Vanessa Hudgens is ready for a change! After being catapulted into the limelight at the age of 17 when she starred in High School Musical, she has ever since lived with the reputation that comes with being a young Disney star. Now Vanessa is looking to make the hazardous passage from child-star to adult actress.
Starting with her most talked about new role as crazy party girl in Spring Breakers, a new film from the provocative indie director Harmony Korine. The movie is set around four best girlfriends (one of which is Selena Gomez) who live together in a boring college dorm and are hungry for adventure. To get their shot at having some real fun, they need to save enough money to go on spring break. A serendipitous encounter with a rapper "Alien" (played by hearthrob James Franco) promises to provide the girls with all the thrill and excitement they could hope for. With the encouragement of their new friend it soon becomes unclear how far the girls are willing to go to experience a spring break they will never forget.
While numerous fans and paparazzi tried to track her down during her time in Florida on the set of Spring Breakers, we were granted exclusive behind-the-scenes access and got to spend 4 days with the 23-year-old actress. We talked to her about this new stage in her career, the necessity of a good party, and why she is completely in love with and in awe of James Franco (aren't we all?)
Vanessa, in Spring Breakers things get completely out of hand, to the point where you even end up robbing people! Not really a role anybody would expect from you…
Vanessa: I’ve been recently doing a few projects that are darker, deeper and heavier. Reading these situations in the movie where our characters rob people, which has such a harsh and hard element, was something that I just liked. I felt like I would be in my element and as though I’ve had a taste of it. It’s so much fun and I wanted more of it. My character seems like the one who, even though she’s bad-ass and tough and hard, still has a sweet, fun side underneath it all. She's like a bubbling little girl, who is just so excited about everything. I feel as though that’s partly who I am: Under these deep, dark, and heavy characters I’m inside of myself just jumping for joy at the fun that I’m having.
How did you first hear about this project? Were you familiar with the director Harmony Korine’s work beforehand?
A little bit. My manager has Rosario Dawson as one of his clients, and Harmony worked with her on Kids, which was actually one of my dad’s favorite movies. He was a fan of Harmony’s work so when this came along he was really excited.
Was anybody already attached to the project?
James Franco was already attached and I’m such a big fan of his. I’m such a believer in putting things out in the universe, and eventually if you want it bad enough it all happens. So for months I was saying, “I need to work with James Franco, I want to work with James Franco,” over and over again and when this came up I thought, “Shut up, we need to make this happen!”
Did sharing the screen with him live up to your expectations?
I love him so much! He’s so ridiculously amazing! I’m really just like in awe and blown away. He creates these strong, fully developed characters with so much depth and background. He loves taking risks, he’s not afraid to take a scene and turn it into what he wants and he comes to set extremely prepared. He really did a lot of work on his character and really commits. I just love him.
During the shoot of this film you have been constantly chased by paparazzi. Does that kind of media presence scare you? Especially when you play such an extreme part as this one?
It used to bother me. I used to be so conscious about it and it used to really affect me and my work, but there came a point when I thought, “I’m not killing anybody in my spare time!” If it’s just me dancing around or doing whatever, so be it! If anything, it just raises eyebrows and makes people more interested in the film. I never want that attention to affect my work.
You built your fan base as the star of Disney's High School Musical. Are you afraid that your fans might be a bit shocked when they see you in such an explicit part?
I always wanted to do things that are completely different. I want people to watch movies and think, “Wow, that was Vanessa Hudgens?” My younger fans, of course, are not going to be able to watch this film. I try to put it out there that you need to do what makes you happy. You can’t worry about what everybody else thinks, because there are always going to be haters. You have to do things for yourself, not for anybody else. I am doing this movie for myself and I think the people who are genuinely my fans are really going to enjoy it.
Harmony Korine is known for creating these extremely realistic portraits of American youth culture, a world that is very different to the ones your fans probably live in…
Even though the image is different it is still a world in which all teenagers’ lives which is so familiar. Everybody has had those times in their life when they think, “that was a crazy time.” When you’re in that space, there’s nothing else in the world that is better than that.
I guess you are speaking from experience?
You have to have those times! You have to take the opportunity to get your 'crazy out', and then from there you can grow.
It might open the eyes of a few people and make them understand a bit more.
Exactly! I think everybody will be able to watch it and understand it. Whether or not you agree with it is a different story. It shows part of growing up, so everybody can take away what they want to take away.
Not only the film is very explicit but also the costumes. I hear you barely ever wear more than a bikini…
It’s really like pop art. All our costumes are so bright and in-your-face with a lot of fun graphics that contradict the way that we act. It’s a funny spin on how youth nowadays can be doing things that are really crazy, but yet they are so pure. It’s such a present-mind frame to just not think about the future and this is how our characters act. They just don’t think about the future – they are just doing what they feel is right.
How do you prepare yourself to play a girl that is willing to rob people in order to go to Florida for spring break and party with sex, drugs, and alcohol?
It starts by me just reading the script and tt takes me so long to read a script. I can’t just read it, but have to go back and read the scenes five times. Then one of the first things we did was to get close to the other girls right away, because we wanted to build an amazing bond and relationship to evoke the feeling that we had known each other for years. We then had to go past that and study girls like our characters, who are hard rough, tough and are in this other drug-like world. It really is a completely different world!
And they are pretty…
I think our characters just do whatever they need to do to get what they want. And as women they know that they’re sexy and empowered and that if you’re tough enough and you act like you know what you’re doing, then people will believe you. Together as a crew they know that they can conquer the world and get whatever they want, like the only way that they know how to get to spring break is to rob a bank.
Did you know any of the other girls before?
I actually used to go to acting class with Ashley Benson, when I was 15 or 16. We were in the same class, but we never really became friends. Our paths in life had been completely different. We just never really got to know each other at all. And it’s so funny now, coming back to that and being able to go back and really dig into each other’s past. It’s a small world.
Do you think this movie will draw a more mature audience than all the actresses generally have?
I think kids are much smarter these days. They’re neither blind nor oblivious to what goes on at college and high-school. They’re probably going to see things regardless - your parents can tell you no, but doesn’t that make you want to go see it more? (Laughs) It’s fun (the movie), it’s crazy, it’s so vivid and alive!I can’t wait to see it.
What is your background in acting? You started so young, it almost seems you did all the learning on set.
I did start out young! I started out doing a lot of community theatre when I was really young, then bigger theatre work and then doing commercials – a lot of commercials. My first big paycheck for a commercial was for an Old Navy bathing suit commercial funny enough. I was all over the place. I took a few different classes and kind of jumped around, but never found a class that really stuck. But, of course, experience is sometimes the best way to grow and learn.
School wasn’t for you?
Yeah. I don’t know. I get bored quite quickly. I like mixing it up and trying new things and learning from different people.
When you play a role like this, does it make you regret you never went to college and had those kind of crazy times as well?
Honestly, doing it now I am glad I never went to college, simply for 'party reasons'. It just seems so full-on and aggressive - it takes so much energy that I’ve been sleeping really well working on this movie!
How did you get so many Twitter and Facebook followers? Do you actually work on that?
Magic spells! Just kidding. I don’t know. I have someone who helps me out. Honestly, I’m not a big social media person.
So do you think it’s just the way that you are, the fact that you seem to have your heart in the right place?
I don’t know. Everybody is different. I just know that I follow my heart and follow my dreams. I enjoy life. I do my thing.
And that’s your message?
That’s what I want everyone to do (above). It’s so simple. Happiness is so simple.
We'll keep you posted as to when the movie will be released in South Africa!