Zac Efron is the new king of comedy, and he’s loving every minute

Bad Neighbours 2 star shed his wholesome Disney Channel image to embrace the bawdy humour of Seth Rogen franchise. Now he’s looking forward to his next cinematic adventure

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 May, 2016, 3:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 May, 2016, 3:53pm

Zac Efron recalls cruising his motorbike around sunny Venice, California, in May 2014, when he was hailed by an admirer.

“It was this cool-looking dude who recognised me. And he said, ‘I saw you in Neighbors last night and that was amazing,’” Efron recalls, beaming. “Man, it was the happiest moment of my life when he gave me a five-part handshake. It was like an initiation.”

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The outrageous comedy Neighbors (released as Bad Neighbours outside the US) was an initiation of sorts for Efron, now 28, showing that the star of Disney Channel’s High School Musical could bring the R-rated (not for viewing by under-17s unless accompanied by adult) bawdiness onscreen. He succeeded: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (released overseas as Bad Neighbours 2) is in cinemas now.

Sitting outside a replica Delta Psi Neighbors fraternity house on the Universal Studios lot, Efron appreciates his new naughty niche.

“Comedy is where I fit in right now. This has been a dream year,” Efron says. “For several years in my early 20s, I kept saying, ‘No, no, no’ to projects. It was a lot of waiting for good material and kind of a depressing time. It wasn’t really working.”

Neighbors did work, however initially shocking for fans of his more wholesome image. Efron kept up with star and producer Seth Rogen and injected sincerity into his rowdy fraternity leader Teddy – now the emotional centre of Neighbors 2 as he struggles to move beyond college life.

Nicholas Stoller, who directed both Neighbors films, says Efron has comedy chops and those chiselled looks don’t hurt.

“There are very few people who look that way that are very funny. Zac brings both things,” Stoller says. “It’s scary for the normal-looking comedians trying to ply their trade.”

Efron is also willing to revel in the raunch while bringing what Stoller calls hyper-preparedness. Two days before a comical male revue-style dance for Neighbors 2, Efron discovered there were no choreography plans in place. Stoller assumed Efron would improvise.

“That was like ‘Oh boy,’” Efron says. “You cannot just dance. That’s not how you do it.”

Efron dialled a choreographer friend who jetted to the Atlanta set. The final routine to the song Booty Loose is a show-stopper.

“I learned some simple Magic Mike -esque moves,” says Efron says. “And it all worked out.”

Now that he’s proved he can own the movie comedies, Efron says he’s ready to show off more moves career-wise. Next he’ll appear with Adam DeVine in the R-rated Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, out July 8 in the United States (and August 18 in Hong Kong), and he’s currently filming the debauched movie version of Baywatch with Dwayne Johnson (for a May 2017 release).

“I’m excited for my next adventure,” Efron says. “Whether it’s drama, musical, or who knows? Something different to shake it up.”