From Disney to Ted Bundy: Zac Efron’s Transformation

Ever since Zac Efron burst onto the scene in 2006 as a fresh-faced teenager in Disney’s High School Musical, everyone knew he was destined for greatness. Efron was the ultimate teen heartthrob in the mid-2000s, and over time, he has transformed into a polished, mature actor capable of playing complex roles.

Zac Efron attends a premiere at The Curzon Mayfair
Photo by Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage

Efron has had many achievements throughout his career, including winning an Emmy Award for his docu-series Down to Earth with Zac Efron. He has played every type of character, from a frat boy in Neighbors to the twisted serial killer Ted Bundy. Read on to see how Efron transformed over the years.

Perfectionist and a Class Clown

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine actors ever having a normal life, but Zac Efron said he had a normal childhood in a middle-class family. The actor was born in San Luis Obispo, California, where his dad, David, was an electrical engineer, and his mother, Starla Baskett, was an administrative assistant.

Actor Zac Efron arrives for
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Efron was a hard-working kid who “flipped out” if he got a B instead of an A. He was a perfectionist but also described himself as a class clown. Efron’s father encouraged him to pursue music early on, enrolling him in voice and piano lessons in elementary school.

He Wasn’t Sure

Initially, Efron was reluctant to pursue the arts but warmed up to the idea after his piano teacher encouraged him to audition for musical theater roles. Efron started by acting in school plays and joined an improv troupe at The Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville. He subsequently acted in several shows.

Zac Efron and Shelley Buckner
Zac Efron and Shelley Buckner. Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

The push from Efron’s piano teacher helped him find a love for performing. He acted in stage shows such as Gypsy, Peter Pan, Little Shop of Horrors, and The Music Man. His drama teacher saw he had great potential and wanted to help him take his career to the next level.

Getting an Agent

While attending Arroyo Grande High School, Efron’s drama teacher introduced him to an agent in Los Angeles. His drama teacher, Robyn Metchik, had connections in Hollywood because her son was actor Aaron Metchik. Efron was later signed to the Creative Artists Agency and began auditioning for professional work.

Zac Efron and Paula Abdul
Zac Efron and Paula Abdul. Photo by Michael Caulfield/WireImage

With the help of his agent, Efron landed guest roles on Firefly, ER, and a recurring role on Summerland. In 2006, Efron graduated high school and was accepted to the University of Southern California. However, he did not enroll because he was cast in a project that would change his career.

A Life-Changing Role

In 2005, Efron auditioned for High School Musical at a group casting call in North Hollywood. He recalled, “The casting directors put everyone in a room together, and we ran through the different phases of what we would need to do – first dancing, then singing.” Efron made it through the first audition.

Zac Efron at the in Beverly Hills, California
Photo by Eric Neitzel/WireImage

Within two weeks, Efron received a call that would change his life. He got cast as Troy Bolton in what would be High School Musical. The film premiered on Disney Channel on January 20, 2006, and it was an instant hit. Overnight, Efron and his co-stars became international celebrities.

They Removed His Vocals

While filming High School Musical, Efron recorded the vocals for all the songs. However, his voice wasn’t heard in any of the first film’s songs because his recordings didn’t make the final cut. Instead, producers brought in Drew Seeley to sing Efron’s part.

Ashley Tisdale and Zac Efron of
Photo by Jemal Countess/WireImage

Efron wasn’t given an explanation as to why his singing was dubbed, but it put him in an awkward position when the movie took off. He never thought he would need to address it, but he was happy that Seeley got the recognition he deserved.

He Proved Himself

Following the success of High School Musical, Efron was seen as one to watch. A year later, he was cast as Link Larkin in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Hairspray. Instead of lip-syncing again, Efron’s voice was heard in Hairspray.

Zac Efron in Hairspray
Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage

Efron belted it out, and Hairspray became a critical and commercial success. Although he sounded great in Hairspray, Efron had to fight to sing in High School Musical 2. Efron said, “That was a huge point for me.” He put his foot down, and the producers listened.

Reprising the Role

In 2007, Efron reprised his role as Troy Bolton in High School Musical 2. The film aired on Disney Channel, and it was another huge hit. Because the movie garnered so much attention and love from fans, the final film of the High School Musical trilogy had to be special.

Actress Ashley Tisdale, actor Zac Efron, and director Kenny Ortega
Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images

The following year, High School Musical 3: Senior Year was the first film from the franchise to receive a theatrical release. Unsurprisingly, it was a blockbuster success at the box office. Critics praised Efron and his co-stars, which allowed him to receive more acting opportunities.

