At the movies

‘Gimme Shelter’ star Vanessa Hudgens: I like to push it to the extreme

Angela Weiss / Getty Images

You could safely say that Vanessa Hudgens has graduated from her High School Musical days, but let's hope Gabriella Montez, like Hannah Montana, isn't dead and buried.

Hudgens is focusing on her movie career now, and not the Disney Channel kind. She showed the world what she was made of in last year's shocker Spring Breakers, playing a drug-taking college student, and she also released the song $$$ex. And 2013 wasn't over yet. The California native was an exotic dancer in serial killer drama The Frozen Ground and had a cameo in Robert Rodriguez's hyperviolent Machete Kills. Getting the picture? Look for further transformation from the actress in her latest, Gimme Shelter, out Friday.

We talked to her about the movie, based on a true story about a homeless, pregnant teenager who finds no solace in her relationship her Wall Street dad ( Brendan Fraser) or her addict mom ( Rosario Dawson). A shelter for teen moms run by a kind man ( James Earl Jones) allows Apple to feel human again. Hudgens went to the extreme to make this troubled character come alive, gaining 10 pounds, applying multiple tattoos and chopping off her locks.

What a performance. Do you think you are treading into Oscar territory?

Oh gosh. I don't even want to say anything or think about that. I'm just glad people are watching the movie and connecting with it.

You were unrecognizable; what was the transformation like?

When my agent sent me the script, I felt like this character had been inside of me. It really resonated with me, and I just knew I had to do it. But I also knew I would have to completely reinvent my look. To tap into Apple, I used my own interpretation that I've picked up or seen in my 25 years of life. I wanted to completely change everything about what I am physically, down to my voice. I wanted to push myself. I also went and stayed at a shelter about two weeks before filming started to get into the mindset of the girls.

What was it like staying with teen moms?

I was pretty shocked. I've lived a pretty sheltered life for the most part and never been around young mothers like that. I had to put myself in their position and take on their mentality and become one of the moms in the same situation. I wanted to live it rather than say, watch it on TV. Being connected to women is such a special thing.

The fun part must have been gaining instead of losing pounds for a change.

It was the best! I stopped working out, ate whatever I wanted: pizza, pasta, croissants. I had the excuse to let loose!

You looked amazing at the Golden Globes. How did you get back to fighting shape?

I love fitness, personally. I feel like I can accomplish anything after a hard workout. It's a mind over matter thing, not so much physical as mental. I love feeling grounded through my feet and knowing all my muscles. It's part of my lifestyle.

Why are you attracted to darker roles?

I just like variety. I like mixing it up, whatever that means. Whatever comes my way and I'm passionate about, I'm gonna do.

What about singing? Anything in the pipeline?

Nothing that I'd like to talk about. I love singing, I sing every day and I have projects on the side. But acting has always been my No. 1 priority.

Madeleine Marr

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