Zac Efron has nothing to hide.
Covering The Hollywood Reporter's May 9 issue, the Neighbors actor reveals new details about his private struggle with alcohol and drugs. "No matter who you are, you face challenges growing up," Efron explains. "You go with your things, you learn, you have to. It's impossible to lead an honest and fulfilling life as a man and not make mistakes and 'fess up to them when you need to. But it's especially humiliating when they happen to be so public and so scrutinized. When you have success young, and you accept the good things, you have to accept all of it. You have to accept the moments of glory but also a great responsibility. And that responsibility, to some degree, involves being a role model. At the same time, I'm a human being, and I've made a lot of mistakes. I've learned from each one."
The often-anxious actor, who is a self-described insomniac, admits he is guilty of "overthinking things."
The single star also touches upon "the struggles of dating, of falling in love, of searching for love and being there for your friends when they need you. There's no question that to receive anything great, like love or respect, or to better yourself, you have to give a piece of yourself away." (Though he is no longer in touch with ex-girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens, he calls her a "really interesting, sweet person.")
Efron, 26, also addresses his recent tussle with a homeless man in downtown L.A.
"I was drinking a lot, way too much," he says, acknowledging there were drugs, too. "It's never one specific thing. I mean, you're in your 20s, single, going through life in Hollywood, you know? Everything is thrown at you. I wouldn't take anything back; I needed to learn everything I did. But it was an interesting journey, to say the least. I had a friend come pick me up late at night—we were looking for a place downtown to get a bite and catch up. We were having trouble finding somewhere...and the car ran out of gas off the 110. It was ridiculous. We had to pull over, and I called Uber [car service]."
While waiting, Efron says, "A homeless guy, or vagrant, tapped on the driver's-side window. Before I knew it, [my friend] was out of the car, and they started fighting. I saw that [the homeless man] was carrying some sort of a knife, or shank, and I got out of the car to disarm him. At some point, he dropped the knife, and I got hit pretty hard in the face—and almost instantly the police were there to break up the fight." The movie star now calls the incident "the most terrifying moment in my life."
Efron—who went to rehab last year—has joined Alcoholics Anonymous and also has been seeing a therapist. "I just started going," he says. "And I think it's changed my life. I'm much more comfortable in my own skin. Things are so much easier now." Even so, Efron's addiction issues still linger. "It's a never-ending struggle," he explains.
Seth Rogen, Efron's co-star in Neighbors, is proud of the actor's progress thus far. "On the grand scale of things, he's doing a pretty good job," the comedic actor says. "He was a child actor, and you don't need to have a sociology degree to see the pitfalls, especially as they transition to becoming an adult actor. But people are rooting for him. You can see his performance was incredibly good in the movie."
Efron was thrust into superstardom after High School Musical premiered on Disney Channel in 2006. Soon after, he starred in movies like Hairspray and 17 Again. "I'm grateful for every bit of that early success," says the actor, who later sought more mature material. "It was hands down the most honest, carefree, passionate experience of my life. There were no expectations. [But later] I definitely felt that pressure. I'm not comfortable with it at all times. The people that I saw and the people that I started to meet, the majority were young. These were kids, and I looked into their eyes and I saw myself as a fan, and it was shocking to be on the other end of that. You just want to please every single one."
The actor got to show his range in other films, like Me and Orson Wells and The Paperboy. In the end, it was too much too soon. "I had done films back-to-back-to-back. I was burnt out," he recalls. While he blames his workload for his unhappiness, he acknowledges there were deeper issues that needed to be addressed, saying, "There was something lacking, some sort of hole that I couldn't really fill up."
Work, Efron says, "started to become the reason to go anywhere, the reason to talk to anybody. The phone calls I received were regarding [work], the ones I wanted to make were regarding scripts or to producers. Slowly but surely, I was no longer living in my house. It was just hotel to hotel. So my hobbies went out the window." The actor stopped seeing friends, grew distant from his family and turned to alcohol and drugs to escape from the daily grind. "I was just so deep into my work, it was really the only thing I had," Efron explains. "I clung to it in a way that became a little bit destructive."
As of late, Efron exercises daily, eats healthfully and goes to bed by 9 p.m. He is also trying to reconnect with old pals. "I hadn't seen any of my very close friends in months," he says. "I didn't realize how incredibly isolated I had become. I had a fantastic excuse to put myself at ease, which was: 'It's for the work. It's for the art. You should be lonely when you're working like this. That's what artists do.'"
"Without those moments where you feel like your lowest, it's impossible to appreciate the high ones," he says. "But I sit here in front of you today much happier and healthier than I've probably ever been."