In The Paperboy, Lee Daniels' erotic thriller that caused a sensation at Cannes last year, Zac Efron's Jack Jansen returns to his small Florida hometown in 1969 to help his reporter brother (Matthew McConaughey) determine the innocence of a death row inmate played by John Cusack.
In the process he falls for the prisoner's girlfriend, a saucy, bouffant-haired mini-skirt wearing Nicole Kidman.
During the first two days Efron had to shoot the film's two highly publicised raunchy scenes: first watching as Nicole Kidman's Southern belle spreads her legs for Cusack in prison, and then when the Australian actress pees on him to remedy a jellyfish bite.
For the cherub-faced 25-year-old star of the High School Musical movies it was a baptism by fire. What was his reaction when he first saw Kidman in the prison scene?
"I tell you what, I'd never seen her in that sort of light," Efron chuckles.
"That was the moment (Precious director) Lee really raised the bar for all of us and I realised there was a special opportunity here to have the courage to be like Nicole. I wanted to be as fearless as she was and go for it. That day really set the tone for the movie."
It's not surprising then that we see the heartthrob parading around in his undies.
"While we were filming things like that happened on the spur of the moment," Efron recalls of filming in Florida's slimy swampland. "If the wardrobe wasn't true I'd just be in my boxers and Lee would run with it. It was hot!"
Did he know Kidman peeing on him would be a talking point when shooting the scene?
"I knew it was weird," he responds, crackling his voice in amazement, though never seeming embarrassed in the slightest. Kidman admits they didn't have time to get acquainted and were straight into the scene.
"I had the utmost respect for Nicole, a kind of adoration," Efron admits. "I think she's one of the greatest actresses. I guess there was some trepidation on my behalf because I didn't know what to expect but in minutes I found she was open and collaborative and fun to be around. She took me under her wing, I felt to a degree.
"She did that to everyone. She elevated us all to do good work and to be fearless like her. She works hard and is always pushing herself. It's not an accident she's done so well."
Cast member Macy Gray admits she was starstruck around Kidman and wanted to be photographed with her. "Don't do that," Kidman protested.
Kidman, like Daniels, wanted everyone to be part of a team. Besides, on an independent production like this there was no time.
For Efron, who is more accustomed to big-budget studio movies, was the change was refreshing?
"There were no trailers to run back to, no three-hour waits between scenes, no big rehearsals or hours of hair and make-up. We didn't have hair and make-up. We were on set filming the entire time.
"It was a marathon and everyone hunkered down and just focused. I've never been a part of anything like this; it was absolutely unreal. This is more explorative and experimental than anything I've ever seen."
Unfortunately Daniels' experimentation did not meet audiences' expectation in the US, but that's not to say his film is not fascinating.
Efron, like Kidman, should be commended for taking the plunge, and at one point the young star did so quite literally, diving into the murky swamp.
"There was stuff swimming around everywhere," he recalls, "and I dove in the water and someone spotted an alligator, so we had to cancel filming. We were playing it all for real."
Of course for audiences, especially young women, such moments are heightened by the sight of Efron's taut physique matched only by McConaughey's famous abs.
"I went running with Matthew a few times and I'm ashamed to say he's in way better shape than I am!" (That was, of course, before McConaughey became gaunt for his latest role in The Dallas Buyer's Club.)
Effron has since gone on to play a racing car driver in another independent movie At Any Price and he greatly enjoyed that experience as well.
"I feel very blessed to be in the position I'm in," he says. "I'm still young and hungry and ambitious but I'm sort of at a crossroads. I feel like I'm constantly faced with two paths."There's the road that leads to something everybody's already seen and there's the more challenging road, which tends to be more confusing and definitely the harder road to take. Inevitably I'll try to take that road when I can."
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