Conversations with Mitchell: Zac Efron, Part 2

VENICE, ITALY - AUGUST 31:  Actor Zac Efron attends the "At Any Price" premiere during the 69th Venice Film Festival at the Palazzo del Cinema on August 31, 2012 in Venice, Italy.  (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Mitchell and I came back to Zac Efron (Part 1 is here), after diverging into other topics and other names on my list (Jean Harlow being one of them …) We started to discuss the larger cultural phenomenon happening right now, and how Zac Efron may be a part of it, tangentially, but it could be taken to the next level by someone smart enough to recognize the potential.

Mitchell Fain: Thinking more about Zac Efron and Daniel Radcliffe as far as being famous as kids in major cultural phenomenons and then how they’ve proceeded through their careers. Radcliffe decided to go do Equus, which then came to Broadway. He took that risk which was extraordinary. He didn’t have to take that kind of risk. That’s insane.

Daniel Radcliffe in “Equus” (2007)

And that choice says to me that he’s a real artist because he was willing to take that kind of risk.

Sheila O’Malley: People laughed about him doing it.

MF: Yes! People laughed and made fun of him for it. And of course, now he’s gone on to have quite a successful stage career. But the perception at the time was dismissive. It was a huge risk for him.

It was like when Cher first went and saw Silkwood by herself in a movie theatre. She had disguised herself and sat there with a regular audience. The credits came up in the beginning, and there were the names – Meryl StreepKurt Russell – and when her name came up, the audience burst into laughter. It was like: CHER coming up after those two names? People thought it was hilarious.


Then, of course, she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Silkwood, and then she won the Oscar for Moonstruck, and everyone stopped laughing. But she had to be courageous enough to take that risk in the first place.


But Efron and Channing Tatum

Okay. Here’s the thing. I think Channing Tatum actually is already doing this with Magic Mike and maybe even in the Coen Brothers‘ movie too.


If Zac Efron can figure out how to tap into that thing going on now where it’s now okay for men to admit a sexual attraction to other men and still be straight – in the way that women can do with women, and gay men can do with women … Men have never been allowed to say, “Fuck. If I were gay, I’d stick my dick in Zac Efron.”

SOM: There’s that great anecdote about Carl Perkins first meeting Elvis. Perkins shook hands with Elvis, did some small talk, kept it together, but the second Elvis walked away, Carl Perkins said to someone standing right there, “That’s the best-looking man I’ve ever seen before in my life.” Carl Perkins wasn’t gay, but he didn’t care, he HAD to address it. Quentin Tarantino showed that in the first scene of True Romance, when Christian Slater says, “If I HAD to fuck a guy, I’d fuck Elvis.”


MF: Right! But straight men, in general, have a hard time admitting that. It’s way too threatening. But it’s changing now, and Zac Efron is tapping into it to some degree, but what if he tapped into it deliberately? What if there was an American Gigolo-type of movie for him?


What if there was something of substance that tapped into it and used him to do it? Neighbors taps into it: Seth Rogen has that line: “He looks like he has been created in a lab by gay men.” It’s Rogen’s way of acknowledging: Holy crap, that’s what beautiful men are supposed to look like.


But what if there was a more serious exploration of it? That’s what will turn Zac Efron from a movie star into … something else. A phenomenon, like what’s happening with Channing. But someone’s gotta write that script for him. And who knows if we’re even ready to talk about it, but it’s already happening and he’s a part of it. As is Channing Tatum.

SOM: It’d have to be written by a man, a man who’s open to that stuff. It’s not Judd Apatow.

MF: Apatow is too conventional.

Judd Apatow’s “This Is 40.”

SOM: Apatow is a domesticated suburban man, comparatively.

MF: It would have to be someone like James Franco. James Franco could write it, because James Franco’s entire career is based on: “I may not have sex with men, but the idea of having sex with men is fascinating to me.”


SOM: “I could be talked into it.”

MF: “I could be talked into it or I could talk you into it, or let’s talk about it.” Even in This is the End, there’s that whole discussion, and one of them says, “At some point, Franco’s gonna suck our dicks.”

