Video & written interview: Vanessa Hudgens on GIMME SHELTER – transforming into a complicated role

Video & written interview: Vanessa Hudgens on GIMME SHELTER – transforming into a complicated role


Vanessa Hudgens is quickly transcending the HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL background that made her famous, and has been taking on darker and more daring roles lately. Movies like SPRING BREAKERS and THE FROZEN GROUND have proven she can handle complicated and edgy material, but her role in the new film GIMME SHELTER will absolutely become a career highlight for the talented young actress. In the movie Hudgens plays Agnes ‘Apple’ Bailey, a troubled (and pregnant) teen trying desperately to escape her drug-addicted mother, and eventually finding comfort in a women’s shelter. The role is anything but glamorous, and certain moments show the great lengths Vanessa went to in an effort to sell the look and feel of the character. One of the first shots we see in the movie shows Hudgens chopping off her real hair, and there’s even scenes where you can tell she gained substantial weight. I had the pleasure of moderating a recent Q&A in Dallas with Vanessa, director Ron Krauss, and real-life women’s shelter pioneer Kathy DeFiore (who was the direct influence for this project). The following day I got the chance to do an on-camera interview with Hudgens, and we talked for a bit about her on screen transformation, and moving her career path into more daring roles. Check out the short but sweet interview below, and look for GIMME SHELTER in theaters this weekend. Big thanks to Grady May for editing the interview. Also check out the written interview by our Gary Murray following the video.


Vanessa Hudgens press tour coverage by Gary Murray

Vanessa Hudgens is one of the most beautiful young actresses of new Hollywood. With her long black hair and dark eyes, she is the opposite of the California look. The girl from the High School Musical series of films has branched out into different roles such as Spring Breakers, Bandslam and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.

Vanessa was recently in town to promote her new movie Gimme Shelter. It is easily the most important film of her young career. The story is about Agnes ‘Apple’ Bailey and is based on true events. She is young, homeless and pregnant. Her journey leads her to find a family in a local teen mother shelter.

The film is by writer/director Ron Krauss (Amexica and Rave) and also stars Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser and James Earl Jones. It is a story that deals with family and homelessness, dysfunction and redemption.

On how she got involved with this project, Vanessa said, “My agent sent me a script and there was no urgency behind it at all. It was just another one that was floating around. I gave it a read and I knew that it was going to be my next project. I came in and I read for Ron Krauss and sent him an e-mail. Through the power of persuasion, I got the part.”

But, she didn’t think of it as a difficult role but as an exciting one. It took much out of her to create the character of Apple. “Because I was so passionate about the project,” she said, “I was more than willing to put in the work. The deeper that I got, the more thrilled I became,” she said.

But it was not an easy role to live. “I did have a moment where I personally broke down just because I was really uncomfortable in one of the scenes. I was afraid of someone getting hurt. That really freaked me out. Aside from that, I had Ron by my side. He is always constantly pushing me in the right direction and I would celebrate myself after every scene. It was a fun but challenging process.”

When asked what specific scene, Vanessa said, “It was the scene where I’m walking on the street and the pimp rolls up to me, right before I get into the car crash. They wanted me to drive as close to him as possible. His name was Jeff and he was my bodyguard when we were filming in the dodgy areas. I just don’t like the idea of people getting hurt. It just really freaked me out. It gave me really serious anxiety. I had to stop and remind myself how to breathe.”

Vanessa delighted to play such a strong woman like Apple and that is what attracted her to the role. “Apple does take her life into her own hands and doesn’t look at her circumstance or her condition. She has her own will and that definitely reflects my career. I had my circumstance and I am taking things into my own hands as well and fighting for things that I want.”

Vanessa sees the film more of a character study than some kind of political or religious statement. “I feel that the religion and faith aspect is something I see more so now,” she said, “after being able to see what it is doing to people and the way it is connecting to people. In the present moment, that wasn’t necessarily my focus.”

Taking on such a different role made Miss Hudgens begin to lose sight of her own personality. “I would always try to stare at myself in the mirror before a scene just so I could remember who I’m playing. I think that kind of set the tone.”

On bringing this role into this world, “It was terrifying” Vanessa said. “To really dive into something and not know if you can actually go there because you have never tried to before is terrifying. And to know that it is going to be documented forever so there are really no second chances with it.”

The role is opposite of every other role she has performed before. “I have never been able to transform myself like this. The way that I walked, the way I talked, the way that I moved my face. It was so much fun because it was really creating someone new and living within that. I really had such a blast. If I could do something like this again but a completely different character, I would jump at because it is a dream role.”

Easily the hardest part of the film was the birth of Apple’s child. “Every single scene is just circumstance,” she said of the process. “Putting myself in that circumstance, I popped a bunch of blood vessels in my cheek. I was really going for it. The most powerful part of that for me was when they put the baby on my chest. That was when the acting disappeared. There is nothing more powerful and profound than childbirth. It is a miracle. To have that moment, even though I know it’s acting, I know it is not my baby, putting myself in that circumstance it just resonated in my heart and just filled me with so much love and hope. It is really overwhelming.” It is easy to see that this role has changed the young woman on many levels but she doesn’t want to take a stance on the politics of young, single motherhood. “I am simply a vessel to get their story out there.”

But she does see a wider aspect to the role in Gimme Shelter. “I expect it to bring people healing and to bring them a wider view of the world and human nature. I think that a lot of humans naturally suppress pain. I think that this movie brings it back up again. You have to sit in that and you have to feel it and deal with it. That brings a lot of healing and compassion.”

Rosario Dawson plays a drug addicted prostitute and the mother of Apple. Vanessa called her “Amazing – she’s a powerhouse. She consistently surprises me in every single thing she does, her dedication and her hard work. She spreads herself out over a wide spectrum. She’s an amazing actress who really understood this character.” According to Vanessa, Rosario came from a poverty family growing up and she got it. “She had seen this side of motherhood and she connected. When we worked together, it was organic. Things were just happening naturally and we just let it play out.”

After Gimme Shelter, Vanessa said it was hard walking away from the role, “Subconsciously, I stayed in the character the entire time because I put so much work into becoming that person. Stepping out of it would be just taking away from the work I put in. So, I got home and I’d look in the mirror and still saw Apple. I didn’t see Vanessa and didn’t know who Vanessa was – I didn’t know what she was interested in. I completely lost sight of myself. It took a while, it took a lot of time to take care of myself, giving myself love and getting back into my body. It was tough though.”

She also sees the film as the idea of sisterhood prevails. “When you find a family,” she said, “that’s where you are going to be, that’s where home is. It was a sisterhood connection. That is something she has been searching for her entire life that is something she has wanted—to be loved. So I think for Apple it is a clear choice.” She is still in contact with some of the real women who were in the shelter when they filmed.

And she sees the role of Apple as a degree of trust. Of Apple’s psyche, Vanessa said, “She didn’t trust herself. I think it is hard to really put your faith in other people if you don’t have faith in yourself. So I think her thing is just giving herself time to really figure out who she is and who she wants to be and be able to give that back to her family and build that relationship. She has already come to her family at the shelter as a broken person. They know her for that and accept her for that. I feel like for her father, he wants her to live to a certain expectation; she wants to be something for him. It is growth and battling being comfortable in her life.”

“I got so much out of this movie myself but what people are going to get is going to be different,” Vanessa finished about the process of making Gimme Shelter. “That is what I love about it, it touching so many different subjects. There is abandonment, abortion, homelessness, abuse. I think that everyone is going to get something different out of it.”

GIMME SHELTER opens January 24, 2014

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.