Zac Efron: From High School Musical To Bonafide Hollywood Hunk

The following article mentions substance abuse.  

Zac Efron may have risen to fame as a teen on the Disney Channel but it's safe to say that these days he's one of Hollywood's favorite heartthrobs. While it was "High School Musical," that made the then 18-year-old a star in 2006, Efron began acting years before that when he made his debut on the series "Firefly" in 2002. From there, the California native continued to make appearances on other TV shows before he landed his first steady gig on the WB series, "Summerland" two years later. That gig didn't last long but it was only the beginning of what would become a lengthy successful career. 

Unlike a lot of child stars, Efron was able to keep finding work as he got older, starring in musicals like "Hairspray," comedies like "17 Again" and rom-coms like "The Lucky One" over the years. When it comes to choosing roles, Efron told The Hollywood Reporter, "I'm constantly searching for characters that are about betterment of self and betterment of other s... because those are the ones that make me happy. They're the ones that fulfill me personally."

Personally, Efron has been through a lot too, having had to deal with his relationships and past mistakes making headlines, as well as a few serious physical and mental health issues. Regardless, Efron has continued to come out on top and remain a fan-favorite to this very day. So let's take a look at how he went from "High School Musical" to the bonafide Hollywood hunk he is now.

Zac Efron rose to fame with High School Musical

The "High School Musical" trilogy made Zac Efron a huge star. He recalled to The Hollywood Reporter how it all began when his mother dropped him off at the audition when he was just 17-years-old. "We ran through different phases of what we would need to do — first dancing, then singing ... And next came the scene-reading sections, and I got paired with Vanessa Hudgens," he said. 

Of course, they went on to star in the smash hit film which then led to best-selling albums and two sequels, the second breaking TV ratings records and the third getting a theatrical release. "I'm grateful for every bit of that early success. It was hands down the most honest, carefree, passionate experience of my life," Efron said. One downside though was that he didn't get to show he could really sing until "HSM 2." When it came to the songs in the first film, he explained to The Orlando Sentinel, "After everything was recorded, my voice was not on them. I was not really given an explanation."

With the success came a lot of pressure too, since Efron wanted to please his young fans. It also made him want to distance himself from being known as a teen heartthrob, with him telling Men's Journal, "I step back and look at myself and I still want to kick that guy's a** sometimes." However, that apparently changed considering that he told E! in 2022 that he hopes a reboot happens.

He dated Vanessa Hudgens in his early 20s

"High School Musical" didn't just make Zac Efron a household name, it also got him a girlfriend since he had met Vanessa Hudgens at its auditions. He recalled, per People, "For all of the partner things, me and Vanessa always got paired up." He added, "I don't know what it was with Vanessa, but we kind of clicked from the very beginning." The two eventually started dating during filming but didn't officially confirm their relationship until Efron appeared in Hudgens' music video for "Say OK."

While the couple tried to keep their romance low key, they would occasionally gush about each other in interviews. For example, Efron told Rolling Stone in 2007, "The weird thing that no one expected about Vanessa is that underneath such a sweet girl ... is a very sexy woman." They even got matching rings as well as attended movie premieres and award shows together. The couple lasted for at least four years, which was a long time for a young Hollywood couple. Hudgens even acknowledged that to Glamour in 2010, saying, "I think that we inspire each other. [I love] having someone to grow with."

However, that same year, Efron publicly questioned his long-term relationship with Hudgens, telling Details (via People), "I rack my brain thinking, 'Why am I not out there playing the field?" They broke up months later, with a source telling E!, "They were together for so long. It just ran its course."

Zac Efron went to rehab in 2013

It appears by age 25, the Hollywood lifestyle became too much for Zac Efron. In 2013, he checked himself into rehab. While it was reported that he did a stint to stop drinking, tabs claimed he had actually gone twice for cocaine abuse. Regardless, that time appeared to have done him some good because when asked about it on "Today" months later, he revealed, "I'm in the best place I've ever been" (via E!).

Efron eventually opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about what led to him seeking treatment. "I was drinking a lot, way too much. It's never one specific thing. I mean, you're in your 20s, single, going through life in Hollywood ... Everything is thrown at you." Efron admitted that drugs were also involved and that he was attending AA meetings as well as seeing a therapist. "It's a never-ending struggle," he said.

