Wonderland.

VANESSA HUDGENS

The Bad Boys for Life star talks pistols, partying and petitions in the latest issue.

Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland red light

All clothing and accessories COACH 1941 Autumn/Winter 2019 and watch OMEGA

Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland red light
All clothing and accessories COACH 1941 Autumn/Winter 2019 and watch OMEGA

Taken from the Summer 2019 issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue now.

Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go to Hollywood. After shaking off her squeaky-clean Disney image, Vanessa Hudgens has swept up a whole host of varied roles, as she prepares for her next in Bad Boys for Life, we talk pistols, partying and petitions with the High School Musical star.

“We were filming this sequence where there was a big shootout. I’m hiding behind this car, and there’s a truck that explodes, not that far away. They had this thing rigged to the max. They explode it, it goes up in flames, the entire thing jumps, it’s massive. I feel the heat of this explosion, and I go to cover my face to protect myself… and hit myself in the forehead with my own gun. I end up pistol-whipping myself. That is the opposite of badass!”

I’m on the phone with Vanessa Hudgens, actor, singer, designer, High School Musical alum and, now, pistol- whipper-of-own-face. She’s in New York, I’m in London, though the difference is apparently small, both cities engulfed by that reluctant, rolling pre-summer grey that punctuates the respective atmosphere of each. We’re discussing one of Hudgens’ most exciting upcoming projects — Bad Boys for Life — which will see her team up with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence for the latest instalment in the iconic franchise (Nick Frost-as-Danny-Butterman voice, “which one do you want to watch first?”) “I’m a very physical person; I love pushing my physical boundaries and seeing how far I can push my own body,” she continues. “But literally only I would do that. Hysterical.”

Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland mattress
Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland lying in bed
Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland mattress
All clothing and accessories COACH 1941 Autumn/Winter 2019 and watch OMEGA
Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland lying in bed

Hudgens was born and raised in California, in the small town of Salinas. Her father’s job as a firefighter meant that he’d often be “home one week and gone the next”, so it was her mother who was on the receiving end of her early performative bug, the actor constantly choreographing and then performing songs such as C+C Music Factory’s “Everybody Dance Now”. It didn’t take long for Hudgens’ parents to recognise the degree to which singing and dancing were ingrained in their daughter’s spirit, the family even moving towns so that she could take part in dance classes. “I was probably only like four or five years-old,” she remembers fondly, “but I was the little girl in dance class that would actually remember the choreography, so all the other little girls would watch and copy what I was doing. I felt pretty proud of that!”

It’s no surprise that someone so inspired by figures like Natalie Wood and films like Li’l Abner and Bye Bye Birdie would turn to musical theatre, and Hudgens soon did just that, enrolling in community theatres and gaining progressively bigger lead roles. It is amusingly ironic, considering the gargantuan levels of fame and affluence that she has since achieved, that Hudgens once had to pay to take part in local shows, though — thankfully — this was not enough to deter her passions. “I feel the most fulfilled when I get to tell a story on a stage,” she explains. “I just love the format of musical theatre — that’s where I grew up, where I found my own footsteps — and it feels like the most organic thing for me to express myself with.” This, of course, is where High School Musical comes in.

For many my age, High School Musical was something of a cultural milestone, a seminal franchise in television that provided us with some of the most infectiously memorable pop-musical bangers of a generation. Looking back on it, the trilogy was also a pioneer in cast diversity, encouraging teens to embrace their creative sides, and challenging pre-conceived notions of what masculinity and femininity can entail. Zeke played ball and made crème brulée, no wonder he was the heart-throb of a generation.

Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland curtain
Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland dancing
Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland cocoon
Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland curtain
All clothing and accessories COACH 1941 Autumn/Winter 2019 and watch OMEGA
Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland dancing
Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland cocoon

Hudgens has understandably held mixed feelings towards the project over the years. She was, after all, only 17 when she was cast in the first film, and the media’s inability to distinguish between squeaky-clean character Gabriella Montez and real-life-young-adult Vanessa Hudgens has, at times, taken its toll. “People may remember me for that part for the rest of my life,” she admits, though her amused, almost satisfied tone suggests that this is something she has made peace with. It’s precisely the show’s aforementioned dedication to the expression of self, and the effect that it has had on people, that has allowed her to do so. “It’s special when you’re able to leave something behind that can contribute to someone’s life with positive effect,” she says. “High School Musical has done that, and continues to do that, for children all over the world. The fact that I can be a part of something that hopefully inspires kids to be fearless, follow their dreams and not be afraid of going after what they’re truly passionate about… That’s an amazing thing to have as a legacy.”

Since HSM came to an end, Hudgens has embarked on an eclectic career path, and the diversity within the actor’s subsequent filmography is no coincidence. “After High School Musical, there were a lot of projects coming in that were very similar, with the same sweet, girl-next-door characters which people knew I could do, and could have been easy things to do just to work,” she explains. “But we said no. We needed to move away from that, to find a part that allowed people to see me for something else. I’m really happy with the way we held out, and how we were to be able to make myself a little more diverse.”