A Teen Romance

On-screen, Efron’s High School Musical character fell head over heels for Vanessa Hudgens’ character. The two took their adorable on-screen romance into the real world and began dating in 2005. Fans of the franchise rejoiced because their chemistry was heartwarming.

Actors Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens
Photo by Marc Piasecki/GC Images

The two became the “it couple” among teens, and everyone was rooting for them. They had to spend a lot of time together between filming the three movies and traveling to promote them. The two rarely spoke publicly about their relationship but attended every event together.

Making Waves

At just 21 years old, Efron landed on Forbes Celebrity 100 list based on his fame and earnings. He was a force to be reckoned with, and everyone saw that he would only keep rising. Efron was then cast in 17 Again with Matthew Perry.

Photo by Toni Anne Barson/WireImage

The film proved he could play a leading man in a non-musical movie. His role also allowed him to show off his basketball skills again. Efron then took on his first dramatic role in 2008’s period drama Me and Orson Welles, which premiered at the Toronto International Film.

They Called It Quits

After five years together, Efron and Hudgens broke up in December 2010. The two never revealed why they broke up, but both said they would remain friends. Several months after their split, Hudgens admitted long distance was a challenge in their relationship.

Actors Vanessa Hudgens (L) and Zac Efron
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Hudgens and Efron were busy actors, and their careers took them to different parts of the country. Their time together was limited and strained their bond. While they video-called each other often, it wasn’t the same. By 2014, Efron said he and Hudgens were no longer in contact.

Changing Things Up

Efron wanted to do something different with his career, so he made his way to the festival circuit in a range of dramas. In 2012, Paperboy premiered at Cannes Film Festival. Sadly, the movie was a major critical and commercial failure. It didn’t even make $1 million at its opening.

Photo by Toni Anne Barson/FilmMagic

Efron didn’t let that keep him down and took on his first voice role in the animated film The Lorax. The children’s film made an impressive $70 million during its opening weekend. He also appeared alongside several other stars in the film New Year’s Eve in 2011.

He Moved On

After his relationship with Hudgens, Efron was spotted in 2012 with Lily Collins. This was years before they would star together in 2019’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile. The two dated for nearly two years before breaking things off in 2013.

Zac Efron and Lily Collins
Photo by Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage

The two were last seen together in October 2013 at Disneyland. They happily held hands as they walked around the park, but something got in the way of their relationship. Efron was battling his inner demons and needed to fix himself before he could think about settling down.

He Went to Rehab

After a streak of success, Efron took a step back from the spotlight in 2013 to check himself into rehab for drug and alcohol addiction. He said, “I was drinking a lot, way too much. It’s never one specific thing.” Being in his 20s in Hollywood affected his relationship with alcohol.

Zac Efron attends a basketball game
Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Shortly after his stint in rehab, Efron said he was “in the best place he’s ever been.” However, his battle with addiction was ongoing because he had to relearn how to be sober in social situations. Efron kept up with his sobriety by attending AA meetings and seeing a therapist.

A Frightening Moment

In 2013, Efron had a terrifying experience in which he “almost died.” He slipped in a puddle of water at his home and broke his jaw. He had to have surgery, and his jaw was wired shut to repair the damage.

Zac Efron is seen on May 08, 2013 in Los Angeles, California
Photo by GONZALO/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

He had to postpone some of his work commitments to recover from the accident. Efron later said his masseters “got really big” to compensate for his injured jaw muscles. It was around this time that his jawline started changing. People thought he had plastic surgery.

Making a Comeback

Efron made his Hollywood comeback by starring alongside Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller in 2014’s That Awkward Moment. The film about three young bachelors who vow never to get married marked the beginning of Efron’s roles, where he played the stereotypical “dude bro.”

Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW

He added to his streak by playing the cocky fraternity president Teddy Sanders in Neighbors. The comedy made $270 million, making it one of the highest-grossing R-rated movies in the US. Neighbors also marked Efron’s transformation from teen idol to mainstream hunk.

He Broke His Hand

While filming Neighbors, Efron had an unfortunate accident. He and Seth Rogan were in the middle of a fight scene where he got pushed into a fireplace. During the scene, Efron hit his hand on the “wall or floor” (he couldn’t remember) and broke his hand.

Zac Efron and Seth Rogen
Photo by Roger Kisby/Getty Images

Efron knew his hand was broken, but he continued with the scene instead of seeing a medic. Eventually, he went to the hospital and had to get a metal plate put in his hand. It wasn’t pleasant to finish the film like that.

