Less than 24 hours into my discipleship, and I’ve already broken the one commandment I was given.
In that familiar way of all sinners, I justify it by telling myself it could have been worse. Luckily, the guru I’ve lately decided to follow is an understanding, forgiving, and merciful one. At least, he seemed that way when we spoke. Also lucky: he lives in Los Angeles, and has no way of knowing about my recent conversion, let alone my transgression. Zac Efron will never know that I ate one (but only one!) doughnut for breakfast this morning. But even if he somehow found out, I don’t think he’d mind. As far as gurus go, Efron is pretty chill.
Why have I chosen a former teen idol as my new personal, if totally oblivious, guru and prophet? Let’s agree on one entirely uncontroversial truth: Zac Efron has the body of a god. And not one of those flabby, hedonistic gods either; the kind of god — whether you prefer Norse, Greek, or Other — that tests marble’s capacity to do his abs justice. And so, I figure, someone that close to godliness deserves, if not worship or glory, some attention. If it looks like a duck, my thinking goes, I might as well listen to see if it quacks.
I’m not the only person looking to Efron for salvation. “People are always asking me for tricks they can use,” he says from his home in LA, “but the truth is, there are no shortcuts. There’s no magic thing.” While he’s talking, I draw an embarrassed line through my next question: what’s the one trick I can do to get shredded like that? Is it really just diet, because I hate diets. As if reading my mind (see — a prophet!), he continues, “My tip is to start with something small. Wake up and eat a salad. No one ever eats salad in the morning.”
This is where I confess to him that far from greens, lately most mornings I put away two apple fritters for breakfast. I figured that after maintaining my fitness regime for the past three years, my body could handle the calories and carbs in the morning. Then a week ago I looked in the mirror and realized I was wrong. Hubris. Efron laughs. Not unkindly. He can relate, he says. “Everything goes in waves. This week I was in a plane for basically a combined 36 hours. I don’t look, by my standards, great at all.”
Then he challenges me to eat more greens, less artificial sweeteners, and quit it with the morning fritters. If it would mean looking like Efron — who seemed to hit a second puberty in his mid twenties, turning from a fresh faced heartthrob into a man who could run on the beach alongside The Rock and not look inadequate — I was willing to try.
Like I said, my conversion lasted less than a day. It’s not easy being an Efronite. But it’s not easy doing what Zac Efron did, either.
To be taken seriously as a guru, one must do more than look the part. Otherwise, any dim-as-he-is-muscled male model would make the cut. A guru, like a Catholic saint, has to perform, or at least be at the centre of, a kind of miracle. After all, Efron didn’t come by his Adonis-status without help. While we’re talking, he’s rifling through his fridge, pulling out meals and superfoods packed with adaptogens, compounds that, apparently, promote homeostasis and lower stress. He seems especially excited about some paleo fajitas his nutritionist packed for him. The point is, Efron has help.
In fact, as a nascent Efronite, I testify that a tenant of Efronism is to seek guidance wherever you can. I mean, it’s nigh impossible not to receive inspiration from someone like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, while you’re setting the Internet on fire by working out in-between takes on Baywatch. The Rock is like a living, bench-pressing motivational poster. But Efron makes it a habit to get advice from all his collaborators, from Kenny Ortega, the man behind High School Musical who made him a star, to Seth Rogen, who helped make him a star, again.
But gleaning wisdom from others is not the miracle that qualifies Efron to be a guru, though it is part of it. The miracle is thus: I’m a 33 year-old-man, and I care about an actor like Zac Efron. He is one of maybe a handful of male celebrities who has transitioned from being a tween girl’s dream, his face plastered on notebooks, pillows, and dolls from the dark regions of the uncanny valley, to an actor who men — straight men — pay to see act in movies. This is no small thing. Remember Taylor Lautner? Of course not, because he failed to make that miracle happen. Justin Bieber succeeded in keeping his female fans interested as they aged into adulthood, but the majority of men would probably still like to punch him in the face. Ryan Gosling almost counts; while he was certainly a child actor, he was clearly not the heartthrob of Breaker High. The only reason Channing Tatum doesn’t qualify is because, while his transition was impressive, he started later, and so had marginally less teen idol baggage to shed. Really, the only other men who managed to pull off what Efron is now pulling off are probably Justin Timberlake and Leonardo DiCaprio. That’s some rarefied air right there.
