zac efronolderThe list of young actors who transition to adult leading men isn’t that long… Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Christian Bale, etc. Zac Efron is hoping to make that transition so he’s linked himself to a pair of projects he hopes will give him the chance to broaden his range. One of them would be his first action turn, in a Ludlum-esque spy thriller. Efron has a just made a deal at Universal for Fire, an adaptation of a graphic novel by Brian Michael Bendis that was published by Image Comics.

The plan is for Efron to play a college student who is recruited by the CIA, only to find that he has been trained for a program that creates expendable agents. Bendis, the fanboy favorite whose comic book creations include “Ultimate Spider-Man”, will write the script. While little material moves during Sundance, Efron and Bendis got the deal after they schlepped around to three studios, pitching the project on a rainy day last Friday. The project has the steady hand of Neal Moritz, who’ll produce with Circle of Confusion’s David Engel. Efron and Alchemy Entertainment’s Jason Barrett will be exec producers.

FIRE_Cover_PageEfron has made a separate deal at Warner Bros to star in a Back To The Future-like film that melds two projects. One’s a pitch from writers Tim Calpin and Kevin Jakubowski, and the other is a WB project called Algorithm that the studio was already developing. Nick Stoller, the Forgetting Sarah Marshall director who just wrapped Get Him To The Greek, will produce along with Mark Gordon and Bryan Zuriff. Alan Riche is exec producer along with Efron and Barrett.

Efron’s quest to be taken seriously, and to shed the teen heartthrob label thrust upon him after a trio of hit High School Musical films, really began when he bailed on a Footloose remake to instead re-team with his 17 Again director Burr Steers in The Death And Life Of Charlie St. Cloud, playing a young man who carries the guilt over the death of his younger brother. It isn’t easy, as one of the films he made recently, Me and Orson Welles, was barely seen. But he wasn’t looking for box office as much as the chance to be part of a strong cast in an art film. Good for him.