The Untitled Magazine caught up with actress and former High School Musical sweetheart Vanessa Hudgens, who is transforming this year into a bird of a different (and much darker) color. Hudgens, who was the magazine’s Cinema issue cover star, is beginning her metamorphosis from Disney darling to serious indie actress with back-to-back challenging roles in three dynamic new films, including Harmonty Korine’s latest twisted masterpiece, Spring Breakers. Released after a prolonged delay on March 22, Spring Breakers is a nightmarish, satirical social commentary/comedy about four best friends who land in jail after robbing a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation and then find themselves bailed out by a drug and arms dealer who wants them to do some dirty work. Korine, the controversial genius behind 1995’s cult classic Kids, cast Vanessa as we have never seen her: sexy, crazy, violent, half-naked, and morally corrupt, snorting lines of coke off of other half-naked girls and forcing a cornrowed, grill-wearing James Franco to perform faux-fellatio on her machine-gun penis. She plays gun-obsessed, bisexual party girl Candy, and by the time you finish watching Korine’s epic cacophony of sex, drugs, beer bongs, bikinis and num-chucks, you will forget that you ever associated Vanessa Hudgens with a cheerleader named Gabrielle Montez.
Watch a Behind The Scenes Video of Vanessa Hudgen’s shoot for The Untitled Magazine
Editor in Chief Indira Cesarine chatted with Hudgens about her daring new roles and what it was like to make such a major career change:
IC: Let’s start with the first question I am sure everyone asks you: How did you get into acting?
VH: Man, I was really, really, really young. I started when I was about three. I don’t know if that even counts, but I did my first play when I was three in my pre-school production of the nativity story and I played Mother Mary holding a baby Jesus. Ever since then my parents allowed me the freedom to take classes. I started taking dance lessons, and singing lessons, and piano lessons, and getting into community theatre and I always loved it. I kept on doing plays and one thing just led to the other.
IC: Did you have a breakthrough moment with a project that really catapulted you into a professional acting career?
VH: I mean, it was always just fun, you know? It was just kind of a hobby, something that I truly loved and that I didn’t even know it was a career choice, you know? It was just something I genuinely enjoyed and that got a thrill out of doing. I mean, even during High School Musical it was still just fun. I didn’t know I would keep on doing this. I just knew I truly was passionate about it.
IC: Tell me a little bit about High School Musical, how did you get involved with that production? Many people know you from that series, and the character you played, Gabriella Montez.
VH: It was just like another audition honestly. I had done a pilot with Disney before and after that I was just kind of waiting for the next thing to come along and this audition came up and my mom said she had a good feeling and my mom is always the one that has like really good intuition about these things. So I was like ‘okay Mom, I’m going to listen to you and go on this audition.’ It ended up being a really long, dragged out process. There were about three callbacks and two auditions, so it took awhile, but it was just another thing that came up and I just went in and did what I do.
IC: Can you tell me a little bit about the movies you have coming out? I know you have quite a few.
VH: I think the one that is going to be out first is Spring Breakers. We just found out it is competing in Toronto and Venice film festivals. I’m really excited, because I’ve never even been to a film festival, let alone competed in one. I’m just thrilled, and to be going with the people who I’m going with…I’m just so excited. Such an amazing, artistic, enthusiastic crowd and I’m really proud of the movie. I feel like it’s a breed of its own, it’s a movie unlike any other and it’s very fresh and fun and exciting. It’s a great take on our cult and youth culture right now.
IC: Harmony Korine directed that right? It is also starring James Franco. How was it working with those guys?
VH: It was amazing! Harmony is very gung-ho. He literally would show up to set in the morning and tell us that he’s made a new scene and this is where we’re going to be and this is what’s going on. So little bit of his vision and then go! It was just thinking on your toes 24/7. He gave us complete freedom to really just explore whatever we wanted to. James is another extremely improvisational actor. He would just show up to set in character and once the camera started rolling he transformed…He has an amazing performance in this movie! It’s unlike any character I’ve ever seen him do before. It was amazing to watch and be able to interact with him in that way. We would just go on these crazy rants and Harmony would call cut and I’m like ‘I don’t even know what happened, but that was amazing.’ It was just so much fun to work with actors who are just there with you nose-to-nose, ready to tackle whatever it is you throw at them.
IC: Can you tell me a bit about the storyline and what happens in the movie? I’m sure it will be amazing; Harmony Korine is a very cutting edge, visionary director.
VH: It’s about these college girls stuck in a small town ready to explore and see the world and their escape is through this spring break. Along the way they meet an offbeat-character-slash-drug-dealer who takes them on a crazy ride, but these girls are a bit crazier themselves so they definitely match him!
IC: I understand that your movie Gimme Shelter is a story of survival. Can you tell me a little bit about your role and how you prepared for it?
VH: I play a character named Apple Bailey. She’s based loosely on two girls in a shelter. It is based on a true story. It’s about struggle and survival. My character Apple is not in the best situation. Her mom is a drug addict and her father disappeared. She kind of takes her life into her own hands and sets off in search for her father. In the mean time, she finds out she’s pregnant. So it’s just her life, her struggle, for herself and for her unborn baby. It was an amazing process, getting to know the girls in the shelter. I actually stayed in the shelter before we even started filming. I hung out with them and talked to them and got the truth about their life and story. It was so amazing. They did not care who I was, they could care less, it’s so irrelevant to them. They were hanging out with their children and doing what they did everyday and I just worked on my script everyday. It was like a convent, this place.
IC: This is a shelter for pregnant women?
VH: Yeah, it was a shelter for pregnant teens.
IC: That must have been an incredible experience to go and live with them and get into your character and get that kind of background.
VH: It was. It was really, really humbling. The very first day I was definitely put into a state of shock, I was really freaked out, and especially because they said that no phones were allowed. I might have cheated on that a little bit… I called my mom and I was like ‘Mom, this is so intense and I don’t know what I’m getting myself into!’ but I knew I could do it. I was surrounded by such beautiful people. They clearly had this shinning light inside of them throughout the struggle and it was just really inspiring.
IC: That sounds like an incredible role to play as well. Definitely something to sink your teeth into as an actress. Did you transform yourself for the role at all?
VH: I put on about 10-15 pounds. I chopped all my hair off. In the script, my character, in the very beginning grabs a pair of scissors and just starts going at it. A few days before we started filming, we did the cut and the hairstylist was doing it and Ron the director comes in and goes ‘It just looks like she’s gotten a haircut’ and because we were taking it really, really slow ‘cause the hair stylist didn’t want to freak me out too much. I finally was just like ‘Fuck it, give me the scissors’ and took the scissors myself and started chopping off my own hair! Which, at the time, was amazing and during filming, it was incredible. But afterwards I had to deal with the fact I gave myself a horrible cut! But I mean, it was incredible! You can’t recognize me in that movie. The way that I walk and talk and work… I’m just a different person. It’s really exciting to be able to do that.
IC: I can’t wait to see this movie. It just sounds like a major path to take as an actress; it must have been a really amazing experience. It’s impressive that you have so many different projects coming out that will really emphasize your diversity. You also recently wrapped Frozen Ground with Nicolas Cage and John Cusack, playing obviously a totally different kind of role. Can you tell me a little bit about that movie and your role in that film?
VH: My new films are all a bit darker than what people are used to seeing me in, that’s for sure! In Frozen Ground, I play a rape victim/drug addict/stripper who is once again fighting for her survival, this time from a mass murderer. She lives through this really traumatic experience and seeks help from a detective, played by Nic Cage, and they end up solving the case incredibly. It’s based on a true story from the 80s. There was this killer, Robert Hansen, who raped and murdered over 20 women and buried them all over Alaska. It is a true story; it’s so sad. I actually got to meet the girl that my character was based off of. I got to spend a weekend with her and go through her life story. I love being able to have real people to base the characters off of because then you have the whole back story there for you. Working with those guys was so incredible. John Cusack is just stunning, because I know him as the nice guy holding the boom box from Say Anything and here he is as this mass murderer and he plays it in such a crazy, sadistic way!
IC: Does he play the murderer in the movie? That’s unexpected!
VH: Yeah, it really is and he does such an amazing job. And Nic Cage- he’s just incredible! He’s Nic Cage! I got to have some really great scenes with him. Working with such amazing people, I feel so blessed and honored. I smoked so many cigarettes in that movie; it was disgusting.
IC: Are you a smoker?
VH: No, no! It was really so much for the movie. I’m smoking and snorting things. In The Frozen Ground, I got to snort some powdered milk. I did a lot of powdered milk! On Spring Breakers we snorted speedy b-vitamins. It’s funny how it varies from movie to movie.
IC: B-vitamins? I guess that would give you a bit of a buzz as opposed to powdered milk which would probably calm you down.
VH: It just gave me like a milky drip! Not the most pleasant thing ever. I got to work with 50 Cent, who was amazing. He plays my pimp. It was so cold, we filmed that one in Alaska. There would be days where the wind chill was about negative 30, so it definitely added to the harsh element of the film.
IC: That’s incredible that you actually shoot on location in Alaska as well, in those temperatures. That must have been pretty intense.
VH: It was really intense. I didn’t really get to wear the most clothes during filming, but I got to bundle up as much as I could thankfully! Still my feet were literally frozen in my leather bound soles.
IC: How long were you guys on location there?
VH: We were there for about 2 months!
IC: That’s a pretty long time to be in that weather!
VH: It was, yeah. But it was beautiful. I got to drive down to the countryside some weekends and go on these beautiful hikes where the forests are just so lush. It made you feel so small and humble being next to these massive mountains. It’s a beautiful part of the world.
IC: And I hear you have a cameo in Machete Kills? Can you tell me about that film?
VH: It’s the follow up to Machete by Robert Rodriguez. I had a meeting with him not too long ago. I just adore him. He’s just such a brilliant human-being-slash-artist-slash-director-slash-everything that he does. I was just like, I have to work with this man! And Machete Kills came up so I get to do a little cameo in that movie. It was a lot of fun. I went out to Austin, Texas for three days for the shoot, was in and out and had the most amazing time! There’s a big star-studded cast; there’s so many people in it. People are going to be so surprised at all the faces they’re going to see. It’s just fun! Robert knows how to just have a really great time and I think it shows in his film.
IC: Do you have a favorite movie?
VH: I have several favorite movies and it changes constantly! I think right now my favorite movie would be 8 ½, which is why when we did our photo shoot, when you mentioned the inspiration of Fellini, I was like, oh my god, going crazy! I just adore him! The way he uses cinematography and the shots that he uses are some of the most beautiful shots I’ve ever seen, and the scores… just everything about him I adore, and that film, 8 ½, it’s just brilliant!
IC: Fellini is one of the greats! Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
VH: Oh my goodness, that one changes constantly too. I mean, I think longevity wise, one can only strive for Meryl Streep’s career and there’s just so many brilliant actresses. I just really admire women who are willing to take chances and to mix things up and play different characters because that’s what I love doing.
She’s had the longest career; she’s done the most incredible work. All the characters that she’s played have just been stunning. She’s won a few Oscars, which is something I think a lot of actors can reach for and she’s just brilliant!
IC: Have you ever had a mentor?
VH: No, not really. My mom is definitely there. She’s there reading the scripts with me and always voicing her opinions and helping me be guided along. But I don’t know, I kind of let my heart rule me rather than my head and if something reaches out and grabs me, I start gravitating towards it and go for it.
IC: If you weren’t acting, what would you do?
VH: If I wasn’t acting, I would probably be a yoga instructor. I just love it. I love the spiritual part of it. It re-centers me and refocuses me. It puts you at one with your breath and allows you to honestly tackle anything. I just adore yoga. I love doing it so much and I would love to teach it. I go off into a tiny, little hippie village and teach yoga and I would love it.
IC: What was the most difficult thing you have had to deal with during your career and how did you handle it?
VH: Transitioning. High School Musical was incredible and it was so fun and it gave me so many fans which I’m very, very thankful for, but it also closed people’s minds up a little bit as to which characters I could portray. They only saw me as Gabriella Montez and I love that character but there’s so much more to me than just that. So for a while I was kind of struggling and fighting for these roles that I just desperately wanted. It was hard and it was a struggle, but then again life is always a struggle. Having a career will always be a struggle. You’ll always have to fight for what you want. Definitely crossing over and being able to tackle these grittier parts was a challenge, but I feel like I’ve done it! It’s a whole new chapter!
IC: Do you have a motto or words of wisdom that you live by?
VH: A few but I think they are pretty cliché. Oh my goodness, what are my mottos? ‘Love and do what you will.’ I love that because I think you should go through life and do everything out of love. If you meet with love, then life can do you no wrong. ‘Realize deeply that the present moment is all you will ever have,’ because it’s extremely true. ‘Come what may,’ came from Moulin Rouge, another movie that I adore! It’s just mostly about being present and enjoying life to the fullest.
IC: What is it about cinema that you love the most?
VH: It takes you away. You get to travel to all these different places and explore these different worlds and be put in scenarios you maybe wouldn’t be put in. It just allows imagination to roam free and to explore the world without having to leave.
IC: That’s amazing. Well, it sounds like you’re doing that, with all of your roles. And you’re going to go to Venice and Toronto and explore the world with all these film festivals. I hope that your films win!
VH: I hope so too! I’m just excited we are even competing, honestly!
IC: That’s so exciting! I’m really happy for you and really excited about all these new projects you have coming out and I can’t wait to see them and check them all out. It’s great to have you on the cover of the Cinema issue!
VH: Thank you! I’m so happy to be on the cover!
-Interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Check out Vanessa Hudgen’s 8 page editorial in the Cinema Issue 5, download The Untitled Magazine App!