Zac Efron takes on his most mature role yet in the adaptation of Nicholas Sparks‘ The Lucky One playing U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault who has defied the odds during three tours of duty in Iraq. When Thibault discovers a photograph of an unknown woman (Taylor Schilling) half-buried in the sand and pulls it out, it becomes his lucky charm that he credits with keeping him alive. After he returns stateside, the picture becomes the catalyst for an unusual and moving journey of discovery and healing.
At the press day for The Lucky One, we sat down at a roundtable interview with Efron and Schilling to talk about what drew them to the Nicholas Sparks universe and the story’s interconnecting ideas of luck, love and destiny. They told us how the friendship they developed on set helped when it came time to film some of the movie’s more romantic scenes, how it was working with Academy Award-nominated writer/director Scott Hicks, and what they have coming up next including Efron’s The Paperboy and Schilling’s Argo. Zac also talked about his progression toward more serious roles, how he transformed himself physically for the role, and why it was important to him to give the most accurate portrayal possible after getting to know the Marines at Camp Pendleton.
ZAC EFRON: There’s a cynical part of you that red flags go off on a couple lines.
TAYLOR SCHILLING: We talked about a couple of those lines.
SCHILLING: You deserve to be kissed every… That’s exactly what.
EFRON: But then I think back to moments I’ve been in and I’ve said things way, way crazier than that. So it’s all relative. There was a little bit of shivering when I realized I was going to do that on camera, but I think a bit of pride too.
When you watch that as an audience, do you think, “That is stirring?”
EFRON: I mean, I couldn’t look during that part.
EFRON: We went through so much, man, me and that dog, me and Rowdy. It was amazing because the first time I met him, I wasn’t even allowed to engage him because the dog loses respect for you if you do that. We went through this roller coaster relationship from me paying virtually no attention to him and to him being interested. Finally, I was able to engage him and we became best friends. We had a great working relationship. He was the best actor on the set. Super, super talented. Yeah, I grew very attached to the dog.
What kind of training did you do for the military aspect of your character?
EFRON: All kinds of stuff. First and foremost, I wanted to spend as much time around Marines and the troops as possible. I was able to go to Camp Pendleton early on with Scott [Hicks] and just hang out with them, see what it was like. There were striking differences between the way that they were and I was. I was able to look at that early on, and then physically, there was a lot to be done. The hardest part about this was the physical transformation.
Did you keep any of the physical training?
What was the most striking aspect of talking to those Marines?
EFRON: There’s an element, coming into that first talk with the Marines, it goes unsaid but in the room there’s a palpable, maybe I give it off, but we’ll never truly understand what it was like. I think that everyone in the room is aware of that, but at the same time, after a couple hours with them, Scott was able to communicate just how much we cared and that we wanted to have the most accurate portrayal. It took a while but finally they opened up and saw that the more honest that they were, the more they could give us, that’s what we cherished and we wanted so hard to be able to give an accurate portrayal. Watching them open up and blossom in front of our eyes and be able to tell these stories and recount, it was the most powerful moment. And it was on the first day. That was the first day Scott and I had hung out at all. That was the biggest part.
What were the differences you noticed?
EFRON: I mean, at first I walked into a room full of Marines and they stand [super straight] with strikingly physical differences. A lot of them were my height and my build but they looked like superheroes. In my eyes at least, I was looking at real life heroes. I’m a musical theater geek walking in there, and I knew there was so much work to be done, it was overwhelming at that point. I’m just like how am I going to do this? But every time I get really scared like that, that’s a sign I’m on the right track.
How do you build a relationship when it’s an hour before the first kiss? And how do you keep from laughing when you get hosed down for the playful sex scene?
SCHILLING: That’s a great question. When I first met Zac, we got along from the very first moment I auditioned for the movie with him. I think that that sort of experience of working together and feeling really comfortable on set ended up carrying through working together. It was just fun. Our characters didn’t really come together I guess until more midway through the film. But during that entire time of shooting, we were developing a friendship.
Did you feel the same way, Zac?
EFRON: Completely. I looked forward to those scenes in this one. Romantic scenes get built up because they’re something that’s coming up. It seems like they’re always looming and other people don’t want to talk about them because somehow it’s got this weird awkward perception. Once you get there, if it’s with somebody you really trust, I thought that was one of the easiest days.
SCHILLING: Easiest days.
Was the love scene scripted or did you just go for it?
EFRON: It was a little of both. I mean, parts of it, you have to be in the right spot for the camera. We rehearsed it. Scott gave us one, he said, “Do what you would do.” You said it was a cliché but I think that’s because it’s so damn good. They’re right. Most clichés are right, so fitting into one of those and making it real is romantic, I think.
Were you familiar with the book before you were involved in this project?
SCHILLING: I hadn’t read the book. I knew of the book and I know Nicholas Sparks’ work very well and I’m a fan of his films and his books, but I hadn’t read this particular one.
What did it feel like to sign on to that Nicholas Sparks universe?
EFRON: Amazing. It was awesome.
SCHILLING: I was totally thrilled. It was such an exciting opportunity for me to get a chance to play this part and work with Scott and Zac and this whole team so I was thrilled.
EFRON: Nick creates such grounded characters. Everything is set completely and totally in reality. I mean, it’s heightened but all for a purpose, so I thought it was very fun.
