Charlie St Cloud - Zac Efron
Charlie St Cloud (Zac Efron) © Universal Pictures

If you don’t know who Zac Efron is, you’re not a teenager or a parent of one! He has starred in some of the most successful on-screen musicals of the decade including the High School Musical franchise and Hairspray, and appeared in the comedy 17 Again and in Richard Linklater’s film Me and Orson Welles.

With is new movie Charlie St Cloud, he plays the title character who is an accomplished high-school sailor with a scholarship to Stanford University. But his bright future is cut short in a car accident where his young brother Sam is killed. Charlie is inconsolable, and at his brother’s funeral runs from the grave site into the woods where he encounters Sam, baseball glove in hand, waiting for him to begin the practice that is a part of their evening ritual.

Five years later, Charlie is the caretaker of the Seaside Cemetery where Sam is buried, but every evening they still meet to play ball. He’s only living to be with Sam, but when his high-school classmate Tess (Amanda Crew) returns to town unexpectedly he’s torn between his promise to his brother and moving on with his life.

What was it about Charlie St Cloud that attracted you to this project?

Charlie St Cloud - Amanda Crew and Zac Efron
Tess (Amanda Crew) and Charlie St Cloud (Zac Efron) © Universal Pictures

My first reaction when I read the script was very emotional, I connected with it. I have a little brother in real life and envisioning what it would be like for me to lose my little brother evoked a very strong emotional reaction from me. So I loved that. I also loved what the movie stood for, all the themes and messages about family and strength and being able to move on, keeping your loved ones alive inside your heart. It all rang true to me and made sense.

There was a familiarity, a lot of it I could relate to and a lot it I recognized in Charlie. It reminded me of the way I connect to my younger brother. I thought Charlie’s relationship with Sam was real and honest, and I admired the qualities that I saw in him. I thought they were very heroic.

What touched you about the script?

The character’s journey, everything that happens to him; the experience of loss and not being able to rebound. Those are all very attractive things. After doing High School Musical and things that were so upbeat, happy and heightened reality, 17 Again was sort of the same, this was very grounded and real and emotional and something I hadn’t done before. It was something new to share with the audience, so hopefully they’ll like it.

What was the most challenging aspect of playing Charlie?

Charlie St Cloud - Zac Efron
Charlie St Cloud (Zac Efron) © Universal Pictures

It was interesting to step into Charlie’s shoes and play a guy who’s down on his luck, who feels numb and doesn’t think he has much to live for. I tend to play characters who are more energetic, full of life and dance a lot. But Charlie is very different. The role was a 180-degree change, and that was extremely exciting.

Charlie has the ability to see his dead brother – was that a difficult aspect to play?

Charlie doesn’t know if he’s insane. All he knows is that for an hour every day at sunset, he’s able to hang out with his little brother again. The ability to see Sam is a huge gift, but at the same time, it’s very much a curse. He becomes very unsocial and a pariah in town. He can’t interact with society anymore, because he’s got this weight that he carries.

Charlie and Sam have an amazing bond in the movie.

They’re not typical every day brothers, we’re a bit closer, we didn’t grow up with a father in the movie, so we really rely on each other for a lot more. I’m trying to raise him to be the young man that’s successful and strong. So we have a stronger than normal brother relationship. Baseball is the way that we bond and talk, it’s our ritual; we connect over it. That’s the way I instill a lot of the rules of success to him.

Did you work on your relationship with Charlie Tahan off screen as well as on?

Charlie St Cloud - Charlie Tahan and Zac Efron
Sam (Charlie Tahan) and Charlie St Cloud (Zac Efron) © Universal Pictures

We loved to hang out and all of that, he’s a cool dude, I felt very much like he was my little brother the whole time. It was good to have a partner in crime on set, because everybody else was really old. So we liked going out and doing fun stuff, when everybody else would just go home and go to sleep.

Can you talk about working with Amanda?

Working with Amanda was absolutely incredible. She’s so natural and so gifted, so beautiful. I remember the first time I met her in our audition and we were all just taken aback by how great she was. She has a very unique quality about her, I don’t even know how to put it into words, but it’s amazing. It really makes her character shine. I can’t wait for everyone to see her in this movie because it’s a different type of role for her.

How challenging was it to learn sailing?

Initially, it was difficult to learn. There are so many factors that go into it. It’s not just wind blowing into a sail and propelling your boat. It’s incredibly precise. One mistake, one laps in judgment, and it can very quickly capsize. I was shocked when I got out on the water in these small boats.

On the first day of sailing lessons, my instructor made a point of capsizing the boat. The boat flipped over, and I was dumped in the water. I was scared, but I also got it out of my system.

I wouldn’t get seasick, I would get land sick. I’d come back on the land and everything would be moving. But I did become a pretty good sailor by the end of it.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.