Efron was born in San Luis Obispo, California, and later moved to Arroyo Grande, California. His father, David Efron, is an electrical engineer at a power station, and his mother, Starla Baskett, is a secretary who worked at the same power plant. Efron has a brother, Dylan, and had, as he has described it, a "normal childhood" in a middle-class family. He was raised in an agnostic household and did not practice any religion as a child. His surname, "Efron" (אפרון), is an Ashkenazi Jewish surname, taken from a Biblical place name (his paternal grandfather was Jewish, and Zac has described himself as Jewish).
In 2002, Efron began to appear in guest roles on several television series, including Firefly, ER, and The Guardian. He portrayed Cameron Bale on the now-cancelled WB series Summerland. Originally introduced as a recurring character, Efron became a regular cast member on the show in the second season in 2004, starring opposite the likes of Kay Panabaker, Lori Loughlin and Jesse McCartney. Since appearing in Summerland, he has also had guest roles on the shows CSI: Miami, NCIS, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and The Replacements. In 2003, Efron starred in the Lifetime original television movie Miracle Run. He played Steven Morgan, one of two autistic twins. For his performance, he was nominated for a Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a TV Movie, Mini-series or Special—Supporting Young Actor. In 2005, he played a main character in Hope Partlow's music video for her song "Sick Inside." Also in 2005, he played horse-loving Patrick McCardle in The Derby Stallion, where his character wants to beat the town bully at the steeple chase race.
In 2006, Efron starred in the Disney Channel original movie High School Musical as Troy Bolton, a popular student and captain of the basketball team. The film, which he initially made with "low expectations", helped Efron gain recognition among teenage audiences as both an actor and a singer, even though his singing voice was overdubbed. As a result, he placed as high as #4 on the IMDBPro's STARMeter for the week of January 29, 2006. In August 2006, Efron won a Teen Choice Award in the Breakout Star and the TV—Choice Chemistry categories, shared with Vanessa Hudgens. The film's cast, along with Efron, toured Sydney, Australia, London, England, and other locations to promote the film.
Efron's singing talents were disputed when it was revealed that Drew Seeley's voice was blended with his on the soundtrack of High School Musical. An August 23, 2007 interview in Rolling Stone magazine revealed that he had been cast in High School Musical after the songs were written, and the songs (written for a tenor) were somewhat out of his baritone vocal range.
On April 7, 2007, Efron appeared in an episode of Punk'd. Efron also starred in the music video for Vanessa Hudgens's single "Say OK", in which he played her love interest. The video aired on March 16, 2007 on the Disney Channel. That year, he was named one of People magazine's 100 Most Beautiful People in 2007. A picture and short profile of him was in the section "Coming of Age". In it, he related how he was always the shortest kid in school (as of August 2007, he was 5'8") and was teased for the "huge gap" in his teeth.
Efron at the premiere of The Lucky One, Sydney, Australia, April 9, 2012
In 2006, Efron was cast as Link Larkin in a film version of Hairspray released on July 20, 2007. Efron performed all of his own vocals in the role, which was filmed in Toronto, Ontario, from September 5 to December 2, 2006. He cut and dyed his hair dark brown and gained about 15 pounds for the role. His performance and the film received positive reviews. Efron was not able to perform with his fellow castmates in High School Musical: The Concert because of commitments on the film Hairspray. Drew Seeley took over for him.
In early 2008, Efron was cast in the lead role in the film Me and Orson Welles. Based on Robert Kaplow's novel of the same name, the story, set in 1937 New York, tells of a teenager hired to star in Orson Welles' production of Julius Caesar, where he becomes attracted to a career-driven production assistant. The film was shot in the Isle of Man, London and New York, during February–April 2008. It was introduced to North America via the Toronto Film Festival on September 5, 6, and 11, 2008 and was released in 2009. Efron was also scheduled to star in Paramount's musical remake of the film Footloose, and has said that he would like to add his "own little bit of flair" to the role originated by Kevin Bacon. In March 2009, he dropped out of the film. Efron was quoted as saying that while it was a promising role, he left the project because he "was looking for a new challenge, and this was another musical."
On April 8, 2009, Efron's participation in a comedic short video entitled "Zac Efron's Pool Party" for the website Funny Or Die was released for public viewing. On April 11, 2009, Efron hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live. In early June 2009 it was confirmed that Efron would be making a guest appearance during the sixth season of HBO's comedy series Entourage. Efron starred in a series of advertisements, along with Kristen Bell and Sean Combs, promoting the 2010 MTV Movie Awards and the host, Aziz Ansari. In 2009, he signed on to play title character in the movie Charlie St. Cloud. The film was released on July 30, 2010.
Efron was on the ForbesCelebrity 100 list in 2008 as number 92, with estimated earnings of $5.8 million from June 2007 to June 2008. In April 2009, his personal wealth equaled about $10 million. In May 2015, Efron's net worth was $18 million.
People magazine said in 2007 that Efron and Vanessa Hudgens began dating in 2005 during the filming of High School Musical, although Us magazine said, after the two broke up in December 2010, that they "met in 2005 while making the first High School Musical flick, and became a romantic item about two years later." Efron has been in a relationship with model and entrepreneur Sami Miró since September 2014.
^Martin Tsai/The Star-Ledger (April 17, 2010). "Robert Kaplow on the making of 'Me and Orson Welles'". Newark Star-Ledger. Retrieved January 10, 2010. Robert Kaplow teaches 12th grade ... even he found Zac Efron's screaming fans to be overwhelming. ... Released in December, "Me and Orson Welles" garnered many favorable reviews ...