* Actor transitions to more adult role in “17 Again”
* Singing and dancing that made him a star are gone
* Efron avoids MySpace, Facebook. Doesn’t Twitter
By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES, April 15 (Reuters) - In a recent “Saturday Night Live” TV comedy sketch, Zac Efron despaired that life was aimless beyond his “High School Musical” movies, but in reality the heartthrob is on a quest to transform his image.
In “17 Again,” which opens on Friday, the actor abandons the singing and dancing that won the hearts of teenage girls in the “High School” franchise, and turns to straightforward acting as a 37-year-old sad sack who is transformed back to his winning ways at age 17.
The role, which has a brief dance routine but no singing, comes as Efron looks to broaden his range beyond the singing and dancing that made his “High School” character Troy Bolton an obsession for girls around the world.
The first two made-for-TV movies were big hits for Disney (DIS.N). The third film, released in theaters in 2008, made more than $251 million at global box offices.
“Before ‘High School Musical,’ I wasn’t a singer or dancer, or a basketball player even,” Efron, 21, told reporters recently in Los Angeles.
“It was fun to learn those skills and to do that. Now, it feels like it’s time, I’m ready to try something else,” he said.
Efron recently walked away from starring in a remake of the 1984 musical movie “Footloose,” in part because it would have resembled his role in the “High School” films.
This is a heady time for the California-born Efron. Beyond his starring role in “17 Again,” he appears on the cover of GQ’s May issue.
“The ‘it’ factor in him is so high-wattage,” said “17 Again” producer Adam Shankman.
In “17 Again,” Efron plays the younger version of a soon-to-be divorced father of two named Mike O’Donnell. The older Mike is portrayed by “Friends” star Matthew Perry.
When older Mike’s dream of reclaiming his life as a high school basketball star is fulfilled, he finds himself with the body he had at 17 and immediately enrolls in school.
But instead of focusing on basketball, young Mike turns his attention to the welfare of his teenage children, who are now his classmates and have no clue about Mike’s transformation.
The role calls for Efron to offer fatherly advice to his daughter and coach his son in love and basketball. In the process, young Mike tries to put old Mike’s family life back together.
“17 Again” is the only movie on Efron’s upcoming slate, and he said any role he accepted would depend on the character’s appeal and which director is involved.
He probably has earned a break after years of being under the media glare that has followed the “High School” series.
He and his girlfriend and “High School” co-star, Vanessa Hudgens, have been the frequent subject of celebrity magazine cover stories, and they are hounded by the paparazzi.
In an effort to regain some privacy, Efron said he avoids social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook where many people in their teens and 20s socialize these days. And, he flatly refuses to Twitter.
“I kind of value having people not know where I am or what I’m doing,” he said. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Xavier Briand)