On Jan. 21, at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria, I met with Vanessa Hudgens. We were there to talk about her new movie, “Gimme Shelter,” which opens this Friday, Jan. 24. The 25-year-old looks even better in person. She projects a positive spirit as her long hair tempts you to reach out and touch it. Perfect white teeth next to fuchsia lipstick are set against olive skin. Hudgens smiled easily, seated in a black and white blouse adorned with glittery sparkles that matched her mood.
Hudgens plays Agnes (“Apple”) Bailey, a desperate pregnant teenager who runs away from a cruel drug-addicted mother played by Rosario Dawson. She tries to connect to her wealthy dad, played by Brendan Fraser. Things keep looking bleaker until she meets Frank McCarthy (James Earl Jones), a priest. He introduces her to Kathy DiFiore (Ann Dowd) who runs a shelter for homeless pregnant teens. It’s a true story with only a few small liberties taken by the writer/director, Ron Krauss, who lived in a homeless shelter for a year intending to shoot a documentary. As he got to know the shelter girls, he filmed over 200 hours of interviews with them. It became clear that this was a riveting story for a feature film.
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Hudgens gave me the lowdown on her experience making the film.
What are things you look for in a script?
Vanessa Hudgens: I’m picky and lucky to be in a place where I can be. If my gut and my heart are telling me it’s a green light I go for it. This is an exciting time for growth. I love doing what I do and push myself to choose stories I’m passionate about and characters that I have fun playing. It’s also about who is involved in the project. Your work environment is only as good as the people you surround yourself with.
How did you connect with the role of Apple?
I wanted to make Apple as gritty as possible and just pulled ideas out of my pockets. She was based on one of the girls who was in the shelter who had problems with her mother — like what you see in the movie. Even worse things happened, but they didn’t make it into the movie. They’re too graphic for the screen. I connected with her strength and openness and she and I became close. She was a driving force in my heart. We’re still friends and her son is one of my favorite people.
How did it feel to cut your hair off?
And putting on weight?
Fun! I was in Cannes before I filmed this movie. In France it’s very easy to put on a couple of pounds. I could live off of wine and cheese forever, but it’s not the healthiest combination.
What was it like not being allowed to use your cell phone? Did you sneak up into your room to use it?
I definitely used my phone. Yeah. I’m in my early 20s. I can’t get away from that thing. Not in this day and age. I weaned myself off of it as much as I could. While I’m working, I’m not on it so I wasn’t checking in with anyone. I was cut off from the world that I’m used to. In the beginning I tried to go on a phone bender. [Laughs]
How was it working with James Earl Jones?
So cool. When he’d show up on set, you’d know by that voice. There’s no one else on the planet that sounds like that man. He’s incredible. Such a brilliant actor. It was an honor.
How was your relationship with Kathy DiFiore, the woman who ran the shelter?
Great, I would go to her whenever I needed a strength. I know she was secretly praying for me. Kathy is the most selfless person I ever met in my entire life. She was such an inspiration.
Did you enjoy working with Ann Dowd who played Kathy?
She is great and one of those actresses that you see in so many different films. I love her career and that she is such a standout actor but not all that many people go running up to her on the street. That is the ideal career, I think. She came in and did her thing, but we didn’t have much time together. For the movie I was focused on the work and my character. I wasn’t thinking about connecting with people.
What is the film’s takeaway?
It provokes feelings that people have gone through and maybe have suppressed. I mean, we all have pain; it’s just our situations that are different. Hopefully it will bring emotions up and help you sit with it, and by doing so, experience healing. I think it shows that we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be, even when we’re in a lot of pain and suffering. Those moments push us to find our destiny and love and the knowledge that we’re not the only one going through things. I hope that teenagers will see this and it will give them hope and faith.
What are your upcoming projects?
I have a movie coming out in October called “Kitchen Sink,” which I’m really excited about. After doing this and “Frozen Ground” and “Spring Breakers,” I thought, “I need to do a comedy.” I had so much fun and I’m excited. I was a giddy girl coming home from work every day thinking, “I’m funny!” [Laughs]
What’s it about?
It’s set in high school and about a couple of students who live in a time where zombies, vampires and humans live together. As harmoniously as they can. An interesting group gets stuck together trying to survive. It’s like a cross between “Dawn of the Dead” and “Breakfast Club.” I get to be glamorous, which is fun because I really am a girlie girl.
The drama “Gimme Shelter” opens Jan. 24 in limited release. Rated PG-13. 90 minutes.
Watch the trailer: