If Zac Efron tells you to jump off a bridge-well, who’s going to say no to those baby blues? Describing a recent “perfect Sunday,” Efron recalls an early-morning trek with a group of buddies outside L.A. in the San Gabriel Mountains. “The sun was just coming up, so it was absolutely amazing,” recalls the 24-year-old actor. Arriving at the famed Bridge to Nowhere, “we did a couple of hours bungee jumping off the bridge. Then we came back, ate some Mexican and had a few beers. If I could’ve made it any better, maybe a massage after that.”
Welcome to Zac’s World: a place where you work hard and the occasional weekends off are for adrenaline, the beer is always cold and, y’know, why not dream about that afternoon massage? Relaxing atop the roof of the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (he also manages to get in a few pull-ups in between takes while dangling from scaffolding), the former Disney teen star is a study in contrasts: He’s still got the boyish smile that charmed the High School Musical generation, but his fitted sweater shows off the ultra-built physique of a devoted workout fiend who logs hours at the gym. He puts it all on display in The Lucky One, the new romantic drama out April 20, in which he plays a U.S. Marine returning home. Buzzing off his famous locks (kids, he had Justin Bieber’s hair before Justin Bieber did), Efron also threw himself into a grueling training regimen with a real-life Navy Seal. “We’d train, puke our guts out, eat breakfast and then go straight to filming,” says Efron. Transitioning into his most mature role to date, “it was clear he was stepping out of his comfort zone,” says director Scott Hicks. “It was a challenge, and he intensely applied himself to it. How can someone be smart, good-looking, talented and easy to get on with? It’s sickening,” he adds, laughing.
Off duty, though, Efron’s onscreen intensity gives way to laid-back California cool. He has the letters yolo tattooed on the outside of his right hand, which sum up his personal motto: “You only live once.” Open and easygoing, he laughs off a question about a recent red carpet mishap when he accidentally dropped a condom on the ground at The Lorax premiere. “I didn’t know what was going on,” he says, with a blushing smirk. So, um, is he seeing anyone these days? “I try to keep it as private as possible,” says the Arroyo Grande, Calif., native, who most recently has been linked to Mirror Mirror actress Lily Collins, 23. Asked about his high-profile romance with Vanessa Hudgens, 23, whom he dated for four years after they appeared in High School Musical together, he says simply, “We were in love.” While he notes that “you have to have fun” with the endless rumors, he does take issue with a recent report that he had gotten flirtatious with pal Rumer Willis‘s mom, Demi Moore. “That one I couldn’t laugh off,” he says. “It wasn’t funny.”
Looking ahead, Efron is eager for fans to see his next project, The Paperboy, a dramatic thriller due later this year in which he stars opposite Matthew McConaughey-a “good dude,” says Efron. “First day of filming, I just put Matthew in the best-friend bank.” Reflecting on the career of his new mentor (and fellow shirtless wonder), he says, “There’s more to be done yet. I’m young. I’ll get there.”