High School Musical's Vanessa Hudgens as you've never seen her before
Once a squeeky-clean teen in Disney’s musicals, Vanessa Hudgens is keeping it real these days. She tells Tara Brady about her latest role as a drug-addicted prostitute pursued by a serial killer
Arriving hot on the heels of an incendiary turn in Harmony Korine’s Springbreakers, Vanessa Hudgens’s latest role as a drug addled Anchorage-based prostitute seems certain to bring the guillotine down on her reputation as America’s Sweetheart. The Frozen Ground, a chilly Alaskan thriller based on the real life hunt for serial killer Robert Hansen, sees Ms Hudgens caught between two titanic thespians – good cop Nicolas Cage and evasive killer John Cusack – and working for 50 Cent’s mullet-wearing pimp.
This, notes Hudgens, as we meet in a London hotel, was a Brave New World for a girl who shot to fame as Gabriella, the prettiest face of High School Musical.
“I’ve never played a prostitute before. I’ve never played a stripper. I’ve never played a drug addict. I’ve never done anything like this -- on camera or off. The first time I’m on the pole in the movie is the first time I was on a pole. Me and the director Scott Walker didn’t even discuss it before. I wanted it to be raw. I wanted that to work for the character.”
Was she really as cold as she looks for most of the movie?
“Oh yeah. I froze my ass off. One night we were shooting it was negative 10. I was sure I had frostbite and that I was about to lose toes. I couldn’t feel my feet. It was extreme. And uncomfortable. And useful for the part.”
In the end, her lack of expertise and all that shivering do indeed coagulate into something impressive onscreen. The young actor explains that the project -- which brought her into contact with Hansen’s only surviving victim -- was all about authenticity.
“I spent an entire weekend with Cindy, which was a great opportunity to pick her brain. Now I know about her earliest memories right up to where she is now. I wanted to make sure I had all my facts straight. I read around the case as well. I had a clear view of what happened.”
How far did she get into serial killer literature?
“Not very. Not at all. This movie was all the psychology I could handle. What was going on onscreen was more than enough detail for me. That was disturbing enough. I’m not reading any further.”
She may have left High School Musical behind. She may have embraced a series of controversial and decidedly un-Disney roles. It’s true that she favours The Beatles, Skrillex, Wu-Tang and Atoms for Peace over the autotune pop we’ve come to associate with her alma mater. Yes, she loves Quentin Tarantino and has sat through all of Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers.
Still, one couldn’t comfortably argue that Vanessa Hudgens was anything other than squeaky clean. Looking at her up close, an estate agent might say she was “impeccably appointed”. Dressed in an exquisite and elaborately embroidered red and gold suit, she has left no hair has been left behind when executing her perfect up-sweep. Her skin is radiant to an otherworldly degree. Her answers are sunny, polite and smiley.