Talking Out Of School With …. Zac Efron
Here is another in an occasional series of conversations about education I am having with people from different walks of life. Earlier I spoke with Attorney General Eric Holder, musician John Legend and legendary producer Quincy Jones.
Zac was in Washington D.C. to talk about arts education and promote his next movie, opening soon, ‘Me and Orson Welles,” directed by Richard Linklater. While in town, the two of them, along with ‘Orson’ actress Claire Danes, stopped at the White House to talk to officials about increasing funding for the arts, part of outreach to support the nonprofit group called Americans for the Arts. That night they, along with Americans for the Arts President Robert Lynch, participated in a panel discussion on arts education (which I moderated) at a Georgetown movie theater after a showing of the charming ‘Orson’ movie.
During my interview and in remarks at the panel discussion, Efron talked about how important arts education was to him when he attended public school in California, and he singled out his seventh grade drama teacher. He also said that his experience advocating for arts education with administration and congressional leaders was “pretty surreal,” his first real “tangible experience when my opinion … could impact” an important issue.
The 22-year-old Efron is smart, articulate and exceedingly polite. Here’s the interview:
Q) Hi. Let’s start at the beginning. Where did you grow up and go to school?
A) I grew up in California and went to public school.
Q) Through what grade?
A) All the way through high school, Arroyo Grande High School.
Q) You weren’t part of the Hollywood tutor scene?
A) The what?
Q) Where kids get tutoring on set while they perform?
Q) How did you stay in school, start a career so early and keep it up?
A) That was complicated. School was my main priority. I excelled through school. Acting was my creative outlet, and then developed into a convenient way to pay for college. But the second my grades would slip, my parents would cut that off.
Q) So you were a good student?
A) An A student. [He didn’t say he graduated with a grade point average above a perfect 4.0 because of credits he earned from Advanced Placement courses.]
Q) What was your favorite subject?
A) Drama. I started in seventh grade. There was no drama program in my school [Paulding Middle School in Arroyo Grande] and my teacher, Robyn Metchik, started one and I really got into it.
Q) Do you still talk to her?
A) Yes. I like to go back and pop into her classes but haven’t had time recently.
Q) What was your worst subject?
A) I’d say I excelled at math and science until AP Chemistry and calculus. I started to waiver and knew that was not going to be my calling.
Q) You took AP Chemistry and calculus? You must be really smart. But did you ever cheat on a test?
A) Who didn’t?
Q) How did you wind up doing in chem and calculus?
A) I did fine. It just was a little tough.
Q) Do you remember your first crush in school?
A) I can’t tell you. I was in love every other week.
Q) What about college? Did you apply? You obviously aren’t attending right now.
A) I applied to UCLA for its theater program and to USC for film. I got into both but was never able to go.
Q) Do you think you are missing something by not going to college? Do you think you might go one day?
A) I sincerely hope so. The conscious decision not to go to college was the toughest decision I have ever had to make. The only thing keeping me from it is time. The experiences I am having now, though, are amazing, and I know these opportunities could be gone tomorrow. The incredibly rich learning environment I am in is something I would never trade.
Q) If you go back to school, what would you want to study? I think you’ve got the drama and theater pretty well down. What might be your major?
A) I’m not sure exactly what it would be. Everything I would have gone to school for is what I’m doing now.
Q) What courses did you take that you think helped prepare you for the work you are doing?
A) One that stood out for me was AP English. You have to be able to write and think coherently.
Q) Thanks very much. Your publicity people are going to kill me if I don’t stop asking you questions.
A) Thanks for talking to me.