How 17 Again's Zac Efron and Matthew Perry channeled each other

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Matthew Perry, co-star of the fantasy comedy movie 17 Again, told reporters that his worn-down character, Mike O'Donnell, evoked losers from past movies.

"I really liked playing him," Perry said in a news conference earlier this month in Los Angeles. "I liked the idea that he's sort of a beaten-down guy, beaten up by life, and is just sort of put upon. I thought that was really interesting, and it kind of reminded me of characters from movies in the past: It's a Wonderful Life, a little Groundhog Day in there."

In 17 Again, Perry plays an unhappy thirtysomething who awakens one day to discover he's been transformed into his teenage self, played by Zac Efron. Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon and Michelle Trachtenberg also star.

Perry and Efron also talked about collaborating with Efron to create a complete portrait of the character. The following is an edited version of Perry's news conference with his castmates. 17 Again opens today.

What kind of work did you and Zac do to play the younger or older versions of this character?

Efron: Before we started shooting, we had a couple of weeks of rehearsal. We hung out and went through the script, line by line. I highlighted certain moments that I knew Matthew would be perfect for, and it was just kind of me standing in for him.

Perry: It was fun. We rehearsed pretty extensively. I read all of his lines, and he read all of mine. It took me a couple of days to realize why he was staring at me so much and watching me move. I was pretty uncomfortable, but I realized it was just for work.

Were there any interesting stories that came from that process?

Perry: As we talked about [it], we were trying to figure out how each other would say the lines, and I was at a Christmas party and hanging out with some friends, and my phone rang and made me the envy of every young girl in the world, because it was Zac Efron. I was like, "Guys, guys!" I think he was doing a scene with Leslie, and he said, "So here's the thing: I need to say this, and how would you say this?" And I said it into my phone, and then six months later, I saw it coming out of his mouth.

Efron: I would call him at, like, 2 in the morning on night shoots, just to talk. "Hey buddy, how are you doing?"