Zac Efron was turning gay heads way before director Lee Daniels stripped him to his skivvies for the pulpy, ’60s-set southern thriller The Paperboy, which steams up theaters October 5. The High School Musical heartthrob is finally ready to return the love in his first gay press interview, which even he acknowledges is long overdue.
It’s good to see you return to your dancing roots with Nicole Kidman in the trailer for The Paperboy, but your moves seem to have gotten wetter and more naked.
Believe it or not, that dance in the rain wasn’t planned. Nicole’s fun to work with because she’s very improvisational. She just started dancing with me, and we went with the moment.
Surely you knew that scene would attract some prurient attention.
With a scene like that, you just have to stick with it and see where it takes you. After the fact, though, I remember thinking, Oh, jeez, what did I just get myself into?
Matthew McConaughey, your Paperboy costar, helped design his thong for Magic Mike. Did you help select your white briefs?
I did, yeah. It’s a period movie, so there weren’t really a lot of choices. Initially, I wondered if my character would even wear underwear at all. But that would’ve been a very different movie.
You’ve worked with other gay directors, including Adam Shankman on Hairspray, but Lee Daniels has often spoken about how much his “gay sensibility” translates to his work. In fact, at a press conference for The Paperboy in Cannes earlier this year, Lee even made light of a connection between his being his gay and your being somewhat eroticized on-screen. Did you have any reservations or did you embrace Lee’s sensibility from the start?
I’ve always just embraced Lee as a brilliant artist, so I followed him blindly, trustingly, and wholeheartedly. He’s searching for beauty and truth in every scene, so I believed in him and always felt safe. I was a fan of Lee’s work — I thought Precious was so marvelous and real — and I knew that he had a lot to teach me. All he required of me was that I be fearless, and that’s something I’m really working on right now in my career.
Screen grabs of you in wet undies made quite an impression in the gay blogosphere, but your presence on gay blogs is certainly nothing new.
It’s very flattering. After High School Musical and Hairspray, I’ve always felt embraced by the gay community, and I feel incredibly grateful and honored. This is actually a very special interview for me. I’m extremely aware of the support I’ve gotten from you guys over the years, and it’s amazing that it’s taken this long to sit down and actually discuss it, but please know that it hasn’t gone unappreciated. I’m so excited to be talking to you.