Zac Efron (the High School Musical franchise) provides the voice of a teenager named Ted who's out to impress a pretty girl (voiced by Taylor Swift) by finding a living Truffula Tree in The Lorax, based on the popular Dr. Seuss book. All the trees have been destroyed by the Once-ler in order to make his bestselling line of Thneeds, and now because of his greed, the inhabitants of Thneedville have plastic lawns, artificial trees, and polluted air. Dr. Seuss' book has an important environmental message, and the theme of taking care of the Earth holds true throughout The Lorax feature film.
At the LA press conference for the Universal Pictures release, Efron talked about that important message, Dr. Seuss' books, and the experience of voicing Ted in this family-friendly animated comedy.
Zac Efron The Lorax Press Conference
When you were 12 or 13, was there any cute girl down the block that you would fly your airplane plane into her yard or use any excuse to see the girl? What would you do?
Zac Efron: "I don’t know. I had a babysitter named Brooke. I guess she was in high school so what was I? Was I 12 or was I younger? I had a big crush on her. She was really spontaneous and fun and loved to make us sing and dance and paint. I was like, 'Gosh, she’s the coolest person in the world!’ I guess I did have my young love."
Did you do anything to impress her?
Zac Efron: "I did everything to impress her, everything possible. It was ridiculous."
The theme of this film is all about trees and the environment. How green are you and what do you do to be green? How did you feel about the message of the film?
Zac Efron: "I try to be green as much as I can. It’s hard; I feel like I'm never doing enough. Here I am sitting drinking out of a plastic bottle because that’s what you get handed. I’ve always been searching for a way to get more involved and to help. I feel like this movie with the message that it has, it’s finally like a really organic way to be able to help get involved for me as an actor. There are only so many things you can do. This is a way through film to teach and hopefully get the message out to young kids. As they say in the movie, 'It only takes one seed,’ so I think we are planting those seeds."
What did you think about your animated character? At what point did you see it?
Zac Efron: "Early on I saw just a rough picture, it wasn’t even computer animated yet. I had just seen sort of like a hand-drawn version. I really liked it. I thought it was cool. He seemed like your regular, spontaneous, too smart for his own good, young guy."
This is an animated musical and obviously you have a lot of experience with musicals. Can you talk about the music in the film?
Zac Efron: "I wasn’t involved in the songs much. My character didn’t really sing that much. I thought that they brought a lot of charm to the movie, a lot of fun. I love musical numbers anywhere. In the last musical number, my favorite shot is when they pan back and it’s just on that little girl swishing her hips back and forth. Did anyone else notice that? I thought that was so clever. I don't know who comes up with these things over there. Those guys are so funny and clever. It was really fun. I had a good time."
How was recording your first animated character?
Zac Efron: "I was nervous the first time. I was a bit self-conscious just because there is a camera on you and the microphone is so close. As with anything, you've just got to let go. You've just got to let go and don’t be afraid to be crazy. Danny was the one... I actually looked up a clip of Danny working on a previous project and saw how he was doing it. He’s a wild man in there. He’s a wild man! So the next time I went in there I said, 'Screw it!' I went as crazy as possible and took it to the next level. It was fun."
What were your thoughts the first time seeing the movie?
Zac Efron: "The first time he’s trying to leave the town via the air duct or whatever it is, it was like taking me to a whole other world. It looked incredible in the 3D and I thought, 'This should totally be a ride at Disneyland.' It was so neat and it was really fun. The only bad part of doing that is we had to record, literally there were entire sessions where I just go, 'Whoa! Awww! Hey! Look Out!,' for hours. They would leave it on, leave recording and I would just do every single guttural sound imaginable."
Did you notice anything that you did physically in the booth coming out in your character? Did you make a gesture or jump some way that the character did?
Zac Efron: "I don’t know. When you’re in it, you're kind of in it. I know there were a couple of moments that I remembered it was me and I could see it most specifically. The people I watched it with, like my friends and family said, 'Oh my god, he was you.' So I guess they noticed."
Were you a Dr. Seuss fan from way back?
Zac Efron: "Yeah, I started reading them in high school. [Laughing] No, I have a lot of vivid memories of my parents and me reading these books. They would read them to me. It’s frozen in my mind - I can see them all. I still have them in what used to be my room, it's been turned into a spare room at my house. I’ve been kicked out. My little brother took over my room."
Was The Lorax in your childhood rotation?
Zac Efron: "It was. It was, yes. My parents read that to me a bunch when I was younger."
