Zac Efron Reflected On How His “Ego” Was Bruised While Making “The Iron Claw”

Zac’s portrayal of the real-life Kevin Von Erich is being hailed as one of his best performances to date.

Throughout his career, Zac Efron has portrayed a number of real-life people onscreen, from Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile to former Marine John “Chickie” Donohue in The Greatest Beer Run Ever.

Close-up of Zac smiling

However, his most recent performance, as Kevin Von Erich in The Iron Claw, is being praised as one of his best yet.

Close-up of Zac

In case you haven't heard, Zac’s new A24 movie centers on the tragic true story of the Von Erich pro-wrestling dynasty, focusing on Fritz Von Erich and his four oldest sons.

Close-up of Zac sweating in a scene from the Iron Claw

Alongside Jeremy Allen White as Kerry, Harris Dickinson as David, and Stanley Simons as Mike, Zac plays the middle son, Kevin.

Close-up of the four actors at a media event

While The Iron Claw only premiered in Dallas last week, it’s actually been on fans’ radar for more than a year since photographs of Zac’s physical transformation for the role caused a stir online.

Close-up of Zac in a hallway in a scene from the movie

And now, as he’s being lauded for his standout performance in the movie, Zac is opening up about the biggest struggles that came with the role — aside from the questionable haircut.

Close-up of Zac with bangs, looking distressed

Needless to say, the appearance was a major aspect of the part, so Zac revealed that he started training to replicate Kevin’s physique more than six months in advance of shooting, describing the preparation as the “hardest” thing he’s ever done.

Close-up of Zac smiling and waving at a media event

“The physicality he brought to the ring every single day was really unique. It changed wrestling,” he told Entertainment Tonight last week. “I knew that was going to be the hardest [thing] for me to master and get right.”

Close-up of Zac being interviewed at a media event

And despite having previously said he put “everything” into the training, the 36-year-old actor joked in a recent press conference that the “biggest injury” he encountered while making the movie was “probably an ego one.”

Close-up of Zac wearing a cap

“It was the very first time that I had to enter the [Dallas] Sportatorium in Kevin’s full costume, which was just, frankly, a Speedo or trunks,” he recalled of the nerve-racking experience stepping out on set.

A wrestling scene from the movie

“Everybody was out there, there was this huge crowd, and the lights were on. I just remember in that moment thinking, How the hell did I end up here? What is going on?” he said.

Close-up of Zac on the red carpet

Zac went on to say that in certain moments, he felt as if he was shooting another installment of the Magic Mike franchise, admitting that he was left “frozen in time” in the ring.

Close-up of Zac smiling and wearing a shirt, jacket, and tie

This is it. This is the end,” he recalled thinking to himself in front of the big crowd in his minimal costume. “How did you get here? What choices have you made?

Zac in a wrestling scene

In the past, the Greatest Showman star has opened up about his struggles with his health and his body image, particularly after he had to transform his appearance for the Baywatch movie in 2017.

Close-up of Zac smiling

Starring alongside Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Zac previously said that he had to undertake some pretty extreme measures to attain his lean physique for the hit movie, including using diuretics.

Close-up of a shirtless Zac as the wrestler in the ring

“There’s just too little water in the skin. Like, it’s fake,” he told Men’s Health last year while reflecting on the intense period of his life. “I don’t need to do that. I much prefer to have an extra, you know, 2 to 3% body fat.”

Close-up of Zac smiling and standing with Dwayne Johnson and David Hasselhoff at a media event

In the same interview, Zac said that maintaining his “unattainable” Baywatch body prompted him to fall “into a pretty bad depression for a long time,” as well as develop insomnia.

Close-up of Zac wearing sunglasses and a T-shirt

“Something about that experience burned me out,” he said. “I had a really hard time re-centering. Ultimately, they chalked it up to taking way too many diuretics for way too long, and it messed something up.”

Close-up of Zac in a suit and tie

Prior to this personal revelation, Zac had already made it clear that he wasn’t happy or healthy while maintaining such an extreme lifestyle for Baywatch, saying in 2020 that it’s not something he ever wants to repeat.

Close-up of Zac smiling in a suit and tie at a media event

“That was actually a really important time to do Baywatch because I realized that when I was done with that movie, I don’t ever want to be in that good of shape again. Really. It was so hard,” he said on Hot Ones.

Close-up of Zac shirtless

“You’ve got things like water under your skin that you’re worrying about, making your six-pack into a four-pack. Shit like that, it’s just not … it’s just stupid,” he added.

Close-up of Zac

Well, Zac has put his all into yet another intense period of character preparation for The Iron Claw, and it sounds as if his hard work certainly paid off.

Close-up of Zac with other cast members smiling at a media event

Of the five Von Erich brothers, Kevin is the only one still alive, meaning Zac was able to get firsthand feedback from the man he portrays in the film.

Close-up of Zac with Kevin, the man he portrays in the movie

“I was very curious about what he thought of the movie,” the 17 Again star said at a press conference. “We went out to the patio, sat forehead to forehead, and talked about life for an hour and a half. And he told me that he did enjoy the movie.”

Close-up of Zac and Kevin shaking hands

Zac continued, “I can’t really put into words how that feels. It’s far and away the most important review to me on so many levels. It meant the world, and everything just came full circle.”

Close-up of Zac smiling at a media event

The Iron Claw is set to hit theaters Dec. 22, but you can watch the trailer here.

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