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Star graduates from last ‘High School Musical'

Zac Efron's face has launched a thousand sighs. His blue eyes can make the heart of a tween girl skip a beat. He has the cool of teen idols of the past such as Frankie Avalon, the wiggle of Elvis and the charm of John Travolta.

And to think – three years ago he was just another young actor who sometimes worked and saw his name come up on the credits near the end of a television show.

“High School Musical” made Efron a star. And now he and his castmates – Corbin Bleu, Vanessa Hudgens, Monique Coleman and Ashley Tisdale – are saying farewell. The gang from East High have danced and sung their way to graduation in the feature film “High School Musical 3: Senior Year,” which opened nationwide Friday.

It is hard for Efron to say good-bye to the shows. The movies made him a lot of close friends. His face is on clothes, sheets and other merchandise. And then there is that whole fame thing.

Emotions overflowed during the filming of “HSM3.” Production on the final scene had to be stopped because cast members were crying too much to continue. Efron and Bleu joke during an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel about which one of them cried first.

“We were standing on stage watching the curtain close on the stage where we had done so many musical numbers. That was where it all started. It was symbolic of our journey. We have come a long way as Wildcats. But even more as individuals,” Efron says.

Efron has come a long way in a short time as an actor. Gone are the days of bit roles in TV shows while still in high school. “High School Musical” led to a role in the feature film “Hairspray.” His next movie releases coming up are “17 Again” and “Me and Orson Welles.” In the first movie he plays a 37-year-old guy in a 17-year-old's body. The other is a drama set in 1937. It is about Orson Welles' Mercury Theater group putting on a production of “Julius Caesar.” Efron describes them as “completely different roles.”

And then there is “Footloose.” His name has been linked for years to a potential remake of the Kevin Bacon film. Efron says it looks like that is going to happen.

Not bad for a guy who didn't even plan to be an actor when he was at Arroyo Grande (Calif.) High School.

“I went through high school just like all of the other guys. I really didn't have any plans for my future. But this (acting) was my extracurricular and my hobby. Various doors opened and I went through them and I ended up here today,” Efron says.

He started his acting career in 2002 with a bit part on the TV show “Firefly.” The 21-year-old Arroyo Grande native bounced around the next three years in small television roles from “ER” to “Summerland.” Once he landed the lead role in “High School Musical,” the squeals of his fans have not stopped.

As for what he thinks about all of the attention, Efron smiles and says, “I am having a good time.”

Now the “High School” chapter of his acting life is done. It is hard for Efron to pick just one best memory of his days making the three “High School Musical” films.

“I don't know if you can put it all into one specific memory. I think it is just the environment. This has been a very safe and creative place to work for the past three years. It is going to be pretty hard to leave behind,” Efron says.

Efron calls his time with “High School Musical” “a dream come true.”

But it didn't start as a dream. He recalls having to wait hours between the first audition and the second. And then when the young actors were paired with a variety of other actors, it was always Efron and Vanessa Hudgens who got paired together. They thought that was a bad thing. But in the end they went on to be the biggest high school musical couple on film since John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John starred in “Grease.”

Despite that “High School Musical 3” was made as a feature film instead of a cable movie, Efron found it was the easiest one to make in terms of his role as the basketball/theater star Troy Bolton.

“We didn't have to do as much character building as much as just finishing. We also had the chance to actually reminisce. We have never been able to do that before,” Efron says.

And there are countless magazine stories, entertainment news features and Web sites that will tell you just how much fun he is having. You can tell how big a star Efron has become by the media coverage. Even when nothing happens, Efron makes headlines.

The cast traveled recently to London for a premiere of “HSM3.” Media outlets around the globe reported that after the premiere Efron had been attacked by a fan.

Efron smiles at the mention of the incident.

“There was no scary fan encounter. I didn't get touched. I walked and got in my car. Then I had all my relatives calling to ask, ‘What happened to you?' Nothing happened. It was blown out of proportion,” Efron says.

Such is the price of fame.