“There is nothing more attractive than a strong woman.”
VanessaVa HudgensHu has turnedtur in her clean-cutcle DisneyDis image for some deeper,de darker characters.ch
Vanessa Hudgens was in danger of being typecast as a perky high school teen when she played Gabriella Montez in High School Musical. She has, however, grown into her own, and been on a steady roll with picking controversial, groundbreaking characters that defy her sugar-andspice Disney upbringing. There was her role as hardpartying college girl Candy on Spring Breakers alongside James Franco and Selena Gomez, then her sexy cameo on Machete Kills. The films that stood out the most were The Frozen Ground with John Cusack, where she plays a druggie prostitute-pole dancer, who escapes a serial killer; and Gimme Shelter with Rosario Dawson and Brendan Fraser, in which she portrays the life of Agnes “Apple” Bailey, a pregnant, homeless teenager who flees her abusive mother. The 26-year old actress, who is dating The Carrie Diaries actor Austin Butler, explained that her character choices are made based on the want and need to grow and challenge herself as an actress. For Gimme Shelter, Hudgens immersed herself in Apple. “I knew I could bring this character to life,” said Hudgens. To prepare for the role, Hudgens lived for weeks in shelters interacting with the young, homeless mothers there who also appear in the film. She also altered her appearance for what turned out be a stunning performance.
You did a lot of difficult hands-on research for this role. How was your experience in the shelter for teen moms, to get into character?
In the beginning, it was a complete shock because I had never been around girls that young who are pregnant, but it was interesting because I got to look into their lives, and see that they are still girls who have the same needs as every other 16-year-old. They really opened up to me and I got to witness how strong these young women are. It was nice to be able to see the humanity, and the love that these girls have, and their struggle. Also, I got to be really close to the girl my character Apple is based on. And she’s amazing. I mean, she is growing so much. It’s so incredible to see her and her son who I adore, grow.
How old is her son now?
I believe he’s three and a half, or four. He’s adorable. He’s in the movie! He’s the one crawling on the bed, at the end. And he’s so cute.
Did you ever know anybody like this freaked out runaway girl you play?
I had a friend that I grew up with, and I think she was 15 when she ran away from home. But she is genuinely still the biggest burst of sunshine that I have ever met in my life. You know, it shows us that sometimes even in darkness, you control your own destiny; the way that you look at life is your own choice.
This was a gruelling role for you. What got you excited about it?
It was just another script that was floating around. I read it and I felt it was one of those roles that I dreamt about since I was a little girl.
I think above all first and foremost, was that this character was the strongest person I have ever read about. And there is nothing more attractive to a female than being a strong woman – that really pulled me in. It’s fearless, and it’s rare that you get to
read scripts like this, that deal with a lot of content that can be very easily brushed over.
What about glamming down for this character Apple?
That was fun! There’s nothing cooler than looking in the mirror and not seeing yourself. It was really neat, and I had the most amazing time. It was a lot of work but I was challenging myself every day, it was so liberating and thrilling. How about playing a real life person? I love it. I think it was important for me to see what effect everything would have on a young woman. Just being at the shelter showed me what it would really be like. I could be there right now if I didn’t have my parents or the upbringing that I had.
What went through your mind?
I knew that it would take a transformation, and I’ve always been so fascinated with that ever since I saw Charlize Theron in Monster. It’s just kind of the dream.
What about the emotional challenges?
What else went into this for you?
It was a lot, obviously, but it was something that I was willing to just dive into because I was so passionate about the character and the project. This was my one shot and you’ve got to give it your all, even if it’s painful – that’s what actors do. They run into pain when others run away from it. I really just allowed myself to feel. Apple is so good at running away and staying on the move, or running in towards something. She’s just constantly moving, and I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t realise they’re good at. It’s hard to actually sit and to feel emotions. Honestly, the movie makes you grow as a person because it brings all that up, and it allows you to really feel, and by doing so, it brings healing. It also shows that sometimes our darkest, deepest moments that we feel we can never get out of are sometimes the moments that we’re meant to have. And then, once you get past that, you find hope. That’s really important to remind people, so that sometimes when they’re going through those things they know that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
What about having Rosario as your scary mother in this movie?
That woman, I just cannot get enough of her. She is seriously such a brilliant woman to look up to, I think. She’s so passionate, and so dedicated to everything that she does. I mean, she blew me away. Not only is she an amazing actress, she’s a complete activist, a feminist, and just so smart and intelligent.
Talk about James Earl Jones’ character as the priest.
I’m lying in a hospital bed, and I have this man who has such an authority in his voice and in his presence, and that’s something that my character didn’t want to hear. She wanted to sit inside of her pain and just revel in it, but with his strength and through the power of the word of God, he got her out of that.
