W MAGAZINE – It’s been 17 years since Zac Efron first sang, danced, and dribbled his way into the hearts of a generation as the basketball star Troy Bolton in the High School Musical trilogy. That background would prove to be invaluable for his latest athletic turn as the real-life professional wrestler Kevin Von Erich in A24’s The Iron Claw. The film, directed by Sean Durkin and co-starring Harris Dickinson and Jeremy Allen White, follows the remarkable story of the family dynasty famous for their signature “iron claw” move in the ring as well as what would become known as the tragic “Von Erich curse.” To truthfully portray Von Erich, Efron underwent a drastic physical transformation that involved bulking up his muscle weight and donning a feathered ’80s wig that made the now 36-year-old almost unrecognizable. Here, Efron discusses entering the world of pro-wrestling and how the High School Musical soundtrack haunted him on set.
Were you a fan of wrestling before you starred as a pro wrestler in The Iron Claw?
Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch wrestling. My parents didn’t like it because my brother and I would then start wrestling. But we snuck it. The Iron Claw is about the Von Erich family. These guys completely changed the world of wrestling.
Did your background in dance help you with wrestling?
Dancing and wrestling are surprisingly similar. There’s a choreographed element to both, and the more you do it, the better you get. Also, just the sense of moving with a partner: Sometimes you lead, and sometimes you’re holding on to the other guy. The learning curve for wrestling is you just go for it. For stuff like climbing up on the ropes and jumping off, you’ve just got to nut up and go for it. There’s no real practicing.
You’re essentially wrestling nearly naked, in a Speedo-like suit. Was that difficult?
It doesn’t leave much to the imagination! I got pretty beat up, but you feel like a warrior. It’s kind of fun.
What was the first acting job that you booked?
I think it was an episode of ER. Maura Tierney, who plays my mom in The Iron Claw, saved me. My character had a bad gunshot wound and was tossed on the sidewalk in front of the hospital. Maura rescued me, and they pulled the bullet out. I’m pretty sure I died.
Where was your first kiss?
In a tree house. We played spin the bottle. It was her birthday, and a bunch of us climbed up to the tree house. There were candles—it was pretty cool.
Who was your cinematic crush?
Tia Carrere from Wayne’s World. I loved her. She just seemed like a rock star.
Were you a theatrical child?
Yeah, as soon as I found music, I was pretty much always singing and dancing to a certain extent, whether it was in community theater, in school, or improv.
Harris Dickinson said he was singing High School Musical songs to you on set all the time.
People like to do that to mess with me. It’s pretty funny. We had a scene where we show up to a party where Stanley, I think, is singing a song. He performed it live, and then they just continued to move on to another song, and it was something from High School Musical. I had to stay in character while that was going on, and everybody else was just losing it. The camera was on me, and I was just trying to stay in character. It put me in Kevin’s shoes a little bit. I felt very uncomfortable.