Corbin Bleu may have made his mark as Chad, the ebullient, tousle-haired basketball pal of Zac Efron in the “High School Musical” series, but he’s now branching out. He had a role in the quickly-cancelled CW series “The Beautiful Life,” and is now starring in his first theatrical feature, “Free Style,” playing a kid who has to overcome all sorts of obstacles to fulfill his dream of copping a spot on the motocross circuit.
It was a distinct change of pace of Bleu when it was made nearly two years ago, the twenty-year old actor explained during a Dallas interview. “It was definitely very different,” he said. “I got a chance to have a different look—I’ve got a goatee in the film. My hair was different than in the ‘High School Musical’ movies, and I got a chance to ride motocross and be rugged. And of course I was also working behind the camera, on the production end as well.
“I wanted to find a bridge, to keep the audience from ‘High School Musical,’ not completely alienate that demographic, yet continue to bring in a new group of people—having them grow up with me.”
Bleu described “Free Style” as part of a plan to segue into more adult roles. “But it’s a plan that doesn’t necessarily show itself until it shows itself,” he added. “It’s just about being patient. The plan is not to rush into anything. It’s to intelligently decide where the next step needs to be. It can’t just be ‘I just want to work.’ Because I do—the truth is that I love working and I love being on set and I like doing my job. I love doing what I do. But sometimes you need to take a second and think in terms of longevity in a career and wanting to continue to change myself and challenge myself and gain roles that will not only challenge myself but also challenge my audience. As and actor it’s all about playing different parts. It’s all about being a chameleon and diving into whatever role you can and being a completely different person, with a different look, every time. But…you have to wait for the right moment.”
Ultimately, he said, “the goal is to have a career that’s a mix of Will Smith and Johnny Depp. I also would be able to work on Broadway—a big dream of mine to be able to be on the Broadway stage, maybe the West End stage, do some musical theatre or straight theatre. Theatre is the bare-bones of it all. Theatre is like ballet for dancing. That’s where the technique, the training is. You don’t get a second take.”
And it wasn’t the motorcycle riding that attracted Bleu to the script, though it fed into his love of physicality. “I grew up dancing, and I’ve always been very athletic, with basketball, baseball, double-dutch boxing, now motocross. [But] I’d actually never ridden a motorcycle in my life before this film,” he said. “I’d never been on a bike, didn’t know much about the sport. The story was really very captivating. It was a traditional coming-of-age story, but at the same time there are a lot of possibilities to bring other aspects into it. The process of doing a movie about motocross was very exciting simply because I didn’t know much about it and there hasn’t been much done about it, so it was different. And the character of Cale was enticing for me. Here you have a young guy who’s relatable to me in the sense that…he’s growing up in the film, but at the same time he has to take care of his younger sister [Madison Pettis], and he’s supporting his mother [Penelope Ann Miller], and has two jobs just to put food on the table. But he’s flawed at the same time—he blows up really quickly, and he has abandonment issues because of his father leaving him. Yet at the same time he’s a hero in the film. I fell in love with the character.”
Director William Dear came on board less than a week before shooting began, and Bleu couldn’t praise him enough. “It was really a collaborative effort,” he recalled. “Bill definitely knows how to play the sports, but at the same time he knows how to play to the heart of the film, and play to the comedy as well. He knows how to put the balance of all that together. The backdrop is motocross, so I really wanted to make it authentic for the fans, but then on top of all that, it’s a very heartfelt story, a great love story and a strong family story.”