Richard Linklater's "Me and Orson Welles," starring Zac Efron and Christian McKay, surrounds a teenager who is cast by young Orson Welles in a 1937 play. The film is being released November 25 by Freestyle Releasing.
With the Orsonian hurdle out of the way, the rest of the casting could proceed. The other key element, without which the project would be unworkable, is the leading role in this coming-of-age story, 17-year-old Richard Samuels. As Linklater points out, “He is very active. Even though he is the observer of the movie, he’s really the motor, so I needed to find someone who could pull that off. It could come off totally wrong, if he wasn’t likeable and sympathetic.”
Someone mentioned the name of Zac Efron, whose image adorns the walls of teenage bedrooms across the world, following the success of ‘High School Musical’. “Frankly,” admits Linklater, “at that point, I had just seen ‘Hairspray’ and my first impression was that he’s almost too good looking. But in my experience, you can’t judge the full range of an actor based on what you’ve seen them in – so we set up a meeting. A minute or two into the conversation, I knew he would be the perfect Richard Samuels.
“He really responded to the script and got it. Zac’s got so much going on, he’s a natural song and dance man – he really does kind of have a song in his heart and a little dance in his step and he’s really intelligent. But he’s young and there’s still a wide-eyed, it’s-all-ahead-of-him kind of vibe that’s perfect for Richard. He’s got a rare quality that you don’t see very often. Just photographing him, you go ‘wow, that’s a once in a generation kind of thing’. I just think, with his level of talent, he can go in a lot of interesting directions. He’s been great to work with, I can’t imagine anybody else playing it.”
Producer Marc Samuelson was equally impressed: “We know he can sing and dance and that he’s a decent actor. The revelation is going to be that he is a really first class dramatic actor and this film will reveal that to the world. Zac’s the real thing. He’s going to have a magnificent career – he’s got it all and he’s very serious about it.”
Zac found he had a lot in common with Richard Samuels: “He’s just a kid at school in Jersey, he’s very into the arts and theatre and music, he plays certain instruments and, yeah…it’s kind of funny, we are parallel in that way – I think Richard is pretty typical for a Jersey kid in New York at his age in 1937. He’s not the coolest kid in school: he has a tough time with the ladies. He’s got a mischievous side – at one point he almost ruined the theatre! It’s just a wild adventure. He’s taken from being just a kid at school in Jersey. He’s given a week with Orson Welles and it’s the most magical week of his life. He falls in love, he stars on Broadway, he gets in a fight with Welles. How many people can say that they have done that?
“It’s fun being an actor playing an actor playing an actor. Being in a play is an experience that I got to have quite a bit when I was a kid and there’s no feeling like it. Portraying that in a film is pretty surreal. I can totally relate with Richard on so many levels. Being in a play, thinking you know your lines – but maybe you’re a word off and the director comes down on you really hard. And finding romance during a play, that happens!”
Zac’s presence in the Isle of Man during the theatre scenes caused something of a local stir, as Christian McKay recalls: “These young girls were outside, screaming like banshees and he stood up and said ‘I’ll go out there.’ I said ‘you’re going out there? It’s terrifying!’ But later, when I went outside, there was this ten-year-old, who had met her hero and the great thing was, her hero had turned out to be everything that she wanted him to be and she’ll remember that for the rest of her life. He’s like that with everybody.”