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Zac Efron departs from stereotype in 'Me and Orson Welles'

Breaking the stereotype: Efron,
Breaking the stereotype: Efron, "High School Musical" star, was seeking a different role. (Mark Gail/the Washington Post)
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"It wasn't another musical," he finally says. "It was definitely a step forward in my opinion, and a risk, and something that I wasn't even expecting of myself at the time, so I knew no one else would be. It would be kind of a curveball."

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True, the film again features Efron as a high schooler who acts and sings (FYI for the "HSM"-obsessed: the crooning is brief), but the curveballs come from the sophistication of the material.

Richard has an affair with Welles's secretary, an older and far more worldly, nakedly ambitious woman (Danes, who is, in real life, 30). He also recites a lot of Shakespeare and deals with the prospect of getting fired, all of which gives Efron the opportunity to delve into more dramatic territory. Particularly in the scenes when Richard goes head-to-head with Welles, played with convincing gusto by newcomer Christian McKay, one can see Efron beginning to flex acting muscles that perhaps didn't get stretched fully when, say, he was competing against Sharpay for the lead in the East High School play.

Linklater says he cast Efron for one simple reason: "Less than 20 seconds after meeting him, I was like, this is [Richard]."

But the filmmaker, Danes and Efron agree that in some cases, it can be a challenge for an actor to land truly adult roles once he becomes strongly associated with tween-and-teen fare.

"I kind of became the poster girl for teen angst, which is a kind of crass way of saying it," Danes recalls of her gig as the brooding Angela Chase on "My So-Called Life."

"But the teen roles that I was playing, they were bright and they were atypical. There was room there for that particular kind of character to mature, so I didn't face a great amount of resistance in that respect. But I think everybody has to fight to become a diverse artist because people are inclined to associate you with one thing or are a little unnerved by your daring to do something."

"I'd say the challenge right now is finding specifically what to try and work on next," Efron adds. "It's not in terms of people being close-minded, really, to be honest. Maybe it was for a little while. But I was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from where [Danes] started, in 'High School Musical.' Like [she] said, everything that you want to do and everything that I aspire to do as an artist is always that project that's just out of reach."

There is a pivotal scene in "Me and Orson Welles" when Efron's character finally blows up at his egocentric director for constantly and insensitively referring to him as Junior. It seems like a moment that must resonate with Efron, but he says it didn't really, perhaps because he would never talk to an authority figure that way.

The polite young man has, it seems, already learned an important lesson: that you always win more respect by holding the door open for other people instead of screaming about the few who won't let you in.

Me and Orson Welles

opens Dec. 11 at area theaters.


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