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The growing pains of a tweed idol

IT'S the blessing that every actor dreams of, and the curse they fear.

Early success with your face plastered on the walls of a million bedrooms across the globe, your every utterance or sigh sending shudders through young fans' hearts.

And then, before you can say 'next big thing', the next big thing comes down the line and knocks you off your perch.

For Zac Efron, it was the all-singing, all-dancing, High School Musical that made him a household name. And then, along came Glee, and High School Musical's Grade-A students suddenly found themselves graduating.

"I did feel a little like that, yeah," laughs the 24-year old Efron. "But, just like high school itself, we all knew that day was coming. I knew I was going to be saying goodbye to Troy Bolton, so, it wasn't like I was left dazed and confused."

Instead, Efron has been busy plotting his transition from tween idol to, well, Proper Adult Actor. Movies such as 2008's true-life indie drama Me And Orson Welles sat alongside more traditional mainstream offerings like the body-swap comedy 17 Again and tearjerker ghost story Charlie St Cloud. For his latest big-screen outing, The Lucky One, Efron sets out to play the weepie card once again.

Based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks -- the man who brought us Dear John, The Last Song and The Notebook -- The Lucky One sees Efron as a US Marine returning to Colorado after his third tour of duty in Iraq, and clinging to the one thing that kept him going -- a found photograph of a woman he's never met who he believes has been his good luck charm. And so he vows to track the woman down, and is soon at the door of Beth (Taylor Schilling), happy to take a job at her family business in the hope of getting to know her. Naturally, he doesn't tell Beth about the photo, and how it has saved his life. Because, you know, she would run a mile.

Weepy

So, young Mr Efron, are you looking for some of that sweet, sweet cult love that surrounds the Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams-led weepy The Notebook? Or just hoping for some of the sweet, sweet box-office that befell the unworthy Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried-led Dear John?

"Well, a little bit of both would be nice," he laughs. "I'm a fan of a good love story, one that can make even a hard, bitter man like me cry. You can go back to Love Story, you can look at a film like Titanic, the tragic love story has been a part of our storytelling. We're all still moved by Romeo & Juliet. A girl who has no idea about the crucial role she's unwittingly played in his life. That idea pulled me in ... "

It's not an idea that has been pulling in many people into cinemas in the US, where the film opened on April 20. The critics haven't been swooning either. "Well, the romance film doesn't tend to get an easy ride from critics," smiles Efron. "It's not a genre that middle-aged men who spend their time in darkened rooms looking at films tend to relate to.

"Again and again though, audiences out there prove them wrong. And I think they'll prove them wrong here, too. What's wrong with, you know, a little peace, love and understanding?"

The Lucky One hits cinemas on May 4