The end of Vanessa's fairytale
The Hight school Musical star tells Susan Griffin about having one last outing in teen romp Beastly before graduating to much more grown-up things
Thanks to their intensive media training, Disney stars aren't too dissimilar to politicians. Throw them a tricky question and they'll opt for misdirection, a tactic often used by the great and not-so-good of the political world in which the query is ignored in favour of setting out a predetermined agenda.
Take Vanessa Hudgens, the 22-year-old known to millions of tweens across the globe as the shy and sweet Gabriella Montez from the High School Musical franchise.
She's in town to promote her latest movie Beastly, a modern re-telling of the classic Beauty And The Beast fable in which she plays the unassuming Lindy opposite the ‘beast' Kyle, played by Alex Pettyfer.
A young British upstart, Pettyfer's making headlines in Hollywood for his rumoured diva-like behaviour, so the question is: did he manage to behave himself on set?
“It was awesome, it was a lot of fun,” says Hudgens, smiling sweetly. “I mean me and him and [the director] Daniel Barnz were so extremely passionate about the project and, when you're working with people who are really invested in what they're doing, it really makes an awesome creative work environment.”
That's lovely but did he behave himself? “I don't gossip,” giggles Hudgens.
Beneath the carefully choreographed responses, she comes across as a friendly girl's girl and one who acts her age — a rarity among former child actors who can seem wise beyond their years and precocious because of it.
“I'm a sucker for romance. I love a good romantic tale,” sighs Hudgens on the appeal of Beastly.
The story follows the charismatic but shallow 17-year-old Kyle who, via a curse, is physically transformed to look as ugly on the outside as he is on the inside.
In true fairytale fashion, it's a curse that can only be broken by true love.
Dainty and petite in a lilac dress and long beads, she's exotically pretty (thanks to a mix of Filipino, Chinese and Spanish from her mother's side and American Indian from her father's), rather than intimidatingly beautiful, which is no doubt part of her appeal to teenage girls the world over.
Isn't it ironic, as Alanis Morissette once sang, that a tale that focuses on the importance of inward beauty has been made in Hollywood — home of the body beautiful?
The irony isn't lost on Hudgens, nor is the fact that she and Pettyfer aren't lacking in the looks department, but attempts to draw the actress on the topic prove futile.
“The amazing thing is I'm so invested in the story,” she says instead. “I really am the person who will stop and smell the roses and I feel that if you really do try to look at the beauty of life and not just overlook it, like a lot of people do because they're so caught up in their own negativity, that it really is a beautiful, free way to live.”
Born in California, Hudgens began her career at the age of eight in musicals such as Evita and The King And I. In 2003, she got her big screen debut with a small part in Catherine Hardwicke's pre-Twilight movie Thirteen, a gritty tale of teenage sex and drug-taking. The film was met with critical acclaim, unlike her next project Thunderbirds.
Undeterred, she made regular guest appearances on Disney Channel's The Suite Life of Zach And Cody, which is how she got to hear about auditions for High School Musical. An all-singing, all-dancing tale of teen love, High School Musical and the two sequels it spawned made household names of Hudgens and her on and off-screen boyfriend Zac Efron.
The pair split in December after five years together. It was her first real relationship and, in a rare candid moment, she admits she's not sure what type of man she can see herself dating.
“I used to be a very shy, timid girl and I was in a relationship for so long that I don't really know what I'm looking for.
“I haven't found any bad boys recently but I think it may be interesting,” she says, smiling coyly while playing with her necklace.
The relationship with Efron garnered huge press interest, and the pair were often trailed by paparazzi, but Hudgens says she tries not to take notice of what's written about her.
“I think it's just easier to avoid that altogether,” she says.
“It's like why put that into your mind? People are always going to make judgments and assumptions but I guess I can only worry about myself. Just as long as I try and stay positive, it's all I can do.”
High School Musical came to an end in 2008 and, while she won't be singing in the corridors of East High any more, she enjoyed returning to her musical roots in a production of Rent last summer.
“Musicals are my home and I love them more than anything,” she says.
“The stage is such a phenomenal experience; you're so present and lively, I love it.”
Most recently she starred as the mentally unstable Blondie in Zack Snyder's bold movie Sucker Punch.
It was a world away from Disney's clean-cut image but it's these sort of brave choices which will help her make the tricky transition from teen to adult star.
“I'm a very instinctual person, so if I read a script, it's different and it feels right, then I'm definitely going to go for it,” she explains. “I'm not content doing the same thing twice and there's so much more that I want to tackle.”
Quoting an excerpt from a poem she was given by her Sucker Punch co-star Carla Gugino, ‘A blessed unrest that keeps us marching', she says: “That unrest is what will always keep me going because you're always striving to do better.”
Beastly is in cinemas from today
The sexy siren has had a rapid rise to fame:
- She was born on December 14, 1988 in California.
- Back in 2002, she considered auditioning for American Idol.
- She reportedly sang Robbie Williams's Angels at her High School Musical audition.
- She's released two albums,V in 2006 and Identified in 2008.
- Hudgens took part in a song and dance routine alongside her ex, Zac Efron, and Hugh Jackman at the 2008 Oscars.