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Ways of the world

(AP) / 28 May 2012

Efron leaves his comfort zone in The Paperboy

Zac Efron feltuncomfortable filming his revealing role The Paperboy — and he says that’s the way he wanted it.

The High School Musical actor has moved into decidedly grown-up territory with the film by Precious director Lee Daniels, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

It’s a swampy slice of Southern gothic set in the 1960s, with Efron as an aspiring writer helping his journalist brother (Matthew McConaughey) investigate a possible miscarriage of justice. Efron’s Jack falls for Nicole Kidman’s sparky but sultry femme fatale, who is in turn obsessed with a death row inmate (a supremely creepy John Cusack).

The cast also includes singer Macy Gray as Jack’s family maid, and British actor David Oyelowo as an ambitious big-city journalist.

Efron spends much of the film in his underpants, but says he didn’t mind the scrutiny.

“I don’t think I was supposed to feel comfortable,” the 24-year-old actor told reporters in Cannes.

Efron is not the only actor asked to bare his soul in the movie, which combines a crime thriller plot with a swampy landscape and undercurrents of racism and sexuality.

Cusack sheds a lifetime of good guy roles to play the sweaty, sinister inmate, and loved every minute of it.

“I felt like I’d been let out of some cage,” Cusack said.

Kidman also stretches herself, playing a sexually adventurous woman drawn to danger. In one memorable scene she administers to Efron the traditional treatment for jellyfish sting — urine.

“I’d been looking as an actor for something raw and something dangerous,” Kidman said.

“I may be uncomfortable watching the movie. But that’s my job — I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I’m willing to fail because of that.”

Daniels’ last film, Precious, was a surprise hit that won two Academy Awards in 2010. His next will be The Butler, the story of a long-serving White House staffer in which McConaughey plays John F. Kennedy and Cusack is Richard Nixon

The Paperboy, adapted from a novel by Pete Dexter, has drawn mixed response in Cannes, where it was one of 22 films up for the Palme d’Or.

But the actors seem to have adored the experience. Efron said working with Kidman had been a dream.

“I’ve been in love with her for a long time — since Moulin Rouge,” Efron said. “It was the loveliest time in the world for me.”

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