Probably the casting that has caused the most headscratching among Zack Snyder’s fans is that of Vanessa Hudgens, loved by little girls for her part as Gabriella Montez in the Disney Channel’s hugely popular “High School Musical” franchise, creating a squeaky clean image for herself that was then countered by the leak of nude pictures that created a stark dichotomy in her public persona. Knowing Snyder, he probably was hoping to tap more into the actresses’ exhibitionist side than her Disney image.
ComingSoon.net had talked to Hudgens about doing Snyder’s movie on the set of her other March release Beastly a few months earlier, an interview you can read here, but this interview was done after she’d already been in Zack Snyder World(s) for a few months, so we were curious to see if she had already been transformed ala Black Swan into a different persona altogether.
Q: This is a different type of role for you, so how does it feel to do all of this physical stuff?
Vanessa Hudgens: It’s so exhilarating. I’m having the time of my life. I just actually wrapped two days ago, and I’ve never been so sad. This is an actor’s playground, this movie; I mean, we get to do some extremely dramatic scenes, we get to be complete bad asses and fight, we get to be extremely sexy in these burlesque shows, and just play with every single aspect of everything. Being in a mental institute, and being with these girls has been so much fun because they bring so much just playing off of one another has been incredible.
Q: Were you familiar with Zack’s other films?
Hudgens: I was the biggest fan of Zack. I loved “300” so much, and I was so excited when I read about this script because it’s so rare that you really get to see girls genuinely kick ass in a very intense way. It’s usually kind of sugar-coated in a sense, but this is down and dirty and these girls are really giving those guys a run for their money.
Q: Talk about the physical process you’ve gone through, and what that’s done for you as a cast.
Hudgens: Yeah! I showed up on the first day not knowing what to expect at all. I landed and got in the car in normal clothes, and I was like, “Should I be in workout gear?” They were like, “You know, the girls have been working out every single day and shooting guns.” I was like, maybe I’ll go put a pair of tennis shoes on, so I go up and all of the girls, Abby [Cornish], Jena [Malone] and Em [Browning], were standing on the mats stretching. Jena was already ripped by this point; her back was so chiseled and I was so intimidated. I got thrown into the process of about three hours of martial arts, resting for a little bit, and then doing an hour and a half of physical weight training. We did that for a few weeks and pushed ourselves to another level and created this amazing girl gang, in a sense, where we just pushed ourselves as hard as we could.
Q: How important was this to you in terms of doing something deliberately different from your previous work?
Hudgens: It wasn’t necessarily wanting to do something different, it was just this was such an interesting project. I read the script and was dumbfounded–I did not know what I’d just read–and I’ve never been so invested in a script. And I’m in love with Zack, and just having the opportunity to work with these great girls and just do things that not a lot of people get to do, was the opportunity of a lifetime. I mean, I can’t think of any other movie where a girl gets to shoot a 50-caliber gun, you know? It’s intense it’s the best.
Q: What’s the thing about Blondie that distinguishes her from the other girls?
Hudgens: The thing about Blondie is that her character in the brothel is a bit ditzy where you go, “Oh, that Blondie!” But in the alternate universe, she completely parallels that and turns into this complete bad ass with no fear and is just really the go-getter. So I kind of got to play with both dynamics of that.
Q: It sounds like there are multiple levels of reality. How do you guys keep it straight?
Hudgens: It’s been really interesting because we’ve had days where we would be in the brothel shooting a scene that is quite intense–tears are flying all over the place–and then we would have to switch into our fighting costumes and run through trenches and shoot guns. It’s really interesting because I feel like a big part of what really helped with that is our costumes and our sets; everything is so evolved and so thought-of that every time I put a certain costume on, it’s an instant transition because everything is so specific.
Q: Which of the fantasy scenes do you appear in?
Hudgens: I’m in World War I and I’m in Orc World as well, but in Orc World I get stuck on the B-25 and I end up shooting a lot of guns.
Q: Is there then a throughline that Blondie has in each of those levels that connects her different personas?