The dudebros of Seth Rogen’s “This Is the End.” I love this movie.

SOM: Of course it’s gonna be Franco!

MF: If they’re stuck there forever, and someone’s gonna have to do the dick-sucking, it’s gonna be Franco.

SOM and MF: [Laughing that goes on for some time.]

SOM: Everything seems to depend on the straight boys … maybe because they hold that kind of power …?

MF: Yes. They hold the power to change. To change everything, to change the conversation, to change how straight men talk about this stuff. We can have that conversation, amongst ourselves, but until they’re on board with it, we’re still stuck. But do straight men have the balls to really address this? That’s what Zac Efron needs. If someone can write something for him that pokes a hole in the balloon that is that thing … the male fear of finding other men sexually attractive … and that balloon is being pierced, culturally, already – Magic Mike being a huge part of it – and if Efron could be a part of something like that deliberately … I mean, sky’s the limit, right?


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5 Responses to Conversations with Mitchell: Zac Efron, Part 2

  1. carolyn clarke says:

    Interesting comments about Efron. I have to admit that he does absolutely nothing for me but to each his own. I see your reasoning about //… If someone can write something for him that pokes a hole in the balloon that is that thing … the male fear of finding other men sexually attractive…//.

    This might seem very weird but the first thing that I thought of was a remake of “Some Like It Hot.” He could play the Tony Curtis role (full lips, long eyelashes) but he would need a new and improved Billy Wilder to pull it off in this day and age. There is no place for the innocence of that movie now, but he could probably do it well.

    • sheila says:

      Yes, I think his charisma is undeniable. The camera loves him. He has a soft and feminine beauty in his face – and a crazily idealized male body. It’s a de-stabilizing combination and has already been used really well. I mean, you HAVE to use it if you use Zac Efron. He brings to the table something rather specific …he’s not just a Pretty Boy. There’s something else going on there, something far more substantial.

      Even in the lunatic The Paperboy, he brings an almost solemn thoughtfulness to that totally enjoyable Southern Gothic piece of trash. (Not a criticism.) He’s the “innocent” in that crazy world. He creates a very believable brother-relationship with Matthew McConaughey – and is also very believable as an “innocent.” A late-bloomer, even. Lee Daniels objectifies the hell out of him (closer than close close-ups of his face, many shots of him in his underwear, or in swim trunks) – and that’s part of what needs to be done with him, too. Because it’s part of what he brings to the table. Daniels gets that we (okay, maybe not you – but in general, his huge audience) WANTS to see that. That’s what it means to be a movie star – or a charismatic personality where “good acting” doesn’t even seem to matter. I mean, it does, but it’s almost beside the point. So Daniels satisfies the prurience – check – and then gives Zac something substantial to DO – check.

      Interestingly, it is Matthew M. who plays the closeted gay man attracted to rough-trade in early 1960s Florida … Playing a role like that may be beyond Zac Efron now, but it would be interesting to see him explore stuff like that. As you say, Some Like It Hot – with that gender-bend-y stuff – and Tony Curtis was always more beautiful than handsome: the bathing-beauty eyelashes, the soft face, the whole deal.

      I think this is what Mitchell and I are discussing – Efron has such a strong sexual persona that playing around with that – deliberately – like Channing is doing – seems like it would be a really smart direction for Efron to go in.

      Of course “they” might scoop him up for super-hero movies instead. Or maybe even a Bourne Identity type franchise. I’m sure he’d be okay in those … but his career could be WAY more interesting than that. It’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds.

      • sheila says:

        Oh, and word came yesterday that he’s signed on to do Baywatch with The Rock. Hmmm.