A Summer Fling

In 2014, Efron had an unexpected summer fling with Michelle Rodriguez. The two were spotted holding hands at the premiere of The Rover and joined friends on a trip to Italy. They seemed close and comfortable with each other and packed on the PDA.

Zac Efron (R) and Sami Miro
Photo by Noel Vasquez/GC Images

However, their relationship didn’t work because Rodriguez is notoriously private about her love life, which is hard when you are dating someone in the spotlight. The two ended things amicably in August 2014 after two months together. Efron moved on with Sami Miro the following month.

A Career Pivot

At this point in his career, Efron was compared to Channing Tatum because the two made the same career shift. He continued to pivot by taking on roles in several comedies. The “dude bro” character seemed to work for him because every movie he starred in was a hit.

Actors David Hasselhoff (left to right), Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron
Photo by Jörg Carstensen/picture alliance via Getty Images

In 2016, Efron starred in the Neighbors sequel and acted alongside Adam Devine in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. The latter was a flop, but it didn’t hurt Efron’s career. The following year, he transformed for the big-screen blockbuster Baywatch.

Riding a Shark

While filming Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates in Hawaii, Efron and Devine went on a shark dive with professionals. The two got in the ocean at 4:30 a.m. when there were plenty of sharks in the water. As he got in the water, Efron saw a 14-foot tiger shark swimming towards him.

Actors Zac Efron (L) and Adam Devine
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Efron said, “I held my breath, crossed my arms, and let the shark know I wasn’t prey. I stared into its eyes, and the shark swam past me.” As it passed, Efron grabbed its fin and rode the shark back to the boat. It was a spontaneously dangerous decision, but he survived.

Unattainable Physique

To prepare for his role in Baywatch, Efron followed an intense diet and workout plan. His Adonis-like figure was achieved by a diet of protein, leafy greens, and months of extreme workouts. He was in the best shape of his life, but it came with many negatives.

Actor Zac Efron attends The Cinema Society Screening of
Photo by Ben Gabbe/FilmMagic

Efron said his body looked fake because he got down to three percent body fat. It also affected his mental health because he lost sleep by waking up at 4 a.m. to work out. He developed insomnia and fell into a deep depression, which left him feeling burnt out.

A Triple Threat

While Baywatch was a critical failure, Efron made up for it with a glorious return to musicals. He portrayed playwright Phillip Carlyle in The Greatest Showman, and audiences couldn’t get enough of him. The film made an astonishing $434 million during its opening weekend.

Zac Efron accepts the Choice Drama Movie Actor award for
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The film had multiple theatrical releases and earned Efron a Teen Choice Award. He proved himself to be a triple threat because he could sing, act, and dance. Efron was incredible, and it made up for the few flops in his career.

A Dark Role

After playing many characters that were similar to one another, he took on a completely different role. In 2019, he starred as notorious serial killer Ted Bundy in Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile alongside his ex-girlfriend, Lily Collins.

Photo by George Pimentel/Getty Images

Efron explained that it was his most challenging acting experience, stating, “It was a long process to get my mind around if I could or if I wanted to play a guy like Ted Bundy.” The film received mixed reviews, but critics praised his performance for showing his range as an actor.

Killing Zac Efron

While filming his TV show, Killing Zac Efron, in Papua New Guinea in December 2019, the actor had to be airlifted to a hospital in Australia. Efron had contracted what was believed to be typhoid or a different bacterial infection. Luckily, he recovered and later flew home for Christmas.

Killing Zac Efron TV show poster
Source: Tumblr

The series followed Efron as he went into a remote jungle on a dangerous island and fell “off the grid” for 21 days. After recovering in the hospital, Efron finished his three weeks in Papua New Guinea, and the show premiered in April 2020.

Down to Earth

Efron had done many different things throughout his career, but in late 2019, he got to work on a passion project. He started filming a web docu-series called Down to Earth with Zac Efron. The series premiered on Netflix in July 2020 and focused on travel and green energy.

Down to Earth TV show poster
Source: Netflix

The project took Efron to France, Puerto Rico, London, Iceland, Costa Rica, Peru, and Sardinia, where he learned about things like renewable energy, tap water systems, sustainability, eco-villages, and more. Critics said Efron was enjoyable to watch, but the show lacked focus, undermining the environmental message.

He Received Backlash

When Down to Earth premiered, it received mixed reviews, especially from the scientific community. Jonathan Jarry from the McGill Office for Science and Society said the show advertises pseudoscientific products like cancer-preventing superfoods. He added, “the show consistently uses genuine ecological concerns to make us accept false claims.”

