The first thing you see in 17 Again is Zac Efron — Hollywood heartthrob, star of the High School Musical franchise, bedroom wall decoration for girls the world over — sweaty and shirtless, landing three-pointer after three-pointer in an empty gym.

The filmmakers obviously know how to play to their base.

But after the opening — followed by an impromptu dance routine by Efron to Bust a Move — the story gets underway, and the Disney teen star gets his first real chance to stretch himself, to break out of the Tiger Beat ghetto.

“When I read the script, there were a million different things to play,” Efron says. “Playing that kind of complicated character held a lot of opportunities.”

Ask anyone involved with the production about Efron, and they are quick to commend his work ethic. Even after suffering from appendicitis during production, the actor was back at work the next day — and even called his co-workers to apologize for delaying filming.

“I could’ve ruined the movie,” Efron explains, deathly serious.

Efron has been keeping a much more watchful eye on his future career development. His next film, Orson Welles and Me, is a period drama about the Victory Theater.

He even considered a cameo in Gus Van Sant’s Oscar-winning Milk, but scheduling conflicts made it impossible.

Perhaps the surest sign that Efron is looking to broaden his resume and get away from the lighter material is his recent decision to opt out of a musical remake of Footloose. But Efron insists it has less to do with typecasting than it does with personal and professional growth.

“Since I was young, I’ve always loved trying new things and acquiring new skill sets,” the actor says. “I’m ready to try something else, a new challenge. I want to move forward. To be stagnant right now just is not in my heart.”

Opening day

• 17 Again opens in Theatres across Canada on Friday, April 17.

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