Like them, Efron has had his travails well documented: First, he entered rehab for an addiction to alcohol and drugs last spring; then he suffered the indignity of having his jaw wired shut following a fall in his Los Feliz home, when he skidded by an indoor fountain; and finally came the March incident when his car clunked to a halt in a dubious part of town, after which Efron grappled with a homeless man.

Precisely what happened has given rise to endless tabloid speculation, and Efron is coy about the details.

"I had a friend come pick me up late at night -- we were looking for a place downtown to get a bite and catch up," he says, without identifying the friend.

Add that to his well-publicized stint in rehab, and any reporter might be forgiven for expecting the worst.

But as we sit for lunch at West Hollywood's Soho House, I'm surprised to find him thoughtful, gracious and candid about the growing pains he has endured while navigating the shoals from teen celebrity to adult stardom.

At some point, he dropped the knife, and I got hit pretty hard in the face -- and almost instantly the police were there to break up the fight." After that, the two friends went home.

Efron calls it "the most terrifying moment in my life." The timing of the occurrence hardly was ideal, just weeks before the May 9 release of Efron's new comedy, , in which he stars with Seth Rogen.

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You’re free to laugh: we also offer fun syndicated fare, featuring iconic shows like Seinfeld, The King […]Looking for the Seattle wine bar of your dreams?Insiders say Efron took a major pay cut to make the film in exchange for a heftier share of the back end (sources say he can get around million a picture, but he often has cut his salary to do work that challenges him).Since then, he has received a surge of offers based on strong word of mouth about his performance but has opted not to shoot anything."I was drinking a lot, way too much," he says, acknowledging there were drugs, too. I mean, you're in your 20s, single, going through life in Hollywood, you know? I wouldn't take anything back; I needed to learn everything I did.But it was an interesting journey, to say the least." PHOTOS: Exclusive Portraits of Zac Efron That journey is one well traveled by other young stars, with varying degrees of success -- from Judy Garland to Corey Haim to Lindsay Lohan to Robert Downey Jr."I blurted out: ' Hey, Seth, my name's Zac.