Vanessa Hudgens has had an interesting career so far. While she started acting in 2002, she didn’t get her big break until Disney came calling in 2006 and High School Musical, the Disney Channel TV movie, put Hudgens on the map. After three movies and a few hit and get-stuck-in-your-head songs, Hudgens was so associated with the role of Gabriella that she really needed something different to shake off her previous image.

And in the last few years, and several varying films that include Frozen Ground and Spring Breakers, Hudgens has proved herself an actress to look out for. She’s shown that she isn’t willing to rest on her former Disney fame and has taken risks that have served her well in her career.

This time around, Hudgens stars as Apple in the new movie Gimme Shelter, about a pregnant teenager on the run from her verbally and physically abusive mother. The film is based on a true story and is directed by Ron Krauss.

I got to sit down with Hudgens and a few of my colleagues for a round-table interview a couple of weeks ago. The actress talked about her experience living in a shelter for a few weeks, the emotional journey this film took her on, and working with director Ron Krauss.

You can read the interview below! And you can watch Hudgens in Gimme Shelter when it opens in theaters on January 24.

What was your initial reaction when you read the role and what made you want to tackle it? 

Just what a strong character she was. The fact that she was a real survivor and that she took her future into her own hands. I just love strong women, so I think that’s definitely something I got right off the bat with her. And I always loved the idea of transformation. Charlize Theron in Monsters. It’s just amazing to watch an actor and not see an actor, just to see a character and be an audience member. So, I’ve always loved that aspect of acting and I knew it was going to require that when I read this script.


Photo by Mae Abdulbaki

So your scenes with Rosario Dawson are excellent. Some of the best in the film. Before you filmed them, did you have a chance to talk about them with her and rehearse, because I know you gave her the script. 

Not necessarily. Everything was really present and in the moment. We’re kind of just discovering as we went. Of course, the fighting scenes we tried to block out a little bit so no one’s actually hurt, but I feel like she just understood the role and I had been studying it for awhile. We knew our place and we already had a good relationship together as people, so we just went in and did our thing.

The girls in the shelter when you were living there, obviously because of their experiences they must have a lot of trust issues. And one of the things they have to learn in the shelter is to place their trust where it’s deserved. How did you get them to trust you?

I don’t know. [laughs]I think they saw the fact that I was there and I wanted to do justice to their story, you know? I really wanted to be a glimpse into their lives and not be an overdramatazation. And they saw my passion for the project. They knew that I was really invested in it and that this wasn’t something I was just going to take lightheartedly. I stayed in the shelter for a couple of weeks before we started filming and was doing the chores with them. I didn’t put myself on any different level, except for the ones that they were. I tried to just stay with them consistently. Sure enough, they slowly opened up to me. And the one who opened up to me the most is Darleishia, who Apple’s events with her mother actually happened to her. And I was surprised, honestly, how well she opened up to me and how she was so uncensored talking about it. And I was really close to her son [laughs], so I feel like that if he trusted me then she could trust me.


Hudgens in Spring Breakers

I love that you’re this young actress who isn’t afraid to take daring roles, like Spring Breakers. And even your role in Frozen Ground is pretty similar to your character in this movie. When you’re reading a script, what do you look for that you’re like, “I have to do this”?

I’m very selective about the things that I do, but I’m lucky enough to be in a place where I can. I honestly first listen to my intuition and my gut. And if it’s giving me good vibes, then I’m down for it. And like I said, I love the idea of transformation, I love being able to be a chameleon and really kind of trip people up when they’re watching me onscreen because it seems like such a different person. Someone who has depth and who is real. Just something that I haven’t been able to explore in the past. I love, as an actor, that you get to put yourself in situations that you would never have been in. So, I think the further away from, the cooler and the more of a challenge it is.

In the movie, I noticed that you had different mannerisms that you gave to the character. You ate really fast every time you could eat because she didn’t know where her next meal is going to come from. And a different kind of walk. Is there anything else that you tried to do to make your character have a little extra? 

Photo by Mae Abdulbaki

Yeah. In every moment I tried to have something that would set Apple aside from Vanessa. Whether it was playing with the lip rings I had on or just the way that I spoke. The way that I would take care of myself or touch myself… every way possible, basically. In every moment I was trying to search for something that would make it a bit more harsh, and ugly. Because when it is, it’s raw and real and vulnerable. So, there was definitely not a stone un-turned, I feel.

How was the directing process with director Ron Kraus? Did he give you a sense of what he wants and then let you follow your instincts? 

Me and Ron kind of had an instant connection. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but we just kind of got each other from the very beginning. And he put me in place. And I put him in place when it was needed. We worked side by side in this magical dance of a way. He, of course, would work with me on the scenes and let me know in his head where I was going. And sometimes he would come up and remind me of those things. We were on the same page. And just because we both had been in the shelter, that became normal for us. So were really on the same page. We both knew the character really well. I set boundaries when I had to and we had a great time. There were times I wanted to punch him but I didn’t [laughs]. But no, I love him and I couldn’t have ever done this without him. His sheer dedication and motivation.

So you cut your hair for this movie. You lost 15 pounds and stayed in a shelter to experience what these girls were going through. How has this film been an emotional journey for you?

It’s been a hell of a journey. And it’s still continuing. I feel like the movie came to me at the time of my life where I myself was going through a transformation. So it was kind of like I was stepping into the world and seeing things in a different light and trying to figure myself out. I think that’s what kind of drew me to the characters because she starts off one way and ends up this other way. It’s kind of like her turning into a butterfly. And I just got a butterfly tattoo before the film, which was annoying because I had to cover it up the entire time. So it came to me at a brilliant time.


Vanessa Hudgens as Apple in Gimme Shelter

Going through it, I pushed myself harder than I ever have and I surprised myself. And I feel like it was a big touchstone for me. And then afterwards, it really affected me because I looked in the mirror and all I could see was Apple. I didn’t know who Vanessa was anymore. I didn’t feel comfortable in my skin and I was kind of a disaster. So that was probably the lowest part for me was just trying to find myself again. And after that, I got back on my feet and continued to work. And now that it’s relevant in my life again, the journey is still continuing. I see this movie as a such a god-driven movie and see these signs everywhere I go and has taken on a life so much bigger than a movie and is connecting with women in a way that I never thought it would. And I feel like it’s bringing healing and transcended into such a beautiful thing that’s been giving wings and it’s a gift.

You brought up the butterfly tattoo and I wanted to bring up Apple’s tattoo in the movie. I’ve seen the movie twice now, so I had a chance to think about extra details. What was she thinking about that image? A very hopeful image and an aspirational image for her to put on her neck. Did you work with the makeup people on it?

Actually, that was all Ron. He just had that image of that tattoo from the very beginning. And me being the way that I was when I came into it, all I saw were stars, which I remembered Rihanna had [laughs]. And I never really got too deep in it. It was just another thing that allowed me to look into the mirror and not see myself. And because it was such a hassle to put on, I would try to not wash it. Which also added to the griminess and the dirtiness I felt on myself in the conditions that my character was in. Just not feeling clean. It just added to the uncomfortability of Apple.



About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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