It didn't help that Efron felt burnt out from an overload of work which he said isolated him from his friends and hobbies. "I was just so deep into my work, it was really the only thing I had," he said. Efron revealed to Bear Grylls that he struggled with fame, too. He explained, "Pretty soon you need a social lubricant ... It was getting to the point where I was caring less about the work and waiting more for the weekend." Efron came to realize that it was healthier for him to slow down in life so he could stay sober.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Zac Efron made a comeback with comedy

Following rehab, Zac Efron seemingly reinvigorated his career by starring in multiple comedies like 2014's "Neighbors." That movie had been particularly special for Efron because he was a fan of his co-star, Seth Rogen, whom he met years before at an awards show. He recalled to The Hollywood Reporter, "I blurted out: 'Hey, Seth, my name's Zac. I'm an actor, and I just wanted to tell you that I really love your work.'" That apparently worked, since Rogen thought of him for "Neighbors." It seems Efron then returned the favor by helping with its screenplay. Rogen explained, "One thing he was vocal about, which was very smart, was making a movie that wasn't just critical of fraternity life."

Efron was also pumped to work with Robert De Niro in their 2016 raunchy comedy "Dirty Grandpa." He gushed to USA Today, "I just kept thinking, 'You're doing it with De Niro' ... Being the straight man to De Niro is priceless. There wasn't too much I wasn't willing to do." He followed that up with "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" with Adam DeVine. "We took it to another level. It was so serious and so dumb at the same time," Efron said.

Around that time, Efron also broke up with model Sami Miro, whom he had dated for two years. A source told E!, "It wasn't an easy breakup. Distance and work schedules got in the way with their relationship and Zac wanted to focus on his career."

Baywatch took a toll on his mental health

In 2017, Zac Efron played a lifeguard in the film "Baywatch." It was a role that he had to get super ripped for, which apparently put a lot of strain on him. He dished to SCMP, "On a film like that, though, where you're shirtless most of the time, you've got to maintain that discipline and regimen." Efron later admitted on "Hot Ones," "I realized that when I was done with that movie, I don't ever want to be in that good of shape again. It was so hard."

When reflecting on it again to Men's Health in 2022, Efron took it a step further, saying, "That 'Baywatch' look, I don't know if that's really attainable. There's just too little water in the skin. Like, it's fake." He went on to reveal that it took "powerful diuretics" and overtraining on little sleep as well as eating the same foods to achieve that look. "I don't need to do that. I much prefer to have an extra, you know, 2 to 3 percent body fat," he said.

What's more is that lifestyle even impacted Efron's mental health. He explained, "I started to develop insomnia and I fell into a pretty bad depression, for a long time. Something about that experience burned me out." It took half a year after filming for Efron to start feeling like his old, pre-diuretics self again too. He revealed, "I had a really hard time re-centering ... it messed something up."

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

He returned to musicals in The Greatest Showman

After doing three "High School Musical" films at the beginning of his career, Zac Efron wanted to distance himself from the musical genre. He even passed up the starring role in "Footloose" because of it. He told The Hollywood Reporter, "I knew if I did that, it would ultimately be limiting. And at that point, I was really searching for something else." However, Efron finally returned to musicals in 2017 for the film "The Greatest Showman" because he liked the film's theme of inclusion and wanted to inspire positive change. "What else can you do through a musical other than spread love and communicate a message that you really care about?" he told CNN.

It helped that Efron felt a connection to his character too. He explained to Us Weekly, "It takes a few lessons from P.T. Barnum to open his eyes to get him to see the world differently ... I can relate to Phillip in that respect." Yet, returning to musicals after a long hiatus wasn't easy. Efron dished, "It's not like riding a bike ... These dances were leveled up for sure."

What made things more challenging was that Efron did his own stunts on the flying trapeze with his co-star Zendaya. Luckily for him though, she knew what she was doing. He told MTV, "She would be like, 'Well, what if I did this?' And she'd do a backflip over the hoop. We're like, 'Yeah, that fixes pretty much everything.'"

Zac Efron was hesitant to play Ted Bundy

When it comes to acting, Zac Efron clearly has range. In 2019, he played 1970's serial killer Ted Bundy in Netflix's "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile." It wasn't lost on Efron that it was a departure from what he was known for, which is why he said on "The Graham Norton Show" that he was hesitant to do it. He explained, "I just didn't want to jump at something that could be seen as a desperate shot at trying to change my image" (via USA Today). Efron wasn't sure he wanted to play a real-life murderer, either. "I had a lot of reservations about playing a killer and in this genre of film. I wasn't interested in glorifying anything," he said.

Despite being born years after Bundy's infamous killing spree, Efron told EW, "I knew the name was synonymous with evil." The seriousness of Bundy's crimes and the fact that they were portraying real people was apparently felt on set too. "Let's just say it was different than 'The Greatest Showman' set. The demeanor was very thoughtful and serious," Efron said. 

Similar to "Baywatch," playing that part had affected Efron's mental health, but for different reasons. He explained, per MovieWeb, "You have to be careful for your own emotions ... I was able to compartmentalize myself and leave him on set ... most days." Efron used transcendental meditation to do that, telling EW, "On the way home I just do some TM and try to phase out of it."

