By Joe Utichi – www.joeutichi.com
One of the most popular and accomplished actors of his generation, Zac Efron’s career stretches back to his teenage years, and began on television with small roles in the likes of FIREFLY, ER and SUMMERLAND.
But it was with 2006’s HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL that Efron became one of the most recognizable stars on the planet. The Disney Channel hit became a cultural phenomenon, inspiring two further sequels with Efron (the last, HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3: SENIOR YEAR, was released in cinemas in 2008) and demonstrating his multi-hyphenate talents as an actor, singer and dancer.
On the big screen, Efron first joined the cast of Adam Shankman’s HAIRSPRAY in 2007, adapting the Broadway musical based on John Waters’ 1988 hit. Stepping away from musicals, Efron proved his adaptability with roles in films like ME AND ORSON WELLES, 17 AGAIN and CHARLIE ST. CLOUD. Other big screen roles have included LIBERAL ARTS, THE PAPERBOY, and PARKLAND.
By his own estimation, Efron has dedicated the last few years of his career to comedy, sharpening his improvisational toolset alongside Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan in THAT AWKWARD MOMENT; Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in NEIGHBORS and NEIGHBORS 2; and Robert De Niro in Dan Mazer’s DIRTY GRANDPA.
In MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES, Efron plays Dave Stangle. The titular Mike and Dave are brothers, warned by their family to smarten-up their hard-partying ways before their sister’s wedding in Hawaii, and to bring two respectable girls as dates. After posting an ad on Craigslist, they’re contacted by a cadre of prospective suitors, and they ultimately settle on Alice and Tatiana, whose interest in Mike and Dave extends to little more than the prospect of a free holiday on the islands.
The film is based on a true story – though the real Mike and Dave sensibly decided not to bring dates from Craigslist in the end – and was written by Andrey J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, with Jake Szymanski behind the camera. It also stars Adam DeVine, Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza.
How did this project come to you? Had you heard Mike and Dave’s story when it broke?
No. It was originally introduced to me when I met with the director, Jake Szymanski, and he told me it was a true story. I couldn’t believe it – it seemed too far-fetched to be real. It was an hilarious concept and a fun character, so I was pretty much in from the get-go. And I love Jake’s work. I worked with him years ago on a Funny or Die skit and I thought he was really cool.
How close is the film to the truth?
I can’t say for certain – and I know it’s been played up to make it a movie. But I can say the real Mike and Dave are cool guys. They are very fun-loving and gregarious – they’re not afraid to get the party started. I think they’re pretty in-line with our portrayal, really. At one point we were talking and I asked them what percentage of our movie was still accurate, and one of them said, “About 80%.” I was like, “Are you serious? That can’t be possible.” But it’s all them. When you really take a step back and think about it, it’s pretty crazy.
Tell me about your take on Dave.
At this point, Dave is the younger brother and they have become pretty reliant on each other in a number of ways. Not only do they work together, but they live together and they’re in this kind of symbiotic relationship. Where we meet them in the movie, Mike is sort of reaching his, I guess, quarter-life crisis, and I’m kind of there observing my older brother losing his mind, and trying to reel him back in. I start saying, “Dude, hold it together man, it’s not the end of the world.” When these girls turn out to be more than we bargained for, and reveal that they lied to get there, he just can’t take it. It’s the end of the world for him. He starts to lose his mind, and I try and help keep him grounded.
Adam DeVine, who plays Mike, said he considered Dave to be the younger, more intelligent and better-looking brother. Any comment?
[laughs] Well, that’s nice of Adam. But Mike, really, is the instigator. He’s the ideas guy. He’s the life of the party. Dave is really just following in his footsteps. Mike’s the one with the balls-to-the-wall attitude, and Dave is his support unit, validating his ideas and helping him follow through with these crazy plans. Over the course of the movie, though, the roles kind of change in a way. But they clearly love each other.
How quickly did you find the chemistry with Adam?