It took a while but, sure enough, the move paid off. Hudgens landed a leading role in 2009’s Bandslam, in which she played the rebellious rocker Sa5m (pronounced Sam, the 5 is silent!), who talks in a monotone and slowly because she says that “emotion is overrated”. If you think this sounds as different from Gabriella Montez as possible, however, watch Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. In the A24 cult flick — which also features Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and James Franco — Hudgens plays Candy, a party-loving, apathetic student whose devil-may-care outlook on life seems miles away from Troy Bolton’s clutches. “After High School Musical, I wanted to play a stripper or a drug addict,” Hudgens laughs, and Spring Breakers gave her the chance to do a bit of both, defiantly hammering the nail in the coffin of those commentators who would have rather Hudgens lived out her sugar-coated Disney Channel beginnings in real life. Spring Breakers was the perfect “fuck you” to those people, the same people that had shamed the young actor for a set of leaked nude photographs that she had taken some years before, and her brave and striking performance will be remembered almost as well as James Franco’s “spraaaang breaaak” drawl that is perennially associated with the film.

Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland hallway
Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland sitting down
Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland hallway
All clothing and accessories COACH 1941 Autumn/Winter 2019 and watch OMEGA
Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland sitting down

Next she’ll be seen in The Knight Before Christmas, the first TV feature she’s both performed in and executive produced. Closer to her HSM role than the oversaturated joyride that was Spring Breakers, it’s set to be a family-friendly holiday film in which an English knight falls in love with a science teacher. Sounds gooey, but who honestly wouldn’t want to see that one pan out? There’s no sign of Hudgens stopping her strive for character multiplicity though, and she squeals down the phone in inaudible excitement when I mention the online petition her fans recently started for her to be the next Catwoman. “I’ve literally been dying over the whole scenario,” she tells me animatedly. “It seems so backwards to be campaigning for yourself to play a part through social media, but the fans are making the most incredible art of me as the part I’ve always dreamt of playing, so I can’t help but share it to the world!” Her professional instincts momentarily kick in, the actor hurriedly assuring me that the whole thing is a big rumour and that she hasn’t been approached for the project, but her childlike obsession with the character soon takes over once more, explaining how she “used to dress up as Catwoman every day when I was like four years-old”. I suggest, then, that we shouldn’t rule it out. “Oh my god no, are you kidding me? It’s literally a dream role. Get me in the room with the right people; who do I gotta talk to?!”

One future project that Hudgens can confirm participation in is the afore- mentioned Bad Boys for Life, which is set to hit cinemas in 2020. Though she can’t say too much, she explains that her character will be a part of the special ops team that is brought in to aid the protagonist duo, of whom Hudgens speaks warmly, insisting that any potential added pressure of joining a huge franchise was counteracted by the familiarity bestowed on her by her co- cast: “Will [Smith] and Martin [Lawrence] are so, so sweet, they’re so wonderful to work with… It didn’t feel intimidating at all.” Smith especially holds a high position in Hudgens’ regards, the actor’s uncle-you-wish-you-had nature coming to the fore on their second day on set, where he began giving Hudgens unsolicited pointers on how to best hold a gun to look cool on camera. “He’s such a special person because he makes it a point to make people’s lives better,” she gushes. “He genuinely wants to brighten people’s days, and he does – he’s amazing. He’s Will Smith for a reason.”

We talk some more about Hudgens’ multiple ventures – namely her workout-wear collaboration with AVIA (“I know the power of putting on a workout outfit that you actually feel good in and feel supported by”), before we conclude by touching on what it is about acting in particular as the vessel through which Hudgens has chosen to channel her performative aptitude from day one. She pauses contemplatively for a while, before answering. “I love being submerged into worlds that I, Vanessa, don’t live in. With this job I get to time travel, and go to different places and live different lives, and that’s what excites me: to sink my teeth into the humanity of us all, and try to connect with everything that we go through. Life is hard, so the more I can connect, the better a person it makes me.”

Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland cactus
Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland plants
Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland cactus
All clothing and accessories COACH 1941 Autumn/Winter 2019 and watch OMEGA
Vanessa Hudgens Omega cover interview in Sumer 19 issue of Wonderland plants
Photography
James J. Robinson
Fashion
Rachael Wang
Words
Francesco Loy Bell
Hair
Amy Farid
Makeup
Shayna Gold using Chanel Beauty
Manicurist
Kia Stewart Lux K using PearNova Michelle Our Mama shade
Production
Federica Barletta and Rachael Morrow
Photo assistants
Ally Chen, Pat Casten
Fashion assistant
Grace Tully
Words
Francesco Loy Bell
VANESSA HUDGENS
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