Because Steers and Efron had such a good working relationship on 17 Again, they were excited about the prospect of getting back together for another big studio project. "Burr called me and said, 'Are you serious about this? Because I'm in.' And I'm like, 'All right. Let's do it.' So, he really responded to it and that was just exciting to me. I was stoked. I knew this was even more so in Burr's wheelhouse than 17 Again, and I just knew we'd be lucky to have him involved," explained Efron.
Efron admires Steers as a director because he's so generous with his actors. He hardly ever gives his cast notes, but Steers does run over after takes to touch base with his cast. "He's got so much to say, an opinion or a new point of view or something to think about, which is great for me," admitted Efron. "I enjoy that much attention from your director. I think it's great. When they're not worried about the other stuff, they really care about your performance. He's performance-oriented, definitely, deep down."
And speaking of performances, Efron and his young co-star did some bonding away from the set to get that brotherly vibe going. "We tried to have fun and do stuff outside of set. What'd we do? We went to hockey games. We saw a bunch of sports and stuff. And then we just played catch every day and sort of got in that rhythm. Yeah, it was fun."
Efron also had to work opposite the lovely Amanda Crew, and having her as his onscreen love interest wasn't exactly a difficult day on the job. "Amanda was really fun to work with. She was really easygoing, and for romantic scenes and stuff like that, I've never really found them intensely or incredibly awkward, which I was supposed to be during this. So, I think we found common ground," offered Efron. "We held each other's hands through this whole experience. I don't know. We just got along really well. There was nothing to be nervous about. The only weird part was that, in the movie I guess it makes sense, but being in a graveyard for that love scene was kind of a little bit weird."
The film has supernatural elements and in real life Efron said there was a haunted house near his home when he was growing up. "[...]There was this house that I had to drive by on the way to school every day. And it's this big, pink house. I can't remember the name of the hotel. All my friends from home are going to slap me. Not the Madonna Inn. I don't live that close to the Madonna Inn. But it's this giant...it's this big, pink house. People get married there and stuff. And there was always this rumor that in the top bedroom - there was a weird, attic bedroom that they never rented out, but no one could really stay in it. It was closed off to the public. And there was just a bed in it. It was, apparently, a little girl's room. And I swear that place was haunted. It's just so scary. And people talk about [it]. Everyone who works there says they've seen the ghost and stuff like that."
Efron isn't one of those actors who absolutely refuses to look at himself on screen, and he credits the director of photography Enrique Chediak with making him - and the entire film - look fabulous. "Enrique was a real, cool, fascinating DP and he's very, very good at making everything look really beautiful. That's what struck me the first time I saw it. And I still have not seen the final draft of the movie, but I noticed that, first and foremost, the way the ocean looked. The way it was depicted, I loved that."
"As far as looking at myself on screen, I tend to, especially the first time around, I pick out every single flaw or things I should have or could have done better," admitted Efron. "I don't know why. I just tend to dwell on those things. I'm more of like a cringer at first. And then when it's years down the road and it's out of the way I can actually look back and appreciate it somehow."
And Efron's appreciative of every opportunity he's been given to date. He chose Charlie St Cloud because he wanted to do a more mature, character-driven story, but not everything comes easy. As appreciative as he is of High School Musical and every door it opened for him, he's ready to move on. "It's not like I have total freedom to do whatever I want to do right now. I think that when I look at movies now, there's a million factors that go into it. But first and foremost, I look at the type of movie, the messages. I really do care about the audience that's been so devoted to me so far," said Efron. "I would hate to leave them behind or betray them in any way. So, rather than leaving them [or] leaving the responsibility up to them to follow me into these new films, I think that the best way to think about it is I need to stay relevant. And to do that, I want to grow up, live my life, experience things, make movies about those experiences and then by the time the audience catches up, hopefully they'll have a movie there that helps them get through that next phase when they discover life isn't always like High School Musical."
Tackling the lead in Charlie St Cloud seemed like a step in the right direction for Efron as he tries to step out of his safety zone and accept more challenges. "I definitely look at it for myself, as well. 'What am I going to be able to do with this character? Is it really something I can see myself doing? Can I pull this off?' With Charlie St. Cloud, I had my doubts. I was like, 'Man, this would be a real emotional role.' And then when Burr signed on it was like, 'He could probably get it out of me.'"
Making the transition from Disney kid to taking chances on more adult opportunities was something Efron thought carefully about before jumping in with both feet. "I think, definitely, there's sort of a style to those that I knew I didn't want to stick with forever. Because it's incredibly fun - I dig those movies. High School Musical, you're in your element in those things. It's just [that] I'm constantly chasing the dragon, so to speak. I don't know if that's a weird term to use, but you know what I mean. I’m trying to bring that energy to all of the things that I do."
"I definitely think that we - me and my manager, Jason Barrett - we wanted to make movies with substance. And rather than doing more stuff like High School Musical and sort of doing that until it gets tired or old, I'd rather move on and try new things and see how deep the rabbit hole goes, how far we can take it. And that's just diversity. I noticed early on, even when I was doing High School Musical, that I knew the actors and the movies that I was seeing were not anything like High School Musical. I recognized in the actors that I appreciated in the movies that I was going to see that it was about diversity and innovation, and not being afraid to take risks and try new characters and interesting perspectives and messages and things. So, I think that's what we tried to do, straightaway."
Efron's quick to point out one actor who's made the leap and never looked back. "Well, one person that comes to mind for me right now with Inception coming out is Leo [DiCaprio]. I think Leo's a guy that's been through all this. He knows exactly - oh, I'm sure he knows how this felt, at one point or another - and he just continued. He persevered and stuck to his guns and went through all different [times], the best and the worst of times and made the coolest movies and some that didn't work so well. Regardless, he's doing it and he's survived and now, just now, he's starting to make some of the coolest movies of his career."
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Charlie St Cloud hits theaters on July 30, 2010.