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Zac Efron almost died for his survival show

It's hard to believe that between all the movies Zac Efron was doing, he had time to film a docu-series. That's exactly what he did in 2019 with "Killing Zac Efron." The show was created for the now-defunct streaming platform Quibi and featured Efron spending 21 days off the grid surviving on just a few supplies. It was similar to what he had done with his brother, Dylan Efron, on "Off The Grid," which was a YouTube series Efron did along with his workout videos. 

If you're wondering why a movie star would want to test their survival skills though, Efron explained in a statement (via MTV), "I tend to thrive under extreme circumstances and seek out opportunities that challenge me on every level." He added, "I am excited to explore any uncharted territory and discover what unexpected adventure awaits!" Unfortunately, what awaited was a seemingly serious bacterial infection, typhoid, which can be life-threatening. Efron had to be airlifted out of Papua New Guinea where he was filming after getting very sick and needing medical attention in Australia.

While Efron reportedly spent multiple days recovering in a hospital, he later tweeted that he was able to fly home for the holidays to be with loved ones. He also addressed his illness, writing, "I did get sick in Papua New Guinea but I bounced back quick and finished an amazing 3 weeks in P.N.G."

Zac Efron moved to Australia

Zac Efron must have liked filming a docu-series because he did it again in 2020 for Netflix with "Down to Earth with Zac Efron." While the "Charlie St. Cloud" star continued to travel around the globe for a show, this one focused more on the environment. The series apparently did well enough to get a Season 2, which was then set entirely in Australia. Show-runner Michael Simkin explained to Tudum, "[Zac] moved out there towards the beginning of the pandemic [and] genuinely fell in love with it," adding, "He now has a group of friends and a community out there."

Efron had indeed relocated to another continent in 2020, even selling his Los Angeles home in 2021 in favor of purchasing land in Australia. Earlier that year, a source had also told People, "As of now, he has no plans to live permanently in L.A. again. He loves Australia and considers it his home."

What probably made Australia more charming was that Efron was dating a local model/waitress named Vanessa Valladare, who he'd met when she was working at a General Store. Although two seemingly got serious fast, by August 2021, Efron broke things off after 10 months. Reportedly, he wasn't ready for a serious relationship with his work schedule picking up following the pandemic. A source dished to Us Weekly, "Zac is about to start a busy year of filming and wanted to make a clean break now."

Zac Efron went viral for plastic surgery rumors

Zac Efron is obviously used to being famous, but in 2021, he went viral for a pretty strange reason. That's because fans had claimed Efron had gotten plastic surgery on his face after he appeared on Bill Nye The Science Guy's "Earth Day! The Musical." Many people felt his jaw had looked noticeably different there, with one viewer harshly tweeting, "Dear god why ZAC EFRON did you ruin your perfect face."

Efron's facial features then caused so much buzz that the whole thing became known as "jaw-gate." His friend, Kyle Sandilands, did try to come to his defense though, claiming on "The Kyle and Jackie O Show" (via Insider), "I would know if he'd had any plastic surgery," adding, "It's like getting a Picasso and having a kid finger paint all over it." Efron later told Men's Health that the rumors were so bad that his own mother had questioned whether he'd gotten work done.

Efron finally revealed what really happened though, saying the difference in his face was caused by him shattering his jaw in 2013 after he slipped and fell into a granite fountain in his home. He explained that the other muscles in his face had to make up for his hurt jaw. "The masseters just grew. They just got really, really big," he said. While physical therapy had helped counter that, Efron had stopped it for a while when in Australia which probably contributed to his face looking different in the viral video.

Zac Efron has gotten more open with age

It seems Zac Efron has gotten more comfortable with sharing personal details as he gets older. For example, in 2022 he revealed to Men's Health that he struggles with an anxiety disorder, saying, "I just don't go out. People in large groups, it triggers my agoraphobia." For those unfamiliar with agoraphobia, the Mayo Clinic describes it as "fearing and avoiding places or situations that might cause panic and feelings of being trapped, helpless or embarrassed." That may be surprising for some to hear considering that Efron's job is to be in the public eye. 

That same year, Efron also shared that at age 34, he wasn't quite ready to be a father despite playing one in the movie "Firestarter." When asked about fatherhood on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," he explained, "I think that was a healthy dose to put me off of it for as long as necessary. I have a bit more growing to do, probably." That doesn't mean that Efron isn't a great big brother to his baby sister, Olivia, though, considering that he has posted adorable photos of them together on his Instagram, with his birthday tribute to her even making headlines in 2022. 

Efron has certainly grown up a lot over the years, transforming from a teen heart-throb into the Hollywood hunk he is today. Yet, his talent and ability to overcome all life's challenges has made it clear that he's much more than just a pretty face.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.