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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In a recent "Saturday Night Live" comedy sketch, Zac Efron despaired that life was aimless beyond his "High School Musical" movies, but in real life the heartthrob is on a mission to transform his image.
In his new film "17 Again," which opens on Friday, the actor abandons the singing and dancing that won the hearts of teenage girls in the "High School" franchise, and turns to straightforward acting as a 37-year-old failure at life who is magically transformed back to his winning ways at age 17.
The role calls for a brief dance routine but no singing, and it comes as Efron looks to broaden his range beyond just the singing and dancing that made his "High School" character Troy Bolton a huge obsession for girls around the world.
The first two made-for-TV movies were big hits for Disney, which released the third film in theaters in 2008 and made more than $251 million at global box offices.
"Before 'High School Musical,' I wasn't a singer or dancer, or a basketball player even," Efron, 21, told reporters recently in Los Angeles.
"It was fun to learn those skills and to do that. Now, it feels like it's time, I'm ready to try something else," he said. "To be stagnant right now is not in my heart."
Efron recently walked away from starring in a remake of the 1984 musical movie "Footloose," in part because it would have resembled his role in the "High School" films.
This is a heady time for the California-born Efron. Beyond his starring role in "17 Again," Efron appears on the cover of GQ's May issue. "The 'it' factor in him is so high wattage," said "17 Again" producer Adam Shankman.
In "17 Again," Efron plays the younger version of a soon-to-be divorced father of two named Mike. The older Mike is portrayed by "Friends" star Matthew Perry.
When a bearded janitor, who seems somewhat angelic, fulfills the older Mike's dream of reclaiming his life as a high school basketball star, Mike finds himself back in the body he had at 17, and immediately enrolls at school.
But instead of focusing on basketball, young Mike turns his attention to the welfare of his teenage children, who are now his classmates and have no clue about Mike's transformation.
The role calls for Efron to act more like an adult, offering fatherly advice to his own daughter and coaching his son in love and basketball. In the process, young Mike tries to put old Mike's family life back together.
"17 Again" is the only movie currently on Efron's upcoming slate, and he seemed uncertain about what came next. He said future roles would depend on the characters' appeal and what directors are involved on projects offered to him.
But it seems Efron could use a break after recent years of being under the crushing media glare that has followed the "High School" series.
He and his girlfriend and "High School" co-star Vanessa Hudgens have been the constant subject of celebrity magazine cover stories, and they are hounded by paparazzi.
In fact, Efron said he avoids social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook where many people in their teens and 20s socialize these days. And, he flatly refuses to Twitter.
"I kind of value having people not know where I am or what I'm doing," he said.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte