‘I’d love to shoot here for the rest of my life’: Zac Efron’s Australian love affair

The paparazzi have been stalking the set of Ricky Stanicky, the new comedy from Peter Farrelly (Green Book, There’s Something About Mary), for weeks. But despite the pile-up of crew trucks and the traffic cones lining the narrow street in Melbourne’s leafy east, where a two-storey house is doubling for Cape Cod, the locals have kept their distance. Well, mostly.

“The neighbours have been fantastic, we’ve had no problems,” says Farrelly, before catching himself. “One time a few women flashed Zac – I’m serious. That’s the worst thing that’s happened.”

On the set of Ricky Stanicky (l-r): Director Peter Farrelly, Jermaine Fowler, Andrew Santino, creative industries minister Steve Dimopolous, VicScreen chief Caroline Pitcher, Zac Efron and John Cena.Credit:Ben King

Zac is Efron, the former Disney idol who recently starred in Farrelly’s movie for Apple TV+ The World’s Greatest Beer Run. No wonder the paps deem him marketable: though he doesn’t much like doing interviews, his social media following is off the chart (23 million Facebook followers, 58 million on Instagram).

Efron, who recently wrapped production on wrestling movie The Iron Claw, may have met his match in John Cena, who plays the title character in the movie. The former pro wrestler has 54 million followers on Facebook and 18 million on Instagram.

Those are the kind of numbers that are bound to excite algorithm-led Amazon, which commissioned the $US55 million ($80 million) film for its streaming service Prime Video. But it’s Australia that got it made.

Producer John Jacobs has seen the project move through five different studios since buying the idea from a couple of college students in New Jersey 16 years ago.

Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves and Joaquin Phoenix were all lined up at different stages to play the part of Ricky, the imaginary character used as a scapegoat for decades by a group of friends (Efron, Andrew Santino and Jermaine Fowler) before eventually being brought to life by a down-at-heel actor (Cena) they meet on a bender in Las Vegas.

Zac Efron, left, in a scene from his documentary series Down To Earth, has made no secret of his love of Australia.Credit:Netflix

But it only became feasible nine months ago, when Jacobs was put in touch with Australian producer Paul Currie, who has become adept at putting together deals for Hollywood films that want to take advantage of our generous subsidies. The federal government tipped in $9.5 million from its Location Incentive Fund, arts minister Tony Burke announced last month. The state government, which is far too coy to reveal numbers, has also contributed. (States typically tip in up to 10 per cent of the Australian spend; the justification for the subsidies is in the employment and rapid influx of economic activity such productions generate.)

“Literally, we wouldn’t be here without those,” says Jacobs. “It wouldn’t have been possible to make the movie at this budget without that. It’s fantastic.”

He won’t get any argument from Efron, who relocated to Australia during the pandemic and reportedly bought a large property in the Gold Coast hinterland in 2021.

“I’ve shot a couple of things out here, and it’s been nothing but a great experience,” the 35-year-old who shot to fame as the star of the High School Musical franchise says.

“You spend a lot of time even here when you’re not shooting here, don’t you,” teases Farrelly, knowing full well that Efron would rather keep his GPS co-ordinates to himself.

“Yeah,” Efron says, sheepishly. “Yeah.”

Don’t worry, Farrelly assures him. “I’m not going to tell them where you live.”

This film marks a return to the kind of ribald comedy with which Farrelly and his brother Bobby made their names – the Dumb and Dumber films, There’s Something About Mary – after the more sober tones of Green Book, for which he won Academy Awards for best original screenplay and best film four years ago, and the Vietnam War-themed The World’s Greatest Beer Run.

Today’s scenes include a peanut-catching competition, the accidental drugging of a rabbi, and panicked attempts to stop said rabbi performing a bris (circumcision) under the influence.

Efron shot the feature film Gold, written and directed by co-star Anthony Hayes, in South Australia in late 2020.Credit:Stan

As the paparazzi have already revealed, the film also includes a scene in which Cena dresses in a skirt and heels, complete with makeup, which may well be enough to generate the kind of backlash that has greeted many of the Farrelly brother’s movies over the years.

The former WWE champ isn’t too concerned about any of that, though. He’s just revelling in the biggest role to date in his still-fledgling acting career.

“Whatever the costume is, whatever the creative process is, if you embrace it wholeheartedly you never know what magic you’ll create,” he says. “That’s the beauty of what we do.”

As for where they do it, Efron has views of his own.

“I would love to shoot stuff for the rest of my life here,” he says. “And I hope this is the beginning of that.”

Find more of the author’s work here. Email him at [email protected], or follow him on Facebook at karlquinnjournalist and on Twitter @karlkwin.

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