It Gets Awkward as Zac Efron Responds to Critic’s Scorn

Zac Efron in 'Parkland'
Zac Efron in 'Parkland'

What do you do if you're Zac Efron, you're in Canada to promote your JFK assassination flick "Parkland," and a reporter asks you to respond to a critic's claim that you're a "softball" actor?

You stammer. And then you let the director come to your rescue.

Along with his co-stars Paul Giamatti, Jackie Weaver, Colin Hanks, and "Parkland" director Peter Landesman, the 25-year-old actor fielded questions from members of the media who were gathered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday.

When asked to compare himself to former, fellow Disney star Miley Cyrus, Efron fumbled around for words and then mumbled that he doesn't know her. "This is kind of where my heart is," he said, making a case for his recent career moves toward smaller films like "Parkland" and "The Paperboy."

In "Parkland," Efron appears alongside an ensemble cast of heavyweight actors — Oscar caliber talent including Weaver, Giamatti, Marcia Gay Harden, and Billy Bob Thornton — and many others including Hanks, James Badge Dale, and Ron Livingston. Efron plays the young resident doctor, Jim Carrico, who in real life tried desperately to save the president's life on that fateful day.

And yeah, Efron admitted he learned a lot about the details of that terrible event. He likened the JFK assassination to another dark day in America's history: "It's like the way 9/11 was for me. I remember the specifics of that day."

And while one seemingly grumpy critic has claimed the young actor didn't quite fit in, there are bound to be many more who accept his emotional performance — one so passionate that it may have caused injury. Efron had to vigorously perform (fake) CPR on the actor playing the dying president, and the former "High School Musical" star joked, "He may have broken ribs."

Here's how the critic's remark went down:

Q [to Efron]: "Variety" took a bit of a shot at the movie ... [The] critic mentioned it had Oscar winners and, sort of, softer players side-by-side. I just wondered if you could talk about the process of having to do your career growing up in public?

Zac Efron: Um. It's interesting. I don't really know how to put it but I don't know how else to go about it [laughs]. I think you kind of set your mind and, really, my goal has always been to continue to challenge myself and to learn and to grow as an artist. I've been very very lucky to have had the chance to work along side actors of this caliber and work with great directors and I think I'm doing what I set out to do. But you have to go for it. You have to try. And I wouldn't want it any other way. ... This is what I want to do.

Peter Landesman: Can I add something?

ZE: Yes, please! [Laughter]

PL: There was no one else to play this role but Zac. He was the only person I wanted and he was the only person we ever contemplated. We're all young artists at one point. There's nothing incongruous about any of this.

Watch Zac Efron in an exclusive first look clip from 'Parkland':

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