"We saw the film together and I was kind of squirming," Efron, 24, told PEOPLE at Thursday's New York City Cinema Society screening of the movie.
"Even though she was a couple of seats down from me, I tried to duck out during those scenes because it was too embarrassing. Obviously I'm acting, but knowing that my mom and my family were watching is kind of awkward. There's really no way around it."
In the screen adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel, opening Friday, the High School Musical alum is seen in several revealing scenes, including a provocative one in the shower. (PEOPLE's movie critic, Alynda Wheat, says go ahead and ogle him.) So what did Starla think of that?
"She was just laughing about it in a good way," Efron says. "She said, 'That's my boy!' I think she was proud of me at the end of it, even if it was weird for her to watch. My mom is my biggest supporter."
Paying further tribute to his mother, Efron says she raised him to be considerate to others at all times, especially women.
"She's always giving me tips like that," he says. "My mom is the No. 1 person who has taught me to be courteous towards women, to always be respectful and polite to them, and to always lead with your heart."