I once again had the pleasure of sitting down at a journalist’s roundtable for an in-person Q&A with actress/singer/songwriter Vanessa Hudgens, who came to Dallas to provide publicity for her newest role in a wonderful little picture called Gimme Shelter, directed by Ron Krauss. Hudgens, who started off her career as an energetic young singer in High School Musical has been everywhere and back again in her career, with film roles ranging from the family-friendly Thunderbirds and Bandslam, to that of the more adult-oriented Sucker Punch and Spring Breakers.
With movies like those under her belt, I’ll admit I went into the screening a little less than underwhelmed. After watching it, however, I couldn’t have been more surprised. The movie is not only emotional, relevant, powerful and provocative: Hudgens gives the performance of her career, portraying a troubled pregnant teen named Apple who runs away from her abusive mother in order to find a better life. Hudgens was so striking, so compelling and authentic that for more than half of the movie I barely recognized her.
I, however, did recognize the woman who came into our conference room, and just like with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I was instantly surprised at how… human she was. Society builds up actors like they’re otherworldly deities of the sort, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. The woman we were speaking to was not Vanessa Hudgens, but rather, a beautiful, humble young actress who had dreams, goals and aspirations and was at a high point at this portion of her life.
All of the publications were very grateful for the opportunity to introduce ourselves to her, myself included. The following transcript is a compilation of their questions and mine. See if you can guess which one is which.
Question: Hello Ms. Hudgens. How are you today?
Vanessa Hudgens: Good, how are you guys?
Q: Excellent. How are you handling the Dallas weather?
VH: It’s really not bad. I was in Chicago a few weeks ago.
Q: I have some family up in Chicago, its horrible up there.
VH: It’s crazy, I was there for one day and it was the coldest day they’ve ever had.
Q: I’m sorry.
VH: The wind was just so blistery. It was cold.
Q: So how’d you come to get involved with this project?
VH: Just like I would with any other one. My agent sent me a script, no urgency behind it at all, and it was just another one that was floating around. I gave it a read, and I knew that it was going to be my next project. I went in, I read for Ron [the director], sent him an email, and through the power of persuasion, I got the part.
Q: What was the most difficult experience for you during filming?
VH: You know, it’s really interesting because I don’t think of it as difficult. I think of it as exciting, because I was so passionate about the project I was more than willing to put in the work. The deeper I got, the more thrilled I became. I mean, I did have a moment where I personally broke down just because I was really uncomfortable in one of the scenes and I was afraid of someone getting hurt. Aside from that, I had Ron by my side, who was constantly putting me in the right direction, and I would kind of celebrate myself after every scene. It was a fun but challenging process.
Q: What scene specifically was that?
VH: It’s so random, it’s the scene where I’m walking on the street and a pimp rolls up to me right before I get into a car crash. They wanted me to drive as close to him as possible. His name was Jeff, he was my bodyguard while we were filming in the dodgy areas. I just don’t like the idea of people getting hurt, and it just really freaked me out. It gave me serious anxiety, and I had to stop and remind myself how to breathe.
Q: Apple was dragged a bunch of directions in the movie, how do you think that could possibly parallel your career in the past few years?
VH: I mean, Apple is strong. She’s such a survivor, and I love strong women. That’s one thing that really attracted me to her. But she does take her life into her own hands, and she doesn’t look at her circumstance or her condition and she has her own will. I definitely think that reflects my career. I had my circumstance, but I am taking things into my own hands as well and just fighting for the things that I want.
Q: Did you have any conversations with the real-life Apple about her relationship with the Chaplin? I mean, James Earl Jones is only in three scenes of the movie.
VH: Well, not necessarily. I feel like the religion and faith aspect is something that I see more so now after being able to see what it’s doing to people in the way that its connecting with people. But in the present moment, that wasn’t necessarily my focus.
Q: There is a moment early in the film where Apple is giving herself a pep talk before she cuts nearly all of her hair off as a sort of act of rebellion towards her cruel mother. Was that acting or did you really have to give yourself a pep talk before you did that?
VH: I mean, I would always try to stare at myself in the mirror before a scene just so I can remember who I’m playing, and I think that really just set the tone for me. But in that scene, I was cutting a wig. That would be way to messy to try to do that on film.
Q: I was just thinking of Joseph Gordon-Levitt with 50/50 in that scene.
Q: And how did you prepare yourself with the birthing scene? That was one of the most moving scenes in that movie.
VH: Thank you, all of it. I mean, every single scene was just putting myself in that circumstance. I popped a bunch of blood vessels in my neck and in my cheek afterwards I realized, so I was really going for it. The most powerful part of that for me was when they put the baby on my chest. That was when the acting disappeared. I mean, there’s nothing more powerful and profound than childbirth. It’s a miracle. So to have that moment, even though I know its acting and I know its not my baby, putting myself in that circumstance it just really resonated in my heart and filled me with so much love and hope and its really overwhelming.
Q: Do you still stay in touch with the girls at the shelter?
VH: Yeah, one in specific, Darlisha, she’s the one who had the events happen to her with the mother, and she was in the shelter when I was there. We still chat, she’s amazing, she just got her drivers license which she’s very excited about, she’s studying to be a nurse, and she’s really starting to love herself and just seeing her transformation is really, really beautiful. She’s being released into this world, and she’s starting to become independent. And now she’s got a beautiful little boy. He’s amazing.
Q: What was it like working with Rosario Dawson?
VH: Incredible. She’s amazing. That woman is a powerhouse. She consistently surprises me in every single thing that she does. Just her dedication and her hard work and just how she really spreads her act over a wide spectrum. She’s an amazing actress, she really understood this character. I think she came from a poverty family growing up and she got it. She had seen this side of motherhood. She connected, I connected, we both understood our characters, so when we worked together it was just organic. Things were just happening naturally and we just let it play out. It was nice.
Q: Regarding your past filmography, how much different taking on this role and were you a little intimidated taking it on?
VH: Yeah, of course. It’s terrifying to really dive into something and not know if you can actually go there because you’ve never tried to before, and to know that it’s going to be documented forever. So there really is no second chances with it. It’s a complete 180. I’ve never really been able to transform myself like this. Everything. I mean, the way that I walked, the way that I talked, the way that I moved my face, it was so much fun. Because its really just creating someone new and living within that. I really had such a blast. If I could do something like this again but a completely different character I would jump at it. Because it’s really a dream role.
Q: I’d love to see it again.
VH: Oh, it’ll happen.
Q: How was it walking away from it?
VH: It sucked. It was really hard just because I think subconsciously, I stayed in the character the entire time. I put in so much work into becoming that person, stepping out of it would just be taking away from the work that I put in. So I got home, and I looked in the mirror, and I still saw Apple. I didn’t see Vanessa, I didn’t know who Vanessa was, I didn’t know what she was interested in, I just completely lost sight of myself. It took a while, it took a lot of time just taking care of myself and giving myself love and getting back in my body, and just being comfortable with me again. It was tough though.
Q: What are your expectations of the movie?
VH: I expect it to bring people healing, and to bring them a wider view of the world and of human nature. I think that a lot of humans naturally suppress pain and I think this movie brings it back up again, and you have to sit in that and you have to feel it and you have to deal with it. So I think from that brings a lot of healing and compassion. I got so much out of this movie myself and that’s what I love about it, is that it touches on so many different subjects. There’s abandonment, there’s abortion, there’s homelessness, there’s abuse, so I think everyone is going to get something different out of it.