‘Firefly’ Was Young Zac Efron’s First On-Screen Role

Some of Zac Efron’s latest movie roles have included serial killer Ted Bundy in 2019’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, and Barnum playwright Phillip Carlyle in 2017’s The Greatest Showman.

But long before the actor began picking up these award-winning Hollywood roles, Efron was a former child star.

Many of Efron’s fans assume he got his start on various Disney projects, including the High School Musical franchise that helped launch his career, but Efron’s first on-screen role was actually a far more obscure part on an Emmy Award-winning scientific fiction TV show.

‘High School Musical’ was Efron’s big Hollywood breakthrough

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High School Musical premiered on the Disney Channel back in 2006. Although Efron had several small TV roles before he landed the lead role of Troy Bolton in the Disney movie, the Disney production changed his career’s trajectory. “Efron came to fame for starring in the Disney Channel original film High School Musical (2006), for which he won the Teen Choice Award for Breakout Star,” explains IMDB. “He returned to the role of Troy Bolton in High School Musical 2 (2007), which broke cable TV records with 17.5 million viewers.”

Like many other child stars in Disney’s roster, Efron then played major roles in other films and TV shows in the media company’s portfolio. “[He voiced] the main character in The Lorax, before dropping his Disney image and taking on more mature roles in films such as The Lucky One and Parkland,” reports Biography.com

As his career grew in the mid-2000s, Efron was even named “the new American heart throb” by Rolling Stone magazine.

Efron has since branched out into more serious, and sometimes raunchy, character roles

Zac Efron
Zac Efron | Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage

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Because Efron first launched his career within the Disney universe, he has sometimes struggled at being stereotyped by Hollywood directors. For instance, when Efron auditioned to be one of the leads in the British-American remake of Hairspray, his past work on High School Musical was a roadblock.

Hairspray director Adam Shankman, writing for Broadway World, says he initially dismissed Efron’s audition to be the character Link Larkin. “

I thought he was too Disney and didn’t really understand what was so special about him besides the fact that he has the most beautiful eyes on the planet and a smile that has broken the hearts of millions,” he says. “I brought him back in to see if I could work with him. […] His smile was too broad and a little too Disney-like, so once I told him to stop smiling and read it again with a little smoke in his voice, arch his eyebrow and give me a wink when he met me; I suddenly knew I had found my Link. It was perfect.”

“In an effort to avoid typecasting, Efron decided to make a departure from musicals,” reports Biography.com.

Some of his most recent work includes 2019’s The Beach Bum and the 2019 TV series Human Discoveries. Efron’s upcoming roles include 2021’s Gold and 2022’s Three Men and a Baby, along with King of the Jungle (which does not have a release date yet).

Zac Efron’s first on-screen role was actually a minor part in ‘Firefly’

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Joss Whedon’s Firefly was an American science fiction drama that aired for just one season in 2002. Set in the year 2517, the TV show follows the survivors of an intergalactic civil war who are trying to survive on the fringes of society.  Although it won an Emmy Award, Firefly was canceled before its first season even finished airing.

“[It] was admittedly crowded, pretentious, and too innovative to be a guaranteed success,” explains AV Club.

In the fifth episode of Firefly, entitled “Safe,” viewers see the backstory behind doctor Simon Tam (played by actor Sean Maher) as he struggles to diagnose and save his injured sister River Tam (Summer Glau). In flashbacks, audiences see a younger version of Dr. Tam. The younger Tam was played by a 13-year-old Efron, and Biography.com notes that this minor role was Efron’s TV acting debut.