Vanessa Hudgens has certainly matured on camera exponentially since her Disney Channel and "High School Musical" days. The 24-year-old actress took a walk on the wild side as a gun-toting criminal who wears a neon bikini in Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers" and now Hudgens is tackling tougher dramatic material in "The Frozen Ground," which opens in theaters on August 23.
The Scott Walker-directed movie chronicles the real-life 1980s Alaskan hunt for serial killer Robert Hansen, who stalked and killed between 17 and 21 young women and then buried them in the Alaskan wilderness. Hudgens plays Cindy Paulson, the only survivor of Hansen, played by John Cusack. Nicolas Cage stars as the detective trying to track Hansen down, and 50 Cent appears as Pimp Clate Johnson.
We caught up with Hudgens as she talked about getting to meet the real-life Paulson, what rating she thinks the MPAA would bestow upon her, the various substances she's been required to snort on camera for different films and if her family-film days are behind her.
This is the first time Cindy Paulson has shared her story. Did you get an opportunity to meet her and talk to her about her experience to prepare for "The Frozen Ground"?
Yeah, I got to spend a whole weekend with her. She really opened up to me about her reservations and took me to her earliest memories. It was really neat because it gave me a solid, concrete foundation to build my character off of, which was really nice to have.
Is she trying to stay out of the media spotlight? A current picture of her isn't shown at the end of the movie.
Yeah, I mean, it showed her back then. It's something she wants to distance herself from, for sure. At the same time, she wants to bring light and help people. She experienced something so traumatic, but she opened up to us so that the story could be known and she could be portrayed in a way where she had dignity. That was one thing that drew me to the part — being able to shed light on that.
Who was more intense on set: Nicolas Cage or John Cusack?
They were both pretty intense. Nic because he's very professional and I really admire him and his work. But also John because the character he is playing is so intense. He really tossed himself into it, and it was amazing to witness. I'm a person who really doesn't try to preconceive an idea of what an actor is going to be like. I think it's better to go into things open-minded, so that's exactly what I did. They were great and exceeded any expectations I could have had.
Your more recent films like "The Frozen Ground" and "Spring Breakers" are a world apart from "High School Musical." Are you officially done with family films?
No, not at all! I just love expanding my horizons and growing as an artist. The only way you get to do that is by doing something that scares you or takes you out of your comfort zone. That's what the goal was here — just to prove to myself that I could take it that far. But all genres are open, I think. I don't ever want to confine myself to one specific thing. I like stretching my boundaries.
If the MPAA rated the real-life Vanessa, what would your film rating be and why?
Hmm. [Laughs]. Maybe PG-13? I've definitely gone through phases where I've had the mouth of a sailor.
What were you voted in high school?
I don't know because I was homeschooled!
What freaks you out?
The idea of not being able to act for the rest of life. Like, if it were life or death and I wouldn't be able to act anymore. That freaks me out, but it's not going to happen! My heart is closer to acting than singing. It's always been that way.
What geeks you out?
Chefs! If I meet an amazing chef, I mean. There's this restaurant down the street from me and the sushi chef comes to his place now and then and he sat across from me one time. I was eating edamame and I was so starstruck and I wanted to respect his food that I stacked my edamame in a pyramid because I didn't want to be messy in front of him. I also love anything zombie-oriented. I love "The Walking Dead."
What's a movie that everyone hates that you love?
I don't know. I'm proud of all the things that I like! Maybe the weirdest one would be "The NeverEnding Story." I'm an open book.
What's the most outrageous lie you've ever read about yourself?
I try to not read about myself. I think it's easier to have it out of sight and out of mind. Maybe if I wore a dress that I absolutely adored, I'll Google it to see how it photographed because I'm big into fashion and it's always fun to dress up and wear fabulous dresses by incredible designers. But I never look up what people are thinking about me, for sure. I like keeping my sanity.
What's the weirdest thing you've ever had to do on a set?
I had to snort powdered milk for "The Frozen Ground." On "Spring Breakers" I snorted Vitamin B, but the powdered milk was a little … interesting.
Rap or rock 'n' roll?
It depends on my mood, but at the end of the day, probably '60s or '70s rock and roll. I'm probably into more laid-back music than really aggressive music — unless I'm working out. Then it's a different story.
What is your porn name, which is the name of your first pet and the name of the street you grew up on?
I had a gypsy upbringing, so I moved around all over the place and can't remember a street I grew up on. But my first pet's name was Lady, so that makes for an interesting start!
Is your character crazier in "Machete Kills" or "Spring Breakers"?
I just have a tiny cameo in "Machete Kills." If you go to the bathroom, you'll miss me. [Laughs] I just wanted to work with Robert [Rodriguez]. His work ethic is unlike anyone's I have ever worked with before and he's just an incredibly visionary director, so I jumped at the opportunity to work with him. It's just a fun little cameo. I would say "Spring Breakers" was definitely a lot crazier!