Efron’s insight into all this is both humble (another fundamental principle of Efronism, actually) and illuminating. “More than ever,” he says, after pausing to thank me with heartburning bro-earnestness for including him in that grouping, “it’s important for guys to show emotions. There is a real bond between buddies. Having friends is essential. Guys do love each other. Showing vulnerability.” It’s as if there’s something about watching a former teen idol be friends with another adult man that allows us to see them in a different light. It makes it okay for us to want to be their friends, too.
Obviously, it helps to have the right kind of friends. Watching Timberlake bro-down with Andy Samberg and Jimmy Fallon allowed us to forget his days of wearing matching denim eveningwear with Britney Spears. (A couple of solid albums produced by his pal Timbaland also helped.) For Leo, it wasn’t his “pussy posse” pals that brought him mainstream male acceptance; it was his relationship with Martin Scorsese. For Efron, it was starring, and riffing, alongside Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in the Neighbours movies that changed our minds. Turns out that singing and dancing pipsqueak from the High School Musical franchise didn’t take himself as seriously as we figured he would. The dude is actually funny.
And sure, you could argue that this miracle — like his stupid physique — is just a result of picking the right people to work with. And maybe that’s true. But if it were that easy, Corey Feldman would be polishing an Oscar by now.
California is the land of gurus. And Zac Efron is nothing if not Californian. If his Californianness wasn’t so endearingly genuine, it’d almost come off as satire. Which, I suppose, makes him perfect for the new Baywatch film he’s starring in. Like 21 Jump Street, and to a more disappointing degree the recent CHiPs movie you already forgot about, Efron tells me that Baywatch will be a kind of reimagining of the classically cheesy television show. An action-packed blockbuster worthy of The Rock, but not afraid to poke fun at the source material. It’s almost a perfect metaphor for Efron himself.
Efron has just returned to California from Dubai. He was there kicking off the new Hugo Iced fragrance campaign. The slogan: Your Time is Now. Efron loved that. “We’re a generation of procrastinators,” he says. So he was eager to partner with them. Plus, he remembered some advice he got from Matthew McConaughey, who loved his work with Dolce & Gabbana so much he told the young star that he should get a brand ambassadorship of his own if ever given the opportunity.
And on the one hand, sure, I bristle at the thought of my guru doing something so corporate — even if it’s for a brand I respect, and even if he’s following advice from an actor I respect — but, I see the wisdom, too. That kind of thing is the fruit of Efron’s miracle, an acknowledgment that his demographic has changed. He’s the kind of man with whom other men want to identify. By their fruits you shall know them.
Plus, remember how Efronism is all about learning? So, they flew him to the New Capitalist Mecca and along with media events, Hugo Boss gave him a chance to do some things he had always wanted to do. Four-wheeling in the dessert. Camel rides. “I got to meditate in the desert. It was so spiritually enlightening. It was the clearest I’d ever seen Orion.” When you’re an Efronite, you find opportunity for growth in everything you do.
He tells me that he’s ready for a break. He’s been working for years, non-stop. Used to be he’d never go a year without hitting the slopes, and now he hasn’t been skiing in a very long time. But he’s also ready for a change, too. Now that he’s shown his comedic skills, he wants to surprise people again. Another musical is on the way. But then, maybe a thriller. Something darker. He’s happy, though. Tired, but happy. He’s focused on staying centred and adjusted, but it might be time for some Anthony Bourdain-style escapes.
It’s true: the guru is a young man. Not immature, not naive, but somehow still earnest. And while I’m speaking with him, laughing with him like two bros bonding at some backyard get together, I realize his indestructible innocence might actually be his biggest miracle.
It is, after all, his greatest strength, both in his performances and in real life. Think about it: we are naturally primed to dislike a man who looks like he does. We are evolutionarily predisposed to feel threatened by him. He’s been rich and famous, disconnected from normal life, for a third of his time on earth. There’s no reason we should like this guy. And yet, you can’t not. It would, somehow, be unfair to. What did he ever do to us?
It’s a story that’s been repeated often, but it’s illuminating. It’s how he met Seth Rogen. Zac saw him at a party and felt compelled to talk to him, even though at the time they existed in completely different worlds. Still, he walked up to Rogen. Told him how much he liked his work. Told him he understood that Rogen probably hated him, and his work. Admitted that he hated himself sometimes, too. And it won Rogen over immediately. He assumed Efron would be an arrogant dick, he wasn’t prepared for him to be so self-effacing. Efron’s best performances, including and especially the one he would give next to Rogen, highlight this wounded, precarious, beautiful humility.
If everyone had it, imagine the world we’d live in. We’d all be singing, dancing, shredded gurus, eager to laugh, ready to surprise. But we’d have to give up doughnuts. And that’s some tough shit, right there.