The media is obsessed with the career transformations of female Disney alum to the point that “Disney girl gone bad” has basically become a sensationalistic tabloid trope. Though, we’re not sure why some are always so shocked. It should not be a surprise that so many child stars attempt to segue into an adult career by playing something diametrically different than the safe and sanitized roles that made them famous. Any enduring entertainment career requires evolution.
Of course, while it’s the female Disney alums who receive the most faux-shocked headlines, the Disney boys are left with the same problem of getting the public to accept them in more serious roles.
Yet, it seems that some of those boys have alighted on a surefire way to prove they’re capable of more than just high school dance numbers: playing a straight up cold-blooded killer.
Zac Efron is just the latest to go that route. He’s signed on to play Ted Bundy, the infamous serial killer who brutally murdered more than 30 young women and girls in the ’70s. Titled Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the film will be helmed by director Joe Berlinger, who is perhaps best known for his true crime documentaries.
The role comes at an opportune time for Efron. While he’s dabbled in some indie and artsier fare in his post-High School Musical career—most interestingly in Lee Daniels’s steamy high-camp noir The Paperboy—he’s mostly found success in broad comedies that more often than not require him to take off his shirt (and sometimes shorts). While Baywatch seems like it’s on track to be a hit, he can’t play goofy speedo-wearing lifeguards forever.
The casting comes just weeks after the Tribeca Film Festival debut of My Friend Dahmer. That film saw the Disney Channel’s Teen Beach Movie star (and, put simply, the channel’s attempt at creating another Efron) Ross Lynch tackle the role of that other infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed 17 young men over several years. Coincidentally, that film was just picked up for wide distribution in North America yesterday.
Though, neither is the first Disney boy to play a killer.
Former heartthrob Brad Renfro, who did Disney duty as Huckleberry Finn in the studio’s Tom and Huck, starred as the ringleader of a group of kids who get murderous revenge on their bully in the real life-inspired Bully.
Of course, Ryan Gosling, a former Mousketeer, made one of his first adult career movies as a suspected killer in Murder By Numbers and would later play a loosely fictionalized version of Robert Durst in 2010’s All Good Things.
Justin Timberlake, another former Mousketeer (though obviously better known for NSYNC), also made one of his first attempts at serious acting as a criminal who helps to perpetuate a kidnapping and murder in the real life-inspired Alpha Dog.
Of course, there’s always a patient zero for these cases, and here it seems to be none other than Christian Bale. As a child actor his resume included the lead in Disney’s live-action musical Newsies, but it was his role more than a decade later as everyone’s favorite fictional serial killer Jason Bateman in 2000’s American Psycho that helped establish him as a true adult star who could carry a movie.
Whether it works out that well for Efron or Lynch remains to be seen, but playing a killer certainly has helped more than one Disney alum move past their kiddie credits.
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