We bonded pretty quickly, I think. I was a fan of Adam’s work for a long time, and have watched him on WORKAHOLICS for years. I knew he could play this type of role brilliantly. When we met, we got along instantly. As soon as we got to Hawaii, we were taking hikes and having fun, just really getting along. There’s a wackiness to Adam, and this improvisational skill that’s not like anything I’ve ever seen. I look at guys I would want to play the straight man for, and he’s the perfect one. He’s so funny and he doesn’t really care what anyone thinks of him. From our career standpoints, we’re coming from two totally different places. He’s starting from this, “I don’t give a f—,” attitude, and I’m coming from the world of “hopefully it won’t be news when I curse this time”. [laughs] It was very freeing in a way. He was the Mike to my Dave.
Your path over the last few years seems to have been geared towards the unexpected and to new challenges. Was that by design?
You know, I’ve always really wanted to work with great directors and change things up and learn as I do these films. I was never really given the proper chance to study, so I look at my directors as teachers, and my process now is a lot different than it used to be. When I watch actors on screen, I have a feeling in my heart of who’s earned it and who hasn’t, and I think I respect the ones that have earned it more. I’m not saying I have earned it, but there are certain moves that people make that I think, “Oh, it’s cool they did that.” I hope I make more of those right moves rather than the wrong ones. [laughs]
This year was fun, and it was very comedy-oriented. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I can’t wait to mix it up and do something different next.
Wrong moves are always learning experiences too. Pushing yourself is always a risk, but it’s a healthy risk to run.
I think so, and anytime I’ve ever been afraid of doing something – comedy for instance – as long as I’ve listened and been present, I think I’ve learned something. You’re supposed to be afraid. If everything was easy it would be lame. I definitely seek out projects that scare me to a certain degree. Stepping up and being in a comedy with three great comedians – and several other great comic actors – where I’m sort of the straight man was a little bit daunting, I think. But I’m really proud of what came out of it and I’m happy I did it, because it ended up being so much fun.
It can’t have been difficult being on location in Hawaii doing it.
No, that part was incredible. [laughs] Every weekend was an adventure in the jungle, or some sort of cool hike. I would go find waterfalls and swim with sharks. The work was fun in and of itself, but it was actually fun going to sleep early on a Friday so you could wake up and have a full weekend of adventure time. We’d come back to work on Monday with cuts and bruises and pieces of coral sticking out of our leg. The filmmakers would say, “What do you do every weekend?” And we’re like, “Uhh… Surfing… Cliff jumping…”
In what could so easily have been a bro comedy, you have these two fantastic actresses with real characters, in Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza. How did their energy heighten the experience?
They are perfect in these parts. It’s called MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES, but really the girls steal the show. Everyone was blown away by what they brought to the table. We didn’t want to make just another bro comedy, and have the girls be a small part. There was a concerted effort on everyone’s part to make this a four-hander, and bring in an equal – if not better – storyline for the girls. I think they definitely achieved that.
As you mentioned, you’ve done a few comedies now, with very seasoned improvisational comedians. Do you think your improv has improved?
Well, I think I know how to stay in a scene and not break very much. I’m not in the blooper reel as often! To a certain extent that’s an important skill, and I’m lucky in that way. But I really do enjoy the improv. These guys come up with stuff so quickly, and people are shouting alternative lines to say while we’re rolling. It’s about staying present, I think, and as long as it’s honest and you’re listening, it doesn’t matter what comes out of your mouth. If the intention is there, then it’ll be true.
Does the improv bring a character to life to a certain extent?
It really does, I think. Rather than sticking to something specific, pretty soon you start to get a sense of what does and doesn’t feel right for the character. Dave became a very sincere, nice guy in the movie, and he wasn’t clearly written that way in the beginning. He really does fall in love with Anna’s character, and as that evolved, we amped that up and took away his naivety and immaturity. He became a lot more respectful over the course of the movie and a lot more mature. It seemed more honest than me trying to be a douche.
This is Jake’s first feature film, and there are some big moments in it. How do you think he handled it?
We had a great relationship from day one. The thing about Jake is it might have been his first feature film, but because he shot so many shorts and bits and pieces under the gun, we ended up shooting so much material every day. We were shooting 15 terabytes, or something ridiculous, every day. We would go through 4 terabytes by lunch, and do 15-minute-long takes, and just never stop. We would just stay in it. With his no-cut attitude, you get so much more work done. You could put together two whole movies from what we shot. Actually, I’m kind of bummed by how much ended up getting cut… It’ll be a good DVD for sure.
Mike And Dave Needs Wedding Dates is in UK&Irish cinemas from 10th August.