“Baywatch” star Zac Efron wants you to know: Yes, he plays a disgraced Olympic swimmer who loses sponsors because of an incident that involved too much partying. But it is a complete coincidence that his character resembles Ryan Lochte on so many levels.
To wit: “Does Ryan Lochte know you’re making a movie about his life?” late-night host Jimmy Kimmel asked Efron on Wednesday night.
“Actually, I want to clarify this,” Efron said. “We came up with this character — the director and I both sat down, and we came up with this character entirely on our own.”
“So, he stole this from you?” Kimmel asked.
“As the Olympics unfolded, we were going, ‘What the heck is going on right now?!'” Efron explained.
Efron, of course, is alluding to Lochte’s troubles at the Summer Games in Rio, where Lochte was caught lying about details of an alleged robbery that he said took place after he and his teammates attended a party. The incident became an international news story; multiple sponsors dropped him, and he was suspended for 10 months from the U.S. Olympic swim team.
Honestly, it’s unfortunate that Efron is backing so far away from the Lochte comparison, because the (unintentional) striking parallel between the two is the funniest part of a decidedly unfunny movie. In “Baywatch,” the critically panned remake of the 1990s TV series that hits theaters this weekend, Efron plays swimmer Matt Brody. Like Lochte, Brody is an Olympic gold medalist with an overly confident, frat-bro swagger; in Brody’s case, that means aggressively hitting on fellow lifeguard Summer (Alexandra Daddario) even though she’s clearly not interested. (Don’t worry, she eventually gives in to his charms.)
And just as Lochte parodied his own “sex idiot” reputation on “30 Rock,” Brody is undeniably handsome (“An American hero with the face of a Swedish model,” as his boss puts it), but he isn’t the brightest bulb, as he repeatedly botches his lifeguard duties. “Thank God you’re pretty,” another character tells him.
They also have similar downfalls — Brody parties too hard the night before an Olympic relay and throws up in the pool, earning him the nickname “vomit comet.” Then he gets in legal trouble and ends up on Baywatch duty as community service. (That’s one difference from Lochte, who just had to go on “Dancing With the Stars” to mend his reputation.)
Initially, Brody’s reckless rule-breaking makes him despised by his new colleagues — especially head lifeguard Mitch Buchanan, played by Dwayne Johnson. But Brody earns sympathy when it’s revealed that he’s temporarily homeless because he lost all his sponsors; and soon, he realizes he’s acting like a selfish jerk and decides to be a team player.
While Efron may not want Lochte linked with his character, director Seth Gordon admits there are clearly similarities, even though the film was finished far before the Olympics.
“We drew some inspiration from Ryan Lochte in our approach to Brody, which Zac responded to immediately,” Gordon said, according to Hollywood.com. However, he added, “The character was written before the real Lochte got himself into trouble, which ended up being unexpectedly prescient.”
Still, the comparisons will live on, even as Efron insists he thought of his character as “the early Justin Bieber of swimming,” or “a cocky dude that messes up but still has a good heart.”
“Just for the record, this is not based on Ryan Lochte,” Kimmel concluded at the end of the interview. “It’s a complete coincidence that your character’s disastrous life matches up with his actual disastrous life.”
“One hundred percent,” Efron said.