David, an electrical engineer, and Starla Baskett, a former secretary, welcome son, Zachary David Alexander Efron. Younger brother Dylan soon joins the family, who lives in Arroyo Grande, Calif., 190 miles north of L.A.
Efron, 11, tries out for a minor role in the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA) musical Gypsy and lands the part. "From day one, I got addicted to being on stage and getting the applause and laughter," he tells his hometown newspaper The San Luis Obispo Tribune in 2006. He goes on to audition for a slew of local plays, and undertakes singing lessons and drama classes.
Efron and his mother Starla drive to L.A. three days a week for auditions, while he studies at Arroyo Grande High School in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "For every role that I have done on TV and movies, I've auditioned for 30 or 40," he tells the Tribune. The young actor makes the jump from local plays to national TV with TV series guest spots on Firefly, ER and The Guardian.
Efron lands a recurring role as sweet-natured Cameron Bale on the short-lived WB show Summerland with Lori Loughlin and teen heartthrob Jesse McCartney. Efron eventually becomes a series regular, but the show is cancelled in July 2005. He continues acting though, making guest appearances on CSI: Miami and NCIS.
Efron stars in the Lifetime original TV movie Miracle Run as one of two autistic twins (the other played by Thomas Lewis). The film also stars Mary-Louise Parker and Aidan Quinn, whose daughter is autistic. Efron gets nominated for a Young Artist Award for Best Supporting Actor. "I was kind of amazed at the job they did," Quinn tells the Chattanooga Times of Efron and Lewis. "In a short period of time, they learned certain looks, ways of walking and holding their hands – things that are particular to autistic kids that, when you're the parent of an autistic child, you know inside and out."
Disney Channel's original TV movie musical High School Musical draws in 26 million viewers in its first six airings, becoming the channel's highest-rated show ever. Efron stars as Troy Bolton, a jock who secretly makes music with beautiful brainiac Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) in the tween set's Grease! update. The film also stars Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, Lucas Grabeel and Monique Coleman. "This is crazy," Efron tells the AP. "I never expected the movie to be this big."
Millions of tweens crush on Efron, who becomes Google's second-most-searched celebrity in January, even ahead of American Idol. "If I head into a mall, I should expect to have some extra company on the way," Efron tells PEOPLE. "But if you're ready for it, it's very gratifying." The humble hunk also wins Breakout Star at the 2006 Teen Choice Awards.
The HSM soundtrack generates five Top 40 singles, sells some 4 million copies, and becomes the first TV show soundtrack to land at No. 1 in SoundScan's history. Efron and Hudgens' "Breaking Free" shoots from No. 86 to No. 4, becoming Billboard's biggest chart climber to date.
Efron makes the jump from small to big screen in director Adam Shankman's remake of the musical Hairspray, which opens in July 2007. He plays hunky Link Larkin in the star-studded cast that includes Amanda Bynes, John Travolta, Queen Latifah and Michelle Pfeiffer. "I've gotten as far as the fifth or sixth callback on movies," Efron, who beat out as many as 200 other contenders for the role, tells Variety. "But it is more than I could imagine to get the role in a film like this."
The whole gang reunites to film High School Musical 2, set to air on the Disney Channel in August. "We were close in the first movie, but we're like a family now," says Ashley Tisdale of the cast's dynamic. "It's like living with brothers and sisters...Vanessa's like my shopping sister. Monique's the sister you go to advice for, Corbin's like the brother you always go to if [you need to talk] and Zac's the goofy one."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Everett Collection; Everett Collection; ABC; Ray Mickshaw/Wireimage; amazon.com; Everett Collection; ABC