Zac Efron

For Zac Efron, real-life high school wasn’t always so musical.

“There were countless days when I can remember making a fool of myself,” admits the shaggy-haired heartthrob. “You know, all those awkward encounters. It’s very easy to get caught up in the social aspects of high school. Looking back, there were probably a lot of times when I made an idiot of myself.”

The 21-year-old star of the “High School Musical” juggernaut now graduates from study-hall song-and-dance numbers to slightly more adult fare in Burr Steers’ comedy “17 Again.”

In the film, Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry) is a regretful 37-year-old with an estranged wife, a stalled career and a strained relationship with his kids. One night, after an accidental plummet into the Los Angeles River, Mike suddenly finds himself in a body swap with his younger 17-year-old self. Enter Efron as young Mike, a high school senior who now gets a chance to rewrite his life and fix everything that once went wrong.

“The idea for ’17 Again’ was intriguing,” recalls Efron of what drew him to the part. “It was just something completely different than the other roles that were out there. So much of acting for me is about variety and trying different roles. Mike is a totally different character than Troy Bolton. Essentially, he’s an undercover father. It was nothing that I’d been through before, mentally and physically.”

Once Steers (“Igby Goes Down”) signed on to direct the Jason Filardi script, that’s when the film “became a real opportunity” for Efron.

“He really elevated the material,” praises the actor of Steers’ ability to add nuance and edge to the movie’s main characters. “I understood what he wanted to do with the film. He approached it with passion. He motivated me.”

But for Efron, playing a grown-up man in the body of a teen definitely posed creative challenges. “Having Matthew there centered the character, and that gave me a place to go,” explains the self-reflective thesp of how Perry guided him through the process. “I have no idea what I’m going to be like when I’m 37, but having Matthew there gave a dry sarcasm to young Mike, and that was fun.”

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