A modern day musical gets a touch of movie magic in The Greatest Showman – and all that comes with a big-screen treatment. The film, directed by Michael Gracey and starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, is filled with CGI elephants, hoop-leaping lions, and a little person riding on horseback. Despite all this animated wizardry going on in the backdrop, Zac Efron and Zendaya performed the majority of their roles themselves, as they told Collider during the film’s press junket in New York City.
Efron stars opposite Jackman in The Greatest Showman as Phillip Carlyle, a playwright who becomes Barnum’s partner and falls for one of the star acrobatics (Zendaya). For “Rewrite the Stars,” Efron and Zendaya pull off a duet while gliding through the air on ropes. It all culminates in their most complex moment: a tight shot of them spinning and singing together above the ground.
Efron called it a “team effort” because everything – from their movements to their singing to their timing – had to line up. “It didn’t matter if we got it perfect, a lot of people had to get it perfect,” he said.
The pair also feature alongside Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, and Tony winner Keala Settles in The Greatest Showman. The film sees the rise of Barnum’s circus, which began with a troupe of oddities, like Settle’s bearded lady.
While Efron is still among those actors in Hollywood not attached to a superhero movie – though he thinks they’re cool, he isn’t eyeing any part just yet – he felt like a superhero in The Greatest Showman. “We are flying around and we are telling people really important messages,” he and Zendaya agreed. “I think you have to earn those suits, and I’m happy to be in musicals,” he said.
Zendaya, meanwhile, is presumed to return for the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming.
The Greatest Showman opens in theaters on Dec. 22. Watch our full interview with Efron and Zendaya above.