Set Visit: Zac Efron’s 17 Again – Part 1

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Plucked from the “High School Musical” group, Zac Efron has emerged as one of the biggest actors in Hollywood right now.

And it’s his work in Hairspray with Adam Shankman that he’s getting even a larger teen-icon status. That’s because before they were even done shooting that movie, Adam decided to develop another movie specifically for Zac – 17 Again.

It’s sort of a reversed idea of Big; this time, Matthew Perry is playing the adult, and Zac plays the younger version. After going through a bit of a depression, and nearly ending his marriage to Leslie Mann, Matthew finds himself transformed into his younger self. As Zac, he goes back to high school, and realizes his life wasn’t that bad.

ComingSoon.net was on the set of the new teen flick, directed by Burr Steers. We had the chance to speak to producers Adam Shankman and Jennifer Gibgot (of Offspring Entertainment), as well as Zac to find out what it’s been like shooting the teen flick.

It was actually during the last few days on Hairspray that Adam and Jennifer realized they weren’t quite ready to end that relationship with Zac. “While we were doing ‘Hairspray,’ everyone was aware of what a phenomenon Zac was sort of becoming. [Jennifer] sort of thought I would love to come up with another something for him, and she talked to me about these ideas; she went out to a couple writers, and it was literally pitched to her. They went out and they sold it with Zac attached, and New Line bought it, and now we’re finishing.”

But it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what star-power Zac brings to the big screen. Adam added, “He’s really maturing and he’s growing, and he’s so solid in the movie. I’ve seen a bunch of it cut together, and I’m relieved, and I’m so excited to be able to kind of be a part of representing him. I feel like I’ve been in the Zac business for a while, and representing him in a different light outside of the ‘High School’ triumphant. And he’s just really good, and he really came alive with all these other actors like Leslie Mann and Thomas Lennon. It’s really funny because Matthew Perry plays him old, and so he had to go to the Matthew Perry School of World Weariness in order to convincingly be this guy. And he does these things that are like Matthew, and it just killed me; he’s a very detailed actor.”

Because this was developed for him, Zac said it was a lot different than many of his other projects. “Adam mentioned the overall concept to me while we were up in Toronto when we were doing ‘Hairspray.’ I just kind of said, ‘Yeah.’ Little did I know that it would actually turn into a script and become a full production. It was amazing to watch something really come to fruition.”

Getting a chance to play a younger Matthew Perry was a pretty cool experience for Zac. “It’s fun, it’s weird, it’s almost like a split personality. He’s got a few mannerisms that I had to incorporate. I try not to do too much of it, but it’s the little moments. I think people really do grow different as they get older, and what I wanted to play a lot with this character was watching a lot of the youth come out of him.”

And according to both Jennifer and Adam, he’s able to hang with the pros when it comes to improvisation. “Absolutely, and he’s working with Leslie Mann and Tom Lennon, who are some of the best ad-libbers out there,” says Adam.

“And they’re loving working with him. He is rising to the occasion,” Jennifer pointed out. “He’s really funny, he’s really funny.”

It’s also the challenges of going back to high school for Zac’s character – the popular kids versus the geeks, and of course, his realizations 2008 versus 1989. “Oh, let me tell you those challenges,” Jennifer jokes to us. “Just the evils of trying to fit in; there’s obviously the cliques and the bullies. Another big thing that he goes through is how much more aggressive women are, girls have become. And so what he does have his make-over, he shows up as ‘hot Zac.’ And he says, ‘Wow, girls in 2008 put it out there.’ And I think he’s very accurate. A big running joke in the movie is he goes to school for the first time in (all Ed Hardy stuff). Kind of an over-exaggerated adult view of what teenagers wear. Kids tell him he looks like K-Fed. And then he gets bullied by his daughter’s boyfriend ’cause he’s the new kid. And then he realizes that his son is actually a victim of the bullying more than anyone, and he wants to help him keep the bullies away.

Adam also says Zac is dealing with the pain of not being able to tell his wife. “He loves her still, and doesn’t want to get divorced. And her thinking he’s a high school kid, and there’s always that joke of ‘that’s really inappropriate. You can’t touch me like that.'”

Fans who know Thomas Lennon are going to see a different side to him as well. He won’t be showing off his cop-stash, like his character on “Reno 911.” “Just because he’s not swearing or wearing a cod piece and shorts, and all of that, he’s still biting and subversive as always,” notes Adam. “And he raises the comedy bar of this movie out of control. The things that he does, they’re sick. He has a relationship with Melora Hardin, who plays the principal, and there’s a scene – she finds him repellent, and there’s a scene where they end up connecting over ‘Lord of the Rings.’ And there’s a date that they go on, where all they do is speak Elvish, and that turns her on. They’re sitting down for dinner and drinking wine and speaking Elvish.”

That comic timing also goes for Matthew, who has a history with Adam. “He was our first name on the list. I had a long relationship; I used to be the choreographer on ‘Friends,’ so I’ve known Matthew for a long time. He’s been so incredible, and he’s so good in the movie. There’s so much sophistication that he actually brings to this that separates itself from other teen genre movies. This is a movie that is going to hit teens, but definitely hits adults; it’s very expansive thematically. Because it’s actually about an adult who’s sick of his life ’cause it hasn’t turned out the way he wanted it to, so he goes back. And he realizes ‘there’s no place like home’ and he also ends up helping his kids. So it’s actually a pretty adult movie. Leslie Mann plays his wife, and it’s all crazy.”

Read Part 2 of our 17 Again set visit! >>