Down to Earth TV show poster
Source: Netflix

Others said the series added to the growing catalog of Netflix shows promoting questionable health advice and pseudoscience. Lindsay Dodgson from Insider said Darin Olien, who co-hosts the show, acts as Efron’s sidekick and health guru, but everything he says is “unverified or disproven.”

Hit With a Lawsuit

Due to the backlash from the series, Netflix, Efron, and Olien were sued by a food company called Down to Earth Organics. The company had no relation to the show and alleged that its image was damaged by the association viewers made with its products.

Down to Earth TV show poster
Source: Netflix

The company filed the lawsuit in July 2022 when a second season was announced because it wanted to prevent further damage to the brand. Down to Earth Organics argued that Jonathan Jarry’s article supported their claims. The allegations have yet to be proven in court.

Lockdown Love

Like many other Hollywood celebrities, Efron headed to Australia during the pandemic. He had talked about leaving LA behind and frequently spent time in Australia. In 2020, Efron settled in Byron Bay, where he met Vanessa Valladares, who was waiting tables at a local café.

Zac Efron and rumored girlfriend Vanessa Valladares

Efron and Valladares started hanging out in July 2020, and she reportedly moved in with him a few months later. The aspiring model and Efron were pictured holding hands in September, and she helped celebrate his 33rd birthday a month later. The two tried to keep things private.

Breakup Rumors

In November 2020, breakup rumors swirled when Efron had to move from Byron Bay to Southern Australia to start filming Anthony Hayes’ Gold. He was set to star in the Australian survival thriller, and people thought the distance would strain his relationship with Valladares.

Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

However, the reports were wrong because Efron and Valladares were reportedly doing great in December 2020. Efron loved his life in Australia and was happy with his girlfriend. According to sources, he had become good friends with the Hemsworths.

Gotta Go My Own Way

Although the couple kept their relationship out of the public eye besides the occasional paparazzi photo, everyone knew when they broke up. In April 2021, the two reportedly went their separate ways because the relationship fizzled out. Efron ended it because it didn’t “feel right” anymore.

Zac Efron attends the UFC 269 event
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Close friends were rooting for the couple because they seemed happy, but it wasn’t meant to be. Despite the split, Efron stayed in Australia because he made it his home. He had planned to move there long before his ten-month relationship with Valladares.

Award Winner

In 2022, it was announced that Down to Earth with Zac Efron would have a second season focusing on Australia. Although the first season was met with much criticism, that didn’t stop Netflix from greenlighting another season. Additionally, Efron won an Emmy for the first season.

The Greatest Showman Australian Premiere - Arrivals
Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage

Efron was nominated for two Emmy Awards in 2021 for Down to Earth. He won the Outstanding Daytime Program Host award but lost in the Outstanding Travel, Adventure, and Nature Program category. That showed his haters that their opinions don’t matter.

Questions About His Face

Since Efron broke his jaw in 2013, his jawline has changed greatly over the years. In 2021, he looked drastically different and started trending on Twitter because people thought he had plastic surgery. Efron didn’t realize he had gone viral until his mom called to ask if he had had surgery.

Actor Zendaya, Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron
Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images

Most people didn’t know or remember Efron’s 2013 accident. Despite the speculations online, Efron didn’t respond because he didn’t care what people on the internet thought about him. However, in a 2022 interview, Efron spoke about his accident and how that changed his jawline.

Another Transformation

Efron struggled after transforming his body for Baywatch in 2017, but he learned a lot from that experience. Therefore, he is taking a different approach to transform for his upcoming role as famed wrestler Kevin Von Erich in The Iron Claw.

Zac Efron poses alongside fans
Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage

He recently spoke about his “bulking” journey for the role, saying he stopped overtraining. Efron added that he has incorporated foam rolling, stretching, self-massages, yoga, and ice baths into his routine. He has also had to grow his hair out for the role.

He Officially Moved

Efron had been back and forth between LA and Australia for several years but always hoped to leave LA behind officially. The actor finally made his dream a reality in 2021 after selling his LA home and purchasing a piece of property for $2 million close to the Gold Coast and Byron Bay.

Zac Efron attends
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

He sold his LA home for $5.3 million, less than he originally paid. Efron’s former home boasted five bedrooms and five bathrooms, a chef’s kitchen, a spa-like master bathroom, and stunning city views. Efron is reportedly building a home on his secluded Australian property.

How Much Is Zac Efron Worth?