        Which, of course, makes perfect sense. I said somewhere else – or maybe I just thought it – because there’s something that connects David Hasselhoff and Zac Efron: that the problem with David Hasselhoff – as huge as he was in his heyday – was that you always got the sense that he took himself seriously. And so he had a tendency to be embarrassing, like he wasn’t “in on the joke.” I always felt that he was trying to “present” his awesome body and still be in control of how it was presented: “Here’s my rippling six-pack, watch me run down the beach … I am so macho and rock-hard, watch me go.” In other words, he was still holding onto … something. He probably didn’t even have it in him to “let go” which is why his career basically just stopped. Zac Efron is a little bit more unprotected … and everything with him is lightened up with a sense of humor, and a sense of playfulness about his own awesome body (like he was able to do in Neighbors – which objectified him, but allowed him to participate in that in a knowing and humorous way. Hasselhoff could never pull that off. His body was strong – but EMOTIONALLY he was all bulked up. Efron is damn near transparent.)

        So. I love The Rock, too. I think he seems like another one of those guys who has spent so much time working on his body that he could seem like a robot – and yet his persona is pretty funny and intelligent (and he was GREAT in “Pain and Gain”. That’s a truly hilarious performance.)

        I look forward to slo-mo shots of the two of them running down the beach, holding surf-boards.

        • sheila says:

          and let me develop this one step further:

          This is what Hasselhoff missed.

          To be a sex symbol (a male sex symbol), you have to open yourself up to being objectified in the same way that happens to women. And most men can’t deal with that. Which is why there are fewer male sex symbols than female sex symbols. The assumption goes: Hey there now, WOMEN are the ones who are objectified – not MEN. Don’t objectify ME.

          (This makes me think of Jensen in SPN – and that great moment with Bela – the moment I wrote about in my very first SPN piece!! That moment is so good because it acknowledged what the show had been doing from the get-go – objectifying him – and Dean suddenly drew his back up and tried to resist what happens to him all the time. But when he commands her to stop objectifying him – he sounds so … weak, like he can’t believe he has to say that, because men don’t have to say stuff like that, those words are WOMEN’S words, and oh God, who am I right now?? It’s such a brilliantly conceived little piece of behavior – and really speaks to what I’m trying to talk about.)

          The male sex symbols we’ve been talking about here – are OKAY with being objectified like women. They REVEL in it. (There’s that famous naked Cosmo spread that Burt Reynolds did – where he’s basically posed like Ann-Margret or Brigitte Bardot – except he’s got this huge strong male body COVERED in hair.) Burt Reynolds was comfortable enough in himself to present himself that way – and he did it in a way that was celebratory rather than hostile. He didn’t “queen it up” (homophobia – that’s really what’s going on with the male resistance to being a sexual object. More so homophobia than misogyny.)

          Elvis, too, had this going on. His sexuality – as aggressive as it was – was presented in a way, or he embodied it, showed it – in a way that had more to do with RECEIVING (seen as stereotypically female). He stood up there in front of people, and opened himself up to their desires and projections and sex feelings – knowing that everyone out there wanted to “do things to him” and- he allowed that. He didn’t try to control it, or swagger around with it like, “Yeah, I’m still a manly-man, I fuck like a man, I’m a man’s man, check me out.”

          It’s a subtle difference, maybe, but not really. It’s the difference between Elvis’ onstage persona and Mick Jagger’s onstage persona. Both incredibly sexual presences – but Elvis presented himself in an almost feminine way (as masculine as he was) – and Mick – even with the feather boas – is ALL. MALE.

          Being comfortable with being objectified – and being able to use it, play around with it, tease people, flirt with an audience …

          For men to subject themselves to that … well, it’s difficult. They don’t LIKE being treated like that, it’s totally outside their experience as men.

          Sex symbols like Burt Reynolds, on the other hand, LOVED it. And played around with it. And used it. And also – crucially – laughed at it. Because it’s all in good fun, and if his audience “got off” by looking at his hairy chest … well, all right then, that’s why I’m here.

          Whereas Hasselhoff comes off as totally humorless – and so he was just not as powerful a sexual figure. Or, he didn’t come off as sexual at ALL.

          A good body alone is not enough.

      • Melanie says:

        I can’t read about Burt Reynolds and guys allowing themselves to be objectified in a very sexy, manly (and yet totally feminine) way without thinking about Joe Namath’s pantyhose commercial.

        Pictures from the first day of shooting on the new Baywatch set have drawn howls of disapproval because Zac’s boardshorts are nearly to his knees. Bring on the speedos!

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