Taylor, how seriously did you take the dishwashing scene?
SCHILLING: Well, I mean, there wasn’t a lot of acting involved. He had to lift the things that he was lifting and I just watched him, so it’s fun.
Was an important part of this character to show women they can stand up to bullies like her ex-husband?
SCHILLING: Well, I think what I so connected to in Beth was that she had all these obstacles to overcome and there was so much baggage and she had lived so much life. She had a child and she had this ex-husband, and even for her there still was this possibility of true love, and she had sort of given up on it but it’s not too late, even for her. She had been resigned to not finding it and she did, despite everything that was going on in her life. So if that’s inspiring to someone to move past something in their life that’s not working, I would agree.
But even just the scene where she tells the ex, “Hey, take me to court” and stops buying into his abusive manipulation, couldn’t that really show someone they have more options?
SCHILLING: Yeah, and I would be honored. I would be really honored if it did, if it inspired someone to stand up for themselves and honor their worth.
Zac, can you talk about your progression to serious roles?
EFRON: It’s been incredibly fun and educational. I set out very early on. I look back when I said that I was going to do this ages ago, when I was young, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I think that it’s proven to be everything I dreamed it would be. It’s been great but it’s very different. If you’d have asked me when I was auditioning for High School Musical if I ever thought I was going to play a Marine…
EFRON: Yeah, you can’t stop me. Don’t put music on!
Have you put musicals behind you?
EFRON: I don’t think music is done by any means. I would love to do it again but it’s finding the right thing.
And not doing it every time?
EFRON: You can’t do it every time. Who wants to see that?
What about genres you haven’t tried yet? Would you like to do action movies?
EFRON: No. Yes.
Have you thought about that or gone out for them?
EFRON: I don’t know. I really liked Chronicle. I thought that was a very, very cool movie. I’m not sure. I don’t know. Something that’s different, something with a cool director. Once again it just comes down to great material and a great director at the helm. Anything with that combo is interesting to me. I’ll take a look.
Did you ever feel like you wanted your character to punch the ex-husband?
EFRON: Yeah, it’s kind of neat. Logan is very controlling. He has a lot of self-control, but the whole time he’s a weapon that can break out at any time. I thought that was kind of cool. It’s like one of those characters you don’t know is a samurai.
I thought of Jason Bourne when you disarmed Logan and all that training suddenly came into play. How many takes did that scene take?
EFRON: It was fun. That didn’t take takes. I made sure I knew that before I showed up on set. If that was going to mess up the scene, I wasn’t going to let it. I had that down pretty much by the time we got there, but there was a lot of rehearsal beforehand with the master sergeant and everybody.
SCHILLING: Well, that was a really intense day. But I have to say, all I had to do was stand on the river bank and scream. They actually had to be in wetsuits and with scuba divers.
So it was a real river?
SCHILLING: It was a real river and I had never experienced anything like that. There were rain machines and things churning to make the water churn.
EFRON: Sharks and shit.
SCHILLING: They brought in alligators. They have pulleys attached to them and things like that so I feel like I actually had it kind of easy in that scene. I just had to run and stay on the river bank but it was very cold.
EFRON: It was freezing. I’ll never forget it. It looks cool but it’s so short. We were there for so long.
SCHILLING: We were there for a really long, long time.
SCHILLING: And a hot tub to sit in because everyone was so wet.
Zac, did you think this would be your first adult role and you’d have not just teenagers but adult women as fans?
EFRON: Yeah, all of us are growing up. But I definitely took that into account. Essentially, I looked at Logan as a character that’s also a real hero. He’s got a lot of integrity and I was reading him and he was a guy that makes choices that I hope I would make if I was put in his circumstances.
Do you feel a lot of pressure with this film?
EFRON: I feel pressure with everything I do.
Even The Paperboy with Lee Daniels?
EFRON: Yeah, without a doubt. I mean if it doesn’t scare you, if you don’t feel like it’s – – that’s why I love what we do. Everything is heightened and it makes your spine tingle. That’s why I was so scared when I read the script for The Lucky One because I was like, “Dude, I like this. I like this and it’s going to be real hard and you have a big chance to fail here.”
Was piano playing in the script?
EFRON: That was there.
Is there a quality from when you were younger that you want to keep with you no matter how your career evolves?
EFRON: I think always just heart and integrity and everything. The best part about Logan is he never takes the easy road, never once. Even though it’s going to be harder for him, he makes the right choice always. I think that’s really hard to do. I’d like to have that in every character I play until he’s a bad guy.
Is there a dog in your future for either of you?
EFRON: I need to be a better person. A dog, for me, it’s not just getting a dog. I couldn’t leave him at home. I’m looking for a life partner and I’m not ready. I’m not emotionally mature enough.
What’s next for you, Taylor?
SCHILLING: I just finished Argo with Ben Affleck. I’m playing his wife in the new movie he’s directing.
What’s next for Zac?
EFRON: I finished a movie called Paperboy. Lee Daniels directed it. Cool, great cast. Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, Macy Gray, John Cusack. It’s awesome. I ran into Macy Gray at dinner last night. Random, “Macy!”
EFRON: It’s on fire right now.
The Lucky One opens on April 20th.