Do you find roles rooted in reality more appealing?
Definitely! I think that it’s more appealing to humanity in general. If you’re going to go into a movie and spend US$12, you either want to get away and have it be so far from reality like Twilight, or you want to find healing. You want to have compassion and you want to be able to grow. Recently, all the roles that I’ve done have showed me that I’m willing to go the extra mile and actually put the work in. It showed me that I’m very dedicated to what I do, which is nice to remind myself of. I’ve lived a pretty sheltered life growing up and then was in the industry when I was very young. So certain aspects of these girls’ lives that I’ve been playing, I’ve never really witnessed. The more I know, the more I’m a fuller person. It made me grow, for sure.
Your character Cindy Paulson in The Frozen
Ground resembled Joan Jett with the black liner and straight black hair. Was that how the real Cindy looked at the time?
It was all very intentional. We had a couple pictures of Cindy, but nothing too significant that we could really create a look for. I had an amazing costume designer, whom I collaborated with, to put it all together. I tried to grunge myself up as much as possible.
What impressed you the most about her?
Just how brave she was really to open up to me and Scott (Walker) the way that she did. She told us stuff she’s never told anyone else before. It was a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. I kind of held my breath through a lot of her stories. She’s a fighter and a survivor, and just very strong overall. There’s also this childlike aspect about her that she had as well; a sense of wonderment of the world. It was refreshing and beautiful to see that. I look up to her so much so in that sense.
What was the most emotionally challenging part about makingThe Frozen Ground?
I think the thing that shook me up the most was the flashback rape scene with John. You only see a little tiny snippet of it in the movie and Scott kind of told us to go ahead and do whatever we thought was right. John made sure that if I ever felt uncomfortable to let him know and we would call it off. It was dark and emotionally taxing, but
Film has always been my main priority. Acting comes first and singing, second.
it was also kind of exciting just to be able to put myself in that situation with such an amazing actor, and really just feed off each other. Scott didn’t call cut for a few good minutes so we really got to take it somewhere. Afterwards, I was like, “Okay, I have to go home and watch cartoons or something,” because I was shaken up. John was very kind though, and both him and Scott made me feel so comfortable that I knew I was safe.
50 Cent plays your pimp. Did you know him before this and did guys talk about possibly collaborating musically?
No, I didn’t know him before this but after working with him, I absolutely adore him. He’s such a hard worker; very kind, and super funny. He was just cracking jokes right and left on set. His involvement was amazing because he’s a producer (on the movie) as well. He went for it. He completely changed the way he looked. He’s great. I adore him. But no future collaborations planned.
Where are you now with your music career?
Music has taken a back seat for a bit. I feel that’s where it’s going to stay for a little bit longer. Maybe somewhere down the line I’ll revisit it, but film has always been my main priority. Acting comes first and singing, second.
You’ve been acting since you were eight. Is there a significant challenge to acting in your early 20s and finding meaty roles?
You face challenges in any profession. There are different hurdles to get over. This is just one of them. No matter what, it’s about evolution and growth. As long as you’re growing, you’re overcoming your own hurdles and doing new things, and I think that’s what it’s about.
What turns you on about being a movie star?
Things that are going to challenge me, things that are going to push me out of my comfort zone. And things that make me grow as an actor. And whatever feels right in my heart, that’s what I listen to first.
Are there any dream roles on your wish list?
I really want to play a fairy. And a princess! I’d play any of them right now.
A princess in a movie or the theatre?
I want to do it on film, but I do love theatre. Because that’s where as an actor, you’re put to the test. And that’s what I grew up doing, too. My start was in theatre. Also, I’ve been reading a bunch of Tennessee Williams.
Any Tennessee Williams play you’d like to be in?
Yeah, A Streetcar Named Desire! All of his stories are really just incredible, and the characters are deep, amazing and tragic at once, all at the same time. I’m a very open person, so I’ll do whatever is meant to be. If it’s funnelled my way, then I take it.
What’s next for you work-wise?
Variety! That is what it’s always been. I love mixing it up and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone because that’s how you grow. When your comfort zone gets bigger, you keep pushing yourself more and more from there. I’ve said before that I’m not really into fantasy, but I did Sucker Punch, which is kind of a fantasy. There are so many different things to play, and I live a life where I love seeing all the different aspects of life and storytelling and fantasies and thrills. There’s so much, the possibilities are limitless. Until the day I die, I know that I won’t be able to do enough.
2013 Hudgens wows audiences as Apple in Gimme Shelter.
2006 Hudgens as Gabriella Montez in High School Musical.
2012 Sexing it up as