Zac Efron has held the heartthrob persona since the start of his career, with roles in “High School Musical,” “17 Again,” “Neighbors” and “Baywatch.” But it’s his recent turn as John “Chickie” Donohue in “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” that will surprise many.
In Peter Farrelly’s followup to “Green Book,” — which won three Oscars, including Best Picture — “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” follows U.S. veteran John “Chickie” Donahue (Zac Efron) in 1967 as he leaves New York to travel across the world to bring beer to his buddies in the Army while they are fighting in the Vietnam War.
This character-driven drama, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and streams on Apple TV Plus, is based on the bestselling book, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A True Story of Friendship Stronger Than War” that follows the reality of war and Chickie’s reunion with childhood friends. It also stars Russell Crowe and Bill Murray, in a scene-stealing cameo.
Efron and Farrelly are in cheerful spirits as they sit down for an exclusive Canadian print interview with the Star at a downtown hotel ahead of the film’s premiere at TIFF.
Efron could see the film coming to life as he read the script, something which is pretty rare for him, he said. The movie effectively balances the line between lighthearted humour and the horrors of war.
“I understood the tone really well. Pete navigates this very thin line, which is this really emotional, potentially heavy subject matter. We’re dealing with war and politics and then finding this subtle humour throughout it all that holds it together, it’s definitely something that I appreciate in film and cinema.” he said.
He continued, “It was just so nuts that a guy would go deliver beer to his friends during the Vietnam War just to show support. It’s the craziest thing ever.”
Farrelly shot to fame in the mid-’90s for writing and directing irreverent comedies such as “Dumb and Dumber,” “Kingpin,” “Shallow Hal” and “Me, Myself & Irene.” He undoubtedly has an eye for casting — he cast Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley in “Green Book,” for which he won an Oscar for best supporting actor in 2019.
In choosing Efron for the role the director knew the actor had the range for drama and comedy, but didn’t know if he could become Chickie — however, it was his chilling turn as Ted Bundy in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” that convinced him.
“When we met for the first time, he was just so open, saying, ‘Hey, I want to try something different. I want to open up and I want you to push me in certain directions,’” Farrelly said.
“I’ve said this a lot, but he reminds me of a young Travolta in this movie. He reminds me of ‘Saturday Night Fever’ Travolta and that’s one of my favourite performances ever. This character he plays is flawed. He’s not the brightest guy. This is a ludicrous plan. But his heart’s in the right place.”
Filming in Thailand allowed Farrelly to see a different side of Efron. “He’s a brave actor, like he’ll do anything. I was nervous about him every time we got in a helicopter, he’s hanging out the doors!”
“I remember, we landed one of those helicopters and I jumped off and everyone’s like, ‘I wouldn’t have done that.’ I was like, ‘Really?’” Efron said with a laugh.
The duo’s camaraderie feels effortless and earnest. As if reading my mind, Efron said, “This is just a brilliant opportunity. I’m so happy I can be a part of it with Pete. This is a story that we can tell as filmmakers and actors that it’s one of the ones that feels good to do.”
Farrelly said he had been wanting to work with Russell Crowe his entire career. “I’ve probably offered him five things and he always said no, but we finally got him for one.”
“First of all, I admire the hell out of him. But also, he helped Zac a lot on the set, as did Bill Murray. Zac was in every scene, every day he came in, he had five pages to do and when you’re working with Bill Murray or Russell Crowe, they’ll pull him aside and say, ‘Hey, let’s do this. Try this. They’re practicing their scene for a week while he’s got 12 hours to get it together.”
Efron added of Crowe, “He was aware of the cameras, he’s got good ideas. He’s a problem solver and you want those people around on set.”
Efron said that there was a lot of incentive to make it real and honest. “If Chickie was portrayed in any sort of bad way, that would be an unforgivable offense, in my opinion.”
Farrelly echoed the sentiment, “I want to get it right for Chickie’s sake. I told him the first day I met him that if the world loves this, and you don’t, it’s a nightmare for me. I want to please you first.”
Farrelly had Vietnamese consultants on hand as he didn’t just want to tell an American story, but a human story. “I don’t want to just please the American people watching this movie. I want to please the Vietnamese people. I want them to say, ‘That’s accurate.’”
In Thailand, the cast and crew bonded over, unsurprisingly, beer. “We all got together and finally had some beers one night after we had accomplished a pretty big scene. That was one I’ll never forget. I formerly didn’t really like that beer called Singha and that was the best beer I’ve ever tasted in my life,” Efron laughed.
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Monica has a BA in Journalism and English from the University of Massachusetts and an MS in Journalism and Communications from Quinnipiac University. Monica has worked as a journalist for over 20 years covering all things entertainment. She has covered everything from San Diego Comic-Con, The SAG Awards, Academy Awards, and more. Monica has been published in Variety, Swagger Magazine, Emmy Magazine, CNN, AP, Hidden Remote, and more. For the past 10 years, she has added PR and marketing to her list of talents as the president of Prime Entertainment Publicity, LLC. Monica is ready for anything and is proudly obsessed with pop culture.