entering into this sort of antagonistic dad-son relationship?
Efron: Yeah, it was funny. I really look up to him, and then in the scenes we have a pretty strained relationship, so it was kind of against instincts.
Dennis Quaid: It came out of the script, basically, what was there. It's not the kind of relationship I have with my sons, nor that he has with his dad, but it basically just happened naturally.
There's obviously a lot of political issues attached to GMOs and farming, but the movie puts a personal face on it. Were either of you interested in these sorts of issues beforehand?
Efron: Ramin said the story sort of came out of his search to find out where his food comes from, and I'd say I was definitely curious. I like to eat healthy, I care what I eat. But I love that Ramin doesn't try and he doesn't really have a strong opinion on the subject. He asks questions.
Quaid: I think he has an opinion, but he doesn't make it an agenda and force it down people's throats. It's not preachy, this film. He wanted an audience really to be in the story of the people, and yes, all of this is around it, and one does get a feeling and an idea about what's going on, but this is not your typical farm film where the bank is foreclosing on the farm and the inspirational music is playing. I was aware somewhat of what is going on and the face of American farming nowadays, but I have more of an education about what is happening, and I could see both sides of the issue, too.
Zac, I understand Seth Rogen had a lot of fun filming a shirtless scene with you, in your upcoming film "Townies."
Efron: Yeah, he improvised all that! You never know what Seth's doing. You just wind him up and let him go. He's insane. It's awesome.
It seems like it would be hard to keep up with someone like Seth.
Efron: It's shocking how good he is at improvisation. I've never really seen anything like it. At the same time, he keeps it very real. But everything's useable. I'd say, when I improvise, a good 20 percent is good enough to have a shot at maybe going in the movie.
Zac, you've made some really interesting career choices. How are you avoiding the pitfalls of growing up?
Efron: I look at my role models, and Dennis is a great example -- that guy that changes it up. As soon as you think you have him pegged, he's learning to play piano for a film. I think changing it up and aligning yourself with people that you respect, their passion kind of rubs off on you. Ramin's films were just touching. I thought if I had a chance to work with Ramin, I'd like to work with him over, really, anything else.
Zac, you're friends with one of the coolest actresses in Hollywood, Rebel Wilson. Are you gonna be in "Pitch Perfect 2"?
Efron: Oh! I don't know. I haven't really looked into it. Are they doing "Pitch Perfect 2"?
They're doing "Pitch Perfect 2," and you and Dennis both have singing and dancing chops and need to make that happen.
Efron: I would love to work with her. Quaid: He's the one that really has the dancin' chops. I can sing, but... Efron: He's got moves! He's in a rock band. Quaid: It's totally different when it comes real dancing. Zac could be Gene Kelly. Efron: "Pitch Perfect" would be fun.
She says you're a good rapper. Efron: Yeah? [laughing] That's so funny she says that. We just have a great time when we're together. She's so sweet. She's really super funny. She did a great job at the MTV Movie Awards.
I noticed one of the big pull-quotes for "At Any Price" is from Roger Ebert -- it's very complimentary towards you, Dennis, which is awesome.
Quaid: That definitely felt good. I grew up in my career with Roger and his partner Gene Siskel, of course. Roger was really the keeper of the critical faculty here in America and I think all critics and writers really looked up to him. We've lost one of the greats.
He absolutely inspired an entire generation of journalists like me, for better or worse, right?
Quaid: I think it was for the better, on his part, because he really raised the bar for everybody, and kept that bar up.