Do you have something in common with your character?
Zac Efron: "Yes, he’s sort of a hopeless romantic. He’s adventurous, he’s persistent, he’s stubborn, kind of annoying, pretty funny. He has a big imagination. I’d like to think I’m all those things. He learned that all for me. I taught him everything he knows."
Ted just goes and risks his life practically to get this girl he likes a tree. Have you ever liked somebody so much that they wanted something bizarre and you went and got it for them?
Zac Efron: "Yes, sure."
Can you say what it was, without saying the person?
Zac Efron: "I like humor and spontaneity and something you wouldn’t expect, so catching someone off-guard is always really fun. I’m a big practical joker and you can make those very romantic."
This movie has a lot of themes about responsibility and being green - it's not just all about growing trees. When you read the script and looked at the whole idea was there a certain theme you really wanted to get behind?
Zac Efron: "Yes, the big one is for the environment. Like I said, I was searching for a way that I could do more. I always wanted to get involved and this seemed like a great way in. I felt like this could be a way I could help truthfully and honestly to spread a great message."
When you were starting out in your acting career, is doing an animated voice something you wanted to do?
Zac Efron: "I always wondered if the opportunity would arise. I always hoped it would, dreamed it would. I wanted to try but everyone’s voice is different. A lot of my friends do only voice-over work. It's crazy. I don’t know if I have a voice for voice-over."
Did you ask any advice from your friends?
Zac Efron: "Yeah, it’s different. For me, I was trying not to make a voice so much as be my enthusiastic self. I don’t have that many great altered voices that some people do have."
You did all the recording individually but how was it when you came together with the cast?
Zac Efron: "It was great. Everyone was very cool. I’m a huge fan of Ed [Helms']. The first time we all got together was actually to do a little bit of press. When we all finally came together it was all so neat to see them not animated, and to see them in real life."
Your character, for lack of a better term, has a bond with Ed’s character and you guys didn’t get to work together. When you finally saw the film, were you pleased with the relationship and how it came across on screen?
Zac Efron: "Yes, it was great. He’s very persistent, like I said he’s very stubborn. I thought it was fun. He said, 'I’m the guy. I’m the guy that still cares.' I liked that about the relationship. It was fun."
Danny DeVito was talking about how he went and recorded all the voices in different languages for his character. Have you heard yourself dubbed in other languages and how is it to see yourself with someone else’s voice?
Zac Efron: "Actually, when we were doing High School Musical we did a big international press tour so we always wanted to hear at least a little bit of the movie in our voices. I’ll never forget Italy and Spain, I think Corbin [Bleu] had the first voice and he had a beautiful, ‘Hola, como esta!’ Vanessa [Hudgens] had a voice that sounded just like her. Ashley [Tisdale] had a very suave, cool voice. I got introduced and it was like [in a high squeaky voice], 'Ay Dios mio.' And I looked down the line and went, 'Are you kidding me?’ I thought I was being punked. I looked down the line and found out he was my voice. I guess he’s the same guy that does the same voice even when you’re young? Like you get assigned a voice when you're young? Usually that guy is older, so my voice is now a very, very high voice in Spain and Italy. [Laughing] I got to get on that."
Do you get to see the High School Musical gang?
Zac Efron: "Unfortunately we do work a lot and we are super busy, but when we are in town we always see each other. I see Corbin a lot. I see Ashley all the time. W are practically neighbors. The rest of the crew, we try to get together as much as when we can."
Do you think that because of the High School Musical films and the new generation of musical fans from those, that could be one of the reasons The Lorax works so well as a musical?
Zac Efron: "Gosh, that’s a great way to think of it. You said it. I hope so. High School Musical introduced the musical genre to a lot of people. If they can appreciate it and if High School Musical instilled that appreciation in them, then that’s the best thing in the world. That’s what got me started, that’s what got me here."
You have another film coming out in April and it will be the third one of the year after New Year's Eve” and this. You’re being a journalist in that one?
Zac Efron: "Yes. An amateur."
Is it a thriller horror type of thing or what is it?
Zac Efron: "I don’t even know how to explain it to be honest. I have not seen the movie, but I’ve seen a little bit. It’s going to be wild. It's going to be really wild. There are some performances in there by Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman and John Cusack that I think are going to be outstanding. It’s too weird to even try to explain right now. It's going to be wild. I’m excited for you to see it."
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The Lorax hits theaters on March 2, 2012.