For Vanessa

The all-new Vanessa Hudgens is more sassy,less sweet and very much unstoppable.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
The all-new Vanessa Hudgens is more sassy,less sweet and very much unstoppable. Media, Corbis, TPG/Click Photos Media, Corbis, TPG/Click Photos

 Of course you’d think of High School Musical when you think of Vanessa Hudgens. It was, after all, the wildly successful Disney franchise that first catapulted the then-17-year-old and her co-stars into global superstardom – but almost a decade has passed since then and surely, it’s time to move on. Vanessa certainly has.

And, it may be that she’s as eager for you to notice just how ready she is to move on too. In the nine years that have lapsed since her star-making turn as high school sweetie Gabriella Montez, Vanessa has turned 26 and, in turn, left behind the glittery, PG-13 stages of Disney and onto grittier, decidedly more “adult” roles.

Goodbye to Gabriella

This evolution includes Vanessa playing parts such as a patient at a mental asylum (Sucker Punch) and a teen felon (Spring Breakers); she even defends the human race against an alien invasion in the upcoming Kitchen Sink. Tenderhearted heroines of sappy love stories? Looks like Vanessa would rather leave that to her peers.

Vanessa has also proved that her starlet image is one she can – and will – abandon at will. To play the part of Agnes “Apple” Bailey, a pregnant teenage runaway in Ronald Krauss’s Gimme Shelter in 2001, Vanessa’s transformation from Disney to dingy was every bit as outward as it was inward. The actress chopped off her ever-flowing locks, piled on 7kg and spent two weeks at a pregnancy shelter to get in character – even if she did break their no-cell-phones rule on the first day of her stay.

She tells online entertainment news site, Collider: “Being in this environment was such a shock to begin with and just knowing that I was going to completely disassociate myself from the life that I’m used to was terrifying.” Oh, you little rebel. To stray further from her squeakyclean image of yore, the brunette beauty played a 17-year-old prostitute-slashrape- victim in Scott Walker’s mysterythriller, The Frozen Ground, about the real-life hunt for American serial killer, Robert Hansen, who was active in the 1980s. And surely we aren’t allowed to forget the risque threesome scene she shared with James Franco and Ashley Benson on the set of Spring Breakers?

Breaking the Rules

Perhaps Vanessa’s 180-degree transformation should come as no surprise – after all, fellow Disney alumni like Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez (with whom she co-starred in Spring Breakers) have all strutted down a similar path, one that might simply be called growing up when done out of the limelight. And while Disney may have given these starlets the best of showbiz starts, one can imagine that being typecast as a pubescent princess can eventually become creatively stifling.

In an interview with The New York Times, Vanessa makes clear her desire to break free of her Disney chains: “I want people to look at me not as that girl from High School Musical, but as an actress they admire. With Spring Breakers, I’m looking for a reaction for sure. I want to shock people.”

And shock she did, especially when nude photos of her were leaked in 2007, when the actress was 18. The nudes rocked the world at a time when the term “slut-shaming” had yet to become commonplace. In what Vanessa told Paper was “by far the worst moment of my career,” she was made to publicly apologise so Disney wouldn’t drop her from High School Musical 3.

But how times have changed. Last year, Hollywood heavyweight Jennifer Lawrence took an unapologetic stance when she and other celebrities like Kaley Cuoco and Jessica Brown Findlay fell victim to a similar leak. Calling the privacy breach a “sex crime”, Jennifer rightfully protested against the slutshaming via her Vanity Fair cover story, saying: “I can’t even describe to anybody what it feels like to have my naked body shot across the world like a news flash against my will. It just makes me feel like a piece of meat that’s being passed around for profit.” Her outrage was duly met with applause and praise.

Despite the fact that Vanessa had to deal with a much more critical reaction in the aftermath of her leak, she’s bounced back stronger than ever. These days, our cover girl has taken a much more low-key approach to her personal life. While her off -screen relationship with her High School Musical sweetheart Zac Efron occupied more headlines than climate change ever did, she’s managed to keep the four years she’s spent with current beau, Austin Butler, mostly to herself and her Instagram account.

From Gabriella to Gigi

Creatively, Vanessa has also come full circle. Kind of. Going back to her musical roots, she bagged a chance to work those killer pipes when she snagged the title role in the novellaturned- play-turned-musical, Gigi. The Broadway production, which ran from April to June this year, saw Vanessa relocating to New York City to play Gigi, a role that Audrey Hepburn played in 1951, which was then reprised by Leslie Caron in the Academy Award-winning film adaptation.

If you’ve been waiting to catch Vanessa sing on-screen again, it’s been announced that she’ll be donning the iconic Pink Ladies jacket for her turn as ringleader Rizzo in Fox’s primetime musical, Grease, slated to air in 2016. In the meantime, look out for Vanessa in her first-ever fully comedic role in Kitchen Sink, which also stars Ed Westwick of Gossip Girl fame and Bob Odenkirk from Breaking Bad. A comedy-horror flick that sees a teenage vampire, zombie and human teaming up to save the world from aliens, it’s pretty much your all-in-one right there.

To The Independent, Vanessa explains why her recent repertoire has taken on a chameleonic essence: “I’m very particular about the work I do. There’s a reason why I’ve had a ton of time off recently. I’m not going to do anything if I’m not in love with it. As an artist, it’s about evolution and self-growth and adventures and self-discoveries. It’s about working with different directors and playing different roles.

“I want to try as many different things as I can because I love pushing myself and I love being thrown into situations where I’m not too sure I know what’s going on, and just figuring my way around it because that’s how you grow the most as an actor and a person.”

Hats off , Vanessa.

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Coffee with Ms Hudgens

Like everyone else, our cover girl loves a good cup of joe. But no one ever looks as good as Vanessa while just doing a simple coffee run. Here’s proof.

1 Keeping it fresh and easy in a white dress and a casual neckerchief.

2 Matching your coffee to your jacket is how you identify a caffeine addict.

3 Ordinary mortals would not be able to get away with doing up just one button on their shirt, but Vanessa rocks it with ease.

4 She nails her trademark boho style with a wide-brimmed straw hat and a denim maxi skirt.