As of 2022, Efron is worth about $25 million. Efron has taken home the big bucks through his successful acting projects, including the High School Musical franchise, Neighbors, The Greatest Showman, and many others. His web series was also a huge success financially.

Zac Efron Filming For 'AT&T's Life, Gig-ified' Event
Sneak peek of Zac Efron on set filming for ‘AT&T’s Life . Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for AT&T

The actor made $5.8 million in just one year. Efron also has his own production company under Warner Bros. called Ninjas Runnin’ Wild. The company helped produce films such as Dirty Grandpa, That Awkward Moment, and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile.

His Childhood Crush

Efron has kept most of his personal life private throughout his career, but there are many things people don’t know about him. He previously opened up to Ellen DeGeneres about his childhood crush, Tyra Banks. Efron said he stole his mom’s Victoria’s Secret and ripped out Tyra’s picture.

Actor Zac Efron attends the screening of
Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage

The actor revealed, “I stole my mom’s Victoria’s Secret magazine, cut a page out, and had it on my wall. That’s embarrassing.” We wonder if Tyra ever found out that Efron had such a big crush on her. She must have seen it in the headlines.

Guitar Lessons

Efron has many musical talents and took piano and voice lessons as a child. However, the guitar was one instrument he had always wanted to play. When he starred in The Lorax in 2012 with Taylor Swift, he finally got the chance to learn from a professional musician.

Actor Zac Efron poses for a photo during a Premier League match
Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

Swift reportedly gave Efron his first guitar lesson, and she was impressed with how quickly he learned. Efron kept practicing, later showing off his skills by playing an improvised version of “Pumped Up Kicks” on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. He sang lyrics about DeGeneres to the tune.

He’s a Big Fan

It seems like Efron would be too busy to watch TV between all his acting jobs, but he finds time to keep up with his favorite shows. The actor admitted that he was a big fan of Stranger Things and wanted to guest star on the show.

2017 MTV Movie And TV Awards - Roaming Show
Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Efron loved the Netflix series, saying he was a huge fan of Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven. He met the young star when he presented her with the award for Best Actress at the 2017 MTV Movie and TV Awards. Efron said he “fanboyed” over the experience.

A Backup Plan

Some actors have successful careers for most of their lives, while others have to find a side gig when their careers flop. If that ever happened to Efron, he has a backup plan. Efron said that he would have wanted to be a chef if he wasn’t an actor.

2017 MTV Movie And TV Awards - Backstage And Audience
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/MTV1617/Getty Images For MTV

During a round of 73 questions with Vogue, Efron revealed that he has always been enthusiastic about food. He said he was asked to host and produce a still-untitled cooking and travel documentary for MTV. We wouldn’t mind watching him in the kitchen.

His Go-To Binge Show

When Efron isn’t working, he is like everyone else and loves binge-watching shows. He said his go-to show is Game of Thrones. Efron is a huge fan of the series and posed in the iron throne to prove it. That doesn’t seem like a binge-watching show because the episodes are so long.

Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington
Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for J/P HRO Gala

When does Efron have the time to watch all those detailed episodes with too many storylines to follow? Efron has probably “fanboyed” over Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke because they are the stars of Game of Thrones.

No One Believed Him

Dating as a celebrity is hard because everyone wants to know your business. Efron is usually tight-lipped about his love life, but he previously opened up about using a dating app. The actor once joined Tinder, but nobody swiped right on him.

Zac Efron attends the European premiere of 'Baywatch'
Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

We would “super like” Efron if we saw him on a dating app. Efron said people didn’t match with him because they assumed the profile was fake. It’s reasonable because no one would believe a celebrity like him would need a dating app to find love.

His Biggest Regret

Although Efron has been able to do so many things because of his success, he still has regrets. In an interview with Women’s Health magazine, Efron said his biggest regret was not going to college and having the student experience.

SiriusXM's 'Town Hall' With The Cast Of 'Neighbors 2'
Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Efron was accepted to the University of Southern California but didn’t attend because his acting career took off. If he hadn’t landed the role in High School Musical, he would have gone to college. Efron wishes he could have done both, but the universe had other plans.

What’s Next

Efron’s success in Hollywood is due to a combination of hard work, natural talent, and a little bit of luck. Since he starred in High School Musical and continued to land high-profile roles, he became a force to be reckoned with.

Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - May 10, 2022
Photo by RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

The actor has plenty of projects in the works, like Season 2 of Down to Earth with Zac Efron and The Iron Claw. Efron is unquestionably one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and there’s no doubt that he will continue to appear in blockbuster hits that entertain audiences worldwide.