TORONTO – “Zac Efron, Oscar nominee” could be real.
The star of the upcoming war drama “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” sees his character forced into foxholes and bunkers in Vietnam, a fish out of water with a bag of Pabst Blue Ribbon amid battle. And that’s when the former “High School Musical” heartthrob captures a gravitas that could make Academy voters pay attention.
Those scenes were also the most natural for Efron. “In its purest sense, it really took the acting part out. I didn’t really have to pretend,” the actor told USA TODAY a few hours before the world premiere of “Beer Run” at the Toronto International Film Festival. That surrounding sense of war is ‘visually ingrained in me. I’ve never experienced anything like this. It felt real. I got a bit of a taste of what it could have been like.”
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Directed by Peter Farrelly and based on the true exploits of John “Chickie” Donohue in the late 1960s, “Beer Run” (in theaters and streaming on Apple TV+ September 30) stars Efron as a New Yorker who thinks of his friends from the neighborhood serving as soldiers in Vietnam. With public sentiment leaning negatively on the war, Chickie decides to embark on an epic adventure: getting beer cans from the local bar and traveling abroad to deliver them personally to his friends. Of course they think he’s crazy, and Chickie finds out how dangerous the situation really is.
When playing real-life figures like Chickie and serial killer Ted Bundy in 2019’s “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” “there is some value in taking it seriously,” says Efron, 34. The importance of portraying it character so that Chickie himself will enjoy it and that it is something his family would enjoy and be proud of and that is honest and truthful according to their stories. That is going to be very, very important.”
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Efron calls Farrelly’s writing a big help, “weaving this very emotional, somewhat serious, but also humorous undertones with potentially dark subjects. And he’s just better than anyone I’ve ever seen do it. I knew this was the right place to seize this opportunity.”
“Beer Run” is Efron’s second dramatic effort this year: He also starred in the indie survival thriller “Gold,” a transformative role that turned its protagonists into a grotesque mass of sunburnt flesh. “I really enjoy trying things outside of my comfort zone,” says Efron. “I love this craft.”
Farrelly’s latest film, 2018’s Green Book, received two Academy Awards acting nominations (and a supporting role win for Mahershala Ali). With Toronto being a major launching pad for potential Oscar runs, “Beer Run” gives Efron a real spotlight for his acting range.
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When the Academy knocks on his door? “I would probably call the police,” Efron jokes. “We are about to be ambushed. Will I be expelled from the country?” When it comes to awards, he doesn’t think much about it: “I like the idea of reaching high and making great movies and elevating them. So anything that happens out there is a byproduct of what you really love to do.
“It would be interesting (to be nominated), but the goal here is for us to make a cool movie that we’re passionate about. That mission accomplished.”
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While Farrelly doesn’t put much emphasis on the award season either, “the director would be thrilled” to see Efron get strong Oscar attention “because he deserves it. His performance is impeccable.” Efron reminds him of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”: “He’s a flawed character who does some things wrong, but he always means well, his heart is in the right place and he’s very easy to love.”
Efron will play the next role in “The Iron Claw”, a drama directed by Sean Durkin (“The Nest”) about the pro wrestling family Von Erich. Several years ago, he learned that he loves working with directors who have vision and that has led to meaty roles in which he can collaborate and experiment.
“It’s really breathed new life into working with Pete (on ‘Beer Run’) and making this story level everything you want in making movies,” says Efron. “Who knows what the future holds, but of course I’d love to see more of this sort of thing.”
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