LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Zac Efron says he wasn't much into sports at school, had to be dragged to his senior prom and was really a bit of a goofball.
So becoming a global teen idol playing a basketball star who wins the heart of the prettiest girl in school in the blockbuster "High School Musical" series has been a shock.
"I never, ever would have dreamed it in a thousand years," Efron, 21, told Reuters. "I went to regular high school all the way through and acting for me was always treated as my hobby until I graduated."
Once he got started in Hollywood, there was no stopping Efron. His portrayal of Troy Bolton in the popular Disney series for three years has sparked Beatles-like mania among young girls around the world ahead of this week's opening of "High School Musical 3: Senior Year."
He dates Vanessa Hudgens, who plays his onscreen girlfriend Gabriella Montez, and it has only seemed to boost his heartthrob status and put a fairy tale spin on his own life in high school, which by his account was very ordinary.
"I was not really involved in sports. I wasn't a jock or a nerd. But there is a lot of myself in Troy. He's kind of a goofball," Efron said.
"In the movie, he is well liked for all the right reasons. I wish it was more like that in real life and then I would have been a stud in high school, which would have been nicer for me," he said, flashing a grin.
"High School Musical" began as a singing and dancing romp through teenage years in a 2006 made-for-television movie that eventually drew 255 million viewers worldwide. Then came a second TV movie in 2007, sold-out stage shows, concerts, theme park attractions and record-setting sales of DVDs.
The new movie "Senior Year" is exactly as it sounds. Troy and Gabriella's kissing-only young love affair moves through the final semesters in school, culminating in a romantic senior prom complete with waltzes, tuxedos and dresses to die for.
Efron's memories of his own prom aren't quite as rosy.
"Guys feel like they have to go but it's a big deal for the girls. You try. You want to be a good date. I got dragged out of the house to rent a tuxedo. They never fit right," he said.
With Troy bidding farewell to East High, blue-eyed Efron, a native of California, feels his biggest performance is yet to come.
He has two movies awaiting release -- the romantic family comedy "17 Again" about a grown-up man who wishes he could go back to high school and "Me and Orson Welles" in which he plays a 1930s teenager with dreams of starring on Broadway.
Efron is also in talks to star in a remake of the classic 1984 musical "Footloose."
If none of them sound like much of a stretch from his squeaky-clean, singing and dancing Disney persona, Efron admits that being a teen hottie can be both a blessing and a curse -- as Leonardo DiCaprio discovered after the success of "Titanic."
"I do tend to try and avoid places where teenagers hang out," Efron said shyly.
"I'm trying to diversify and change, and I'm learning a lot about acting and beginning to admire actors like DiCaprio and Johnny Depp who are constantly changing it up," he said. "But I don't take anything too seriously right now. I'm having fun."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and John O'Callaghan