The fact that Zac Efron is hardly the first actor you’d expect to play a real life serial killer makes it tempting to characterize the recently premiered Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile as an opportunity for the Neighbors star to show his range as a performer. But while many a former teen star before him has turned to darker material as a means of counteracting a potential typecast, Efron claims that the role of Ted Bundy appealed to him for entirely different reasons.
Speaking to Variety, the High School Musical actor recalled how he was initially hesitant about playing a serial killer, feeling that this type of drastic change in public image was a little played out.
“Initially, I had reservations about playing a serial killer,” Efron said. “I’ve seen people make horror films like this before, and it seems like an aggressive play to separate yourself from a perceived image. And it’s got a lot of killing and hacking and slashing. I think I’ve seen that before too many times.”
Instead, the actor saw potential in the psychological element of the project, and the way the film presents Bundy as an actual human being that we could imagine knowing in our day to day lives.
“This movie was really about a human being, somebody that perhaps I would have been friends with,” Efron explained. “And a love story from a very unique perspective. I’ve never seen that before. It’s intriguing to me. I think it’s more psychological and even more kind of a mindf–k.”
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Director Joe Berlnger, meanwhile, was similarly keen to get Efron for the part, telling Variety that he “loved the idea of subverting Zac’s sex appeal and charm.” And so the star came on board, with the actor reportedly adopting a diet consisting of only plant-based foods that would see Efron lose a total of 13 pounds. To prepare for the role, Efron also studied footage of Bundy at his trial, where he found to his dismay that there was a fair amount of overlap between the mannerisms of himself and the infamous serial killer.
Indeed, while last Saturday’s Sundance premiere of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile was met with mixed-to-positive reviews, even the movie’s detractors could largely agree that Efron was a strong choice for the lead. As it stands, no release date has been set for the picture, but if you’d like to learn more about the story of Bundy, Berlinger’s 4-part documentary series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes is currently available on Netflix.