People need to stop using the word “transformation” about Vanessa Hudgens’ role in “Gimme Shelter.”
Sure, the actress is unrecognizable in the film, opening Jan. 24 and based on a true story of pregnant teenagers receiving support at a New Jersey shelter. But considering Hudgens already has played a bikini-sporting badass in “Spring Breakers,” a meth-smoking prostitute in “The Frozen Ground,” a wounded inmate/scantily clad killer in “Sucker Punch” and a dangerous mystery woman in “Machete Kills,” it’s far too late to think she’s still just her innocent character from “High School Musical.”
“I want to do every single genre. I want to work with as many different people as I can. I want to continue to become a chameleon,” Hudgens says at the Park Hyatt on the coldest day on record in Chicago. “I’m blessed with 10,000 ethnicities; maybe not 10,000, but a lot of ethnicities. It’s easy for me to bounce around and really change the way that I look, and I love that. I love being able to give an audience member the experience of seeing a character and not seeing an actor … I feel like this is very close to playing a guy, honestly. I look like a boy, so I’m not far off from it.”
For “Shelter,” Hudgens, 25, gained 15 pounds, donned fake piercings and tattoos, cut her own hair and allowed very non-glamorous things to be done to her skin to play Apple, who runs from her drug addict mom (Rosario Dawson) and struggles with homelessness after discovering that she’s pregnant.
In this Chicago cold, I had a vision of you, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine doing “Winter Breakers” and having the worst possible time on vacation.
[Laughs] Yeah, like we get buried under snow or someone buries us into a snowman.
Like, “Why did we go on vacation in this weather?”
And we’re still in bikinis. [Laughs]
That would be a dangerous choice.
Yeah, it would be. Frostbite is a real thing. I’ve learned this today. [Laughs]
Before shooting “Gimme Shelter,” you actually moved into a shelter with young moms. Is there a story you haven’t gotten to tell about that experience that you can talk about now?
Oh, man. I don’t know. It was just a funny, odd experience. The kids are there all the time because the mothers are there and they have their children, and I remember one time one of the house moms brought her son out for a bath, and they had this little kiddie pool. It was summer, so it wasn’t cold or anything, but I remember her putting him in the water [Laughs] and his teeth just start to go crazy and they’re chattering and he’s freezing cold, but he was laughing at himself because he was just shaking and he was so cold. It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. And she proceeds to take off his diaper and poop flies everywhere. It was great. [Laughs]
Was the child still laughing at that?
Oh, yeah. He was still doing [she imitates a little kid laughing]. So cute.
After having those experiences, what now seems like the hardest part of having a child?
Just the fact that they take up your entire life. You don’t have time for yourself anymore. I enjoy me time still. So not [giving that up] anytime soon.
You auditioned in character for this movie. How different was your appearance on that day compared to how it turned out in the film?
Oh, it’s 100 percent more dramatic in the film for sure. I didn’t wear any makeup when I went in. I wore baggy clothes, I put my hair back, I was listening to gangster rap music all day. [Laughs]
Like Wu-Tang. Heavy, grimy, good. I love it.
Can you remind me how a Wu-Tang song goes now?
There’s a lot. There’s Method Man, which I know way too many of the lyrics of. So don’t test me.
I’m testing you right now. Prove it.
[Laughs] No. It’s not lady-like. That’s Vanessa time. That’s what I have for myself, my rapping.
But for the audition it was mostly Wu-Tang.
It was mostly Wu-Tang. [Laughs] Wu-Tang was responsible of me getting this role.
In the movie you drink a raw egg, eat from the garbage and steal a car. Of those three, which had you done most often before filming?
Yeah, I’ve had zero experience in any of those.
A lot of firsts in this movie for you!
Yeah. I would hope so. [Laughs] The part that freaked me out the most is with the raw egg. No, honestly, all three of them really freaked me out. The raw egg was disgusting because it’s a raw egg, and that’s just disgusting. Simply put.
Yeah. The stealing the car was really traumatic for me for some reason because the guy who tells me to get in the car, his name was Jeff, he was kind of my bodyguard, he was looking out for me the whole time. And they wanted me to drive the car really close to him and he bangs on it and he yells at me, and it was so much to take all at the same time that I just had a panic attack and I kind of lost it for a second ‘cause it was really overwhelming. And then eating out of the garbage was horrible as well because there was a paparazzi there that day so pictures are out of “Vanessa eating out of the trash,” and I’m like, “No, it’s Apple.” [Laughs]
Do you remember what you were eating?
A peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich.
How was it?
It was great! I made sure it was going to be safe and clean when I got to it, but it was still uncomfortable. It’s a very real moment I think too for the character ‘cause that’s something that really does happen when you’re homeless. It’s such a low point for anyone. It just doesn’t feel good.
What do you think about shows like “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant,” and when you were with the girls at the shelter did you get any sense if they watch those shows or have an opinion about them?
Oh, no. They could care less about any reality, celebrity, nothing. Honestly. They don’t care ‘cause it doesn’t really feed into their survival, and that’s what life is for them at that moment. It’s survival. For themselves and for their children. They didn’t care that I had been in movies. It didn’t mean anything to them. It’s survival. TV and reality is just whatever for them.
Is there any of that stuff that you enjoy?
I don’t really watch a lot of TV. I’d rather take a walk outside or go on a hike or something. And I live in L.A. so I can actually do it. [Laughs]
You mentioned stuff you watched when you were younger, “Labyrinth” and “The Neverending Story” being a couple of them. What’s your favorite part of one of those?
[Laughs] “Atreyu! Say my name!” [Laughs] She’s actually a yoga instructor now, and I took a class because she was friends with one of my girlfriends and the entire time I was just like, “You are the childlike empress.” So good.
You were quoting the movie during the whole class?
Kind of. I thought that she put on the theme song during the class. It was a different song, but I got really excited. [Laughs]
How she’s doing today: “Just trying to keep my sanity in this weather. We lost it a long time ago.”
On being willing to walk around barefoot at music festivals, even, say, on the third day of Lollapalooza: “I don’t care. It’s dirt. It’s natural. It’s earth. I mean, when you step in something mushy, it’s definitely [not good]. I haven’t really luckily yet. At Coachella I always run around barefoot. And I’ve been clear of the mushy steppage so far. [Laughs]”
The point at which she’ll have to stop playing teenagers: “When I don’t look like one! I don’t know. It’s awesome being able to still play a teenager because no matter what you’re playing a human being and it takes a lot of work to dive into the character and figure out that person’s past. So age is kind of irrelevant, it’s just where you look like you sit.”
If it would be awesome for her to be in her late 30s and still play a 17-year-old: “Yeah! That’d be like the best thing ever. Right? [Laughs] When you’re 50, people say you look like you’re 30. That’s amazing. That’s every woman’s dream. [Laughs]”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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