For many girls of a certain age, the idea of playing a romantic scene with “High School Musical” mega-hunk Zac Efron would be something of a paralyzing fantasy. For actress Taylor Schilling—who plays Efron’s love interest in the new romantic film “The Lucky One”—this proved to be a different experience entirely.
“I’d never seen any of Zac’s work,” Schilling admits during a roundtable interview with the Wheel. “I think I’m a little too old to have seen the ‘High School Musical’ movies. When I met him, it was like meeting an actor at a screen test. I saw him as a man—this incredibly generous scene partner. I was like, “wow, even if [this audition] doesn’t work out, what a cool guy and a fun friend to have.’”
For the 27 year-old actress. “The Lucky One” marks a potential breakthrough role after a few years dabbling in underperforming films (last year’s critically reviled “Atlas Shrugged Part 1”) and TV (2009’s canceled medical drama “Mercy”). Based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks (author of The Notebook, Dear John), the film casts Efron as Logan, a Marine returning home from his third tour of duty in Iraq. During his time overseas, Logan found an unlikely good luck charm: a picture of a girl he doesn’t know.
Upon returning home, he connects with this woman, a single, working mom named Beth (Schilling). Despite the inherent contradictions with their relationship, the two—as is bound to happen in anything involving Nicholas Spark—begin falling for each other.
While Schilling admits that convincingly “playing love,” especially with someone you’ve known only a few months, can be a daunting task, she feels Efron’s accessibility as an actor made things infinitely easier.
”It was never difficult and there was never any work and those scenes were not awkward and uncomfortable,” she says. “At that point, we’d already done so many of the emotional [scenes]. By all accounts, doing an emotional scene with someone is more intense than getting kissy-kissy for a while.”
Though Schilling did not experience an ecstatic “star struck moment” with Efron, she certainly found herself star struck with fellow cast member and legendary Broadway stage/film actress Blythe Danner (“Little Fockers”), who portrays her grandmother.
“Whereas I didn’t know Zach, I knew too much about Blythe,” Schilling laughs.
“I was really nervous. [But] She was as charming and lovely as she is on screen. She is that time 20 in real life.”
While Schilling expresses great proud in the completed film, she recognizes a section of movie audiences for whom “Nicholas Sparks adaptation” is synonymous with overly sentiment, chick-flick-y love stories. Schilling, however, believes the film’s subject matter gives it far more emotional weight.
“I get the Nicholas Sparks things, but I think there is something—you know I’m a little biased— but I do think there’s something a little bit more rooted in reality,” she says. “I really got hit off of this character the first time I read the script. She’s in the middle of dealing with a tremendous amount of loss. She’s a single working full time mom. That’s not a glossy problem…There’s a lot of rough edges and it’s not your picture perfect boy-meets girl.”
According to Schilling, director Scott Hicks worked hard to keep the film from seeming overly glossy. This included insuring that Schilling wore minimal make-up, so that she may better embody the life and hardships of her character. Schilling believes this approach helped the filmmakers avoid the typical trappings of love stories and gives the movie its heart and soul.
“Logan doesn’t all of a sudden fall in love with this mannequin perfect image of a woman—he loves and accepts someone who brings a lot to the table,” Schilling says. “She doesn’t change for him. He loves her for exactly who she is. [This message] that no matter what you’re going through and how hard things seem that love is possible and that you’re worthy of love… I think there’s just something to that.
The weekend will tell if audiences embrace the “The Lucky One.” Granted, if the film finds the same audience as previous Nicholas Sparks adaptations have, it could effectively topple the juggernaut-like grip that “The Hunger Games” has had on U.S. box office. Schilling, for one, simply loves living in the moment.
“I feel so lucky and blessed to wake up—I’m living my dream right now,” Schilling says excitedly. “I try to not live with a lot of expectations, but I feel so grateful and it’s so exciting.”
Certainly, the prospect of playing the lead in a hit new film would be exciting for any actress. Perhaps not exciting as locking lips with Zac Efron but exciting nonetheless.