When Hollywood actor Zac Efron showed up at her retirement party, drama teacher Robyn Metchik greeted him with a hug.
“I was shocked,” Metchik recalled, but not by the fact that her former student would take a break from red-carpet premieres and talks shows to present her with a homemade award. “Nobody was expecting it. Nobody knew he was coming. But he’s just (such) a great guy that it wasn’t a surprise he would come.”
Metchik, 66, has encountered scores of talented students over more than a decade as a drama teacher at Nipomo High School and Mesa and Paulding middle schools in Arroyo Grande.
In addition to Efron, her past students include “Shadowhunters” star Harry Shum Jr., “Spring Awakening” cast member Katie Boeck and Joanna Jones, who recently made her Broadway debut in “Hamilton: An American Musical.” (Metchik also helped her sons, Aaron and Asher, pursue acting careers in movies and television; filmmaker Aaron Metchik now teaches acting in Los Angeles and the Central Coast.)
“I can definitely tell if someone’s going to be a star,” said Robyn Metchik, who lives in Avila Beach with her husband, attorney Paul Metchik. “The ones who made it (big) were stars from the beginning. They had the talent. They had the ambition. They had the hungry look in their faces. ... These kids, if they could live, eat, sleep drama, they would.”
Robyn Metchik recognized that “wow effect” in Efron, who she met in her first year of teaching middle school.
“He had so much sparkle. He could make me cry. He could make me laugh,” she recalled. “I said to Starla, his mom, ‘I think your boy is ready for L.A.’ ”
But Metchik, who introduced Efron to her agent, never dreamed the skinny seventh-grader with the shaggy hair and bright blue eyes would become a buff Hollywood heartthrob as well known for his abs as his acting abilities.
“I always thought he’d be good-looking,” Metchik said with a chuckle, but she had “no idea he was going to turn into this hunk!”
Since his breakout roles in “Hairspray” and the “High School Musical” movies, Efron’s career choices have ranged from serious dramas such as “The Lucky One” and bro-tastic comedies including “Dirty Grandpa,” “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and the “Neighbors” franchise. This summer, he heated up the screen as a Olympic swimmer-turned-lifeguard in “Baywatch.”
One of Metchik’s favorite Efron movies is “17 Again,” about a man who gets a magical chance to relive his high school years. “I believed his dialogue” and his bond with his co-stars, she said.
But Metchik squirmed a little when she saw “The Paperboy,” a steamy drama featuring a scene in which Nicole Kidman’s sexpot pees on Efron’s newspaper deliveryman to relieve his jellyfish stings. “My first thought would be, ‘Okay, what’s his mom thinking right now?’ ” she said with a laugh.
Metchik has high hopes for Efron’s next movie, “The Greatest Showman,” which opens in theaters Dec. 20. He plays the protegé of circus impressario P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman).
“Untimately, he has chosen projects that should always do well,” Metchick said of Efron, although some have fared better with audiences and critics than others. “They didn’t all get great reviews, but none of the bad reviews were (because of) him.”
Efron praised Metchik at “Take a Bow,” a retirement tribute show celebrating his mentor in 2012.
“Robyn was the reason that I was able to do anything in my life,” Efron told the crowd at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande. “She inspired creativity in me and my friends. She encouraged us to believe in one another.”
Metchik stepped down from teaching after that star-studded tribute.
“The first year off, I was so exhausted. I had been working for a million years building high-school sets,” she recalled. “After that, I was like, ‘I have to do this again.’ ”
She’s now teaching part-time at Mesa Middle School, in addition to working with young thespians after school.
Metchik also keeps in touch with former students, who often call and email her when they’ve landed “something big.”
“Any time I can see any of my kids recognized and take their art to the next level,” she’s happy, Metchik said, stressing that she doesn’t take credit for their successes. “I don’t really feel like I taught them to be successful people. I only helped them refine their talent. They took that and ran (with it).”