But relax, banks, Garrett Clayton won’t be applying for a job anytime soon: This summer sees Clayton reprising his role of Tanner, the dim-witted hunk of Disney Channel’s Teen Beach Movie 2, a sequel to the massively successful meta-romp that propelled Clayton to sudden mall fame and the backhanded compliment of being The Next Zac Efron. “I knew it,” he laughs at the mere mention of Efron’s name. “People compare us so much. I think everyone expects me to want to be like him.” While they’ve both made names for themselves singing, dancing, and having fantastic tans, the actors’ differences run deep: “Efron was more of the romantic leading man,” Clayton explains, “Whereas I’m kind of like the funny best friend a lot of the time. I just want to be able to be a character actor.” Which is not to say Clayton’s not proud of his place in the Disney movie legacy—“We mess with the space-time continuum in the new one, which is, like, way smart for a kids’ movie”—it’s just to say he’s ready for projects that don’t require the kind of publicity that gets him groped at The Grove. “Sometimes I’ll get some people who are real hands-on.”
The 24-year-old Detroit native first had thespian stirrings where most important life revelations are born: sleepaway camp. Summer camp experience for the young man had thus far been mostly horse-related—“I was shoveling shit out of barns. It was great, I loved it”—and he decided to sign up for the camp play, Charlotte’s Web. “I didn’t learn any of my lines. I’d look at the script backstage and pick bullet points of what the scene was about, then I’d run out onstage and be like, ‘Ah, the pig won’t die, thank you for the blue ribbon, my wife made some strudel, let’s go eat it,’ and I’d run offstage. Just so incorrect, no regard for the other actors. But I thought, ‘Wow, this is kind of fun!’”
But when Clayton made that inevitable move to Los Angeles, his once preternatural confidence promptly gave way to despair.
“I woke up the first morning and my roommates had left and I had no concept of where I was. Sherman Oaks? I had no idea what that meant. I took a shower and then I went into my room and I’m naked looking at myself in the mirror and I just start fucking sobbing. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, I had no direction, I had nothing.”
Clayton was 19 and jobless and had no representation of any kind, but he somehow rallied to embrace the uncertainty of it all. “I just realized, ‘I don’t know where I’m going.’ So I put on my headphones and I walked outside the house and I just went, ‘Well, left or right, I guess you’ll just choose your future.’” He laughs, brushes a lock of hair from his eyes and refuses to let the story sound profound: “I was lucky enough to make a right turn toward Ventura. Otherwise I would’ve ended up in Van Nuys.”
Now, as he attempts to walk that tightrope over the abyss between Disney star and grown-up character actor, Clayton has only one strategy in mind: embracing the unknown. “I’m energized by the excitement of not knowing. I like not knowing what’s going to happen.” So do these palm trees.