Zac Efron started out his career in musical theater in the Disney Channel’s High School Musical films and Hairspray, but has since become a bona fide star in roles for films like 17 Again, Charlie St. Cloud, and New Year’s Eve. Now the 24 year-old takes a more dramatic turn in the romantic drama The Lucky One.

The film is based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks and has Efron playing Logan Thibault, a Marine Sergeant, who falls in love for a woman he knows, played by Taylor Schilling, only through a photograph he keeps during his tour in Afghanistan. The actor talks about the training he had to endure to look the part.

“Yeah, a lot of physical training for the role, a lot of hanging out with Marines and Navy Seals, I had a lot of people that helped, Master Sergeant Jim Deaver,” Zac says, “I had so many wonderful opportunities to work with Marines that had been out there, who had been out there and seen the fight and they shared great stories. The first time I went to Camp Pendleton, I met a few staff sergeants that had been on several tours and were going back in a couple of days, hopefully, they’ll be at the premiere.”

“It was neat,” he continues, “I came in and I couldn’t have felt more out of place, being a musical theater geek, comes in, and wants to play a Marine. But with the help of Scott [Hicks], our director, who was asking the most amazing questions and had done so much research, they really opened up to us and shared the most incredible stories, so it was very helpful.”

Zac talks about how Logan represents a difficulty for many veterans returning home from it, a struggle to want to come to terms with what they had to witness in combat.

“Well, yeah, exactly,” he says, “Initially, that was what he faced. There’s no way you can fully appreciate what’s going on. And both of you realized that in the scenario, but you want to try as hard as you can to communicate an effort as much as you can to understand.”

“And after it took about two hours when I really met and talked to the Marines,” Efron adds, “For them to open up and realize that we had the most honest intentions and we wanted the truth as much as we could get, and they were so receptive and responsive to that.”

Efron talks about how important it was for he and Schilling to play around during the film’s love scene.

“In the scene, they are out of practice and they were totally in love and having fun and sort of doing it again for the first time, and that was easy to do,” Zac says of it, “That’s sort of how we were in the moment anyway, so a lot of that fit.”

Zac talks about embracing the romance genre with lines like how Logan deserved to be kissed everyday.

“I’m amazed sometimes at the moments that just sound great and when you put that on paper, that will probably be the cheesiest things in the entire world, but that’s love,” Efron says of it, “I think everything’s sort of heightened. But I know that when I did read that line, oh, shoot, I got to say that. But at the moment, I think you can find it.”

Efron also talks about what he felt was the hardest scene he did in The Lucky One.

“I think the hardest stuff to film by and large were all the scenes in Afghanistan at the very beginning,” Zac says, “And it was just wearing the equipment, all the tactical stuff, and clearing that room was really challenging.”

“And it was the middle of the night, 3:00 in the morning, it was freezing,” he adds, “It was rubble everywhere, people screaming, really, really talented actors all around us, and I was controlling a whole unit of real Marines, and the stress was through the roof. I really wanted this part to be authentic, so I was all over the place, so that was the hardest part for me.”

Zac also reveals why he prefers doing movies to TV series.

“Selfishly, it’s amazing for me,” he says, “Every extra second, every hour, every extra time you have to put more thought into an idea is amazing for actors. We cherish those moments, so we are naturally inclined to go that way.”

“You have to move on with TV,” Efron continues, “Ultimately, at the end of the day, there’s a bigger cause here. It’s not that you have a perfect scene. It’s that you’ve got work to be done and you have to finish. You have different people’s money in there and at that point, you’re taking on a bigger responsibility and you do. You’re much more than just an actor on set. You’re taking the helm in a way. And I think on TV, it’s different. It’s a bit more demanding at times. There’s much more things that are out of your control that you have to take into account.”

Efron was asked if he went more to the original novel or the script for The Lucky One.

“It’s somewhere in-between,” Zac says, “I think there’s specific moments that come out of the book and out of the writing that are really an examination into a character’s thought process and what’s going on that’s really fun to read, offer all different kinds of explanation and things that you can think about during a scene, and also, you also have to look in the context of the script. You can’t have all different wild kinds of things coming in.”

While Zac has stayed away from musical theater for a while now, he says that he doesn’t plan on staying away permanently.

“Yeah, I would love to and I’m looking for that next opportunity,” Efron says, “I’m praying for the moment when it feels right and the right thing to do. But first and foremost, I will always be looking for things that challenge me in a way that forces me to grow and that’s really so enticing about acting is that it’s constantly an evolution, that I’m forced to grow and challenge myself in a lot of ways. But when that right musical role, comes along, man, I can’t wait to jump back in.”

Efron says he has relished in the success that doing the High School Musical movies helped pave the way for like the hit series Glee and Smash.

“Yeah, it’s neat,” he says, “The whole musical genre and seeing song and dance on film is very interesting, sort of magical and there’s things that you can capture and find out that you can’t in other types of filmmaking. And it’s unbelievable, but it’s kind of cyclical. You get cynical and a generation gives it a chance of forgiveness and it resurges and I think to be in the beginning of that was very, very fun for me.”

“I started watching Singing In The Rain and stuff like that and all the older things when I was young, when I was very, very young and I saw such magic in it,” Zac continues, “And now to see that coming out, I think, on TV shows like Glee is unbelievable. It’s just pure love and it’s fantastic. I think it’s great.”

It was asked if Zac would “go dark” for his next role.

“Go dark? Sort of,” Efron replies, “I guess the material’s darker, yeah. Lee Daniels directed it, the director of Precious. He has an incredible sensibility about him that you could call ‘darker’, I guess. It’s called The Paperboy. It’s got a phenomenal cast and we made a great movie.”

Finally, Efron talks about what grounds him as an actor.

“I think what always helps me is that I always take a step back,” he says, “And I always want to maintain how grateful I am for all these opportunities. At the end of a day, no matter how hard things seem to get, if you can make anything hard in your mind.”

“I like to take a step back and look at the big picture,” Efron adds, “Look at planet Earth and beyond it and know that I am grateful for every second I have to be able to do what I do and I think that’s what keeps me from flying off into space.”