Hudgens: Uh, yeah. (laughter) Well, it’s kind of like when I said Blondie in the brothel is kind of a follower; she sticks by Sweet Pea’s character and kind of looks up to her to know that she can get by if she sticks around the strongest girl. So there’s that, and in the action world she takes the initiative, she’s extremely fearless, and is very strong. I mean, my fighting style is based off of Muay Thai, which is a powerful, force-driven fighting skill, and it’s a lot of fun. And I get to do a tomahawk sequence, which is great because it’s extremely personal and up-close and intimate; it’s a very close-range fight, and I get to do that. In the burlesque show, I get to do a belly dance, and that’s interesting because my character – I feel all of the characters in this are an extension of Baby Doll, kind of a piece of who she is. Sweet Pea is kind of her strength and I feel like Blondie is kind of her fear of everything, and ultimately at the end kind of breaks down and kind of messes things up, let’s just say. So she’s kind of two-faced in a sense, which is why I do the belly dance, which is kind of a mysterious way to it. And what else? There’s just so much, there’s so much in each thing that we got to play with. It’s been so much fun.
Q: Do all of the girls have different fighting styles?
Hudgens: They have different weapons, different fighting styles. I’m the one that gets stuck with the big guns and my tomahawk, yeah.
Q: They talked about a frame of reference for different dream or fantasy sequences. Were there any films you watched to get a sense of context for what you would be doing?
Hudgens: I watched “Braveheart” before this because (of) the tomahawk, I feel like it’s something I really wanted to embrace in its fullest. Everything that we’re doing, we’re putting ourselves out there and we’re in such a vulnerable state. When I’m shooting guns I have no idea what face I’m making, so when I watch playback and I’m like, “Why am I making that face?” It’s honestly just surrendering to what’s happening and just being present and in that moment, but this is truly one of a kind and people are going to not know what hit them.
Q: What’s involved in getting into the mode of doing action since you haven’t done it before?
Hudgens: I think a big aspect of getting us to that place was all of the training. The first day I walked in the girls had posted on the wall, “Find the Beast.” I was like, “Okay, that’s great, but I don’t really get it.” As soon as we went for the workout, Abby had her beast, she was just in the zone, and in a very specific headspace where no one could touch her. Slowly through the training process, we all found our beast, and now we all can tap into that and just be so zen and so focused that it’s very specific, and I think that by doing that we all get to that place before our fight sequences. You can kind of turn it on, you know? So we just kind of go to a very intense kind of place.
Q: Has there been a day when you thought you weren’t going to get through the scene, because it was just so overwhelming?
Hudgens: I mean kind of, but another great part to the workouts was I would be in the middle of a circuit and about to cry, and complaining and saying, “I can’t do it I can’t!” and they would say, “Yes you can just do it.” By doing that, it allowed us to know that we truly can accomplish anything we put our minds to. I’d get through my workouts and I would tell myself I can do it, and feel like I can accomplish anything.
Q: Are you planning to keep it up after you’re done with the film?
Hudgens: Oh yes. I have to; now my body just craves it. If I don’t workout, it’s like I go crazy the testosterone builds up inside me and I don’t know what to do and I just have to work out. It’s such an addiction, and it’s been incredible seeing your body change and just push yourself to a place where you never thought was possible.
Q: Did you feel more comfortable doing the dance numbers than the action stuff since you have so much previous experience?
Hudgens: I did. I mean, I definitely felt more at home on the stage. The belly dance is also a dance that I’ve always loved and have been so interested in as well, so it was just kind of my element. I got up there and just really got to work it, and it was so much fun. I mean, the stage is my home.
Q: Did you go through as much training and choreography as you have on past performances?
Hudgens: No, I think I only rehearsed my dance about six times, so I definitely had butterflies. It was very different because I’m used to performing and whatnot, but this time we had a male audience, so that in of itself kind of pushed me off the edge, but you just kind of have to put on your performer face and plow right through it.
Q: Do you think the other girls were intimidated with your prowess or coordination?
Hudgens: No, no, we were all so supportive. It was the best week ever! It was a week of just the performances, and every single night the girls would come to set and cheer the [other] girls on, watch a show, bring our dinner and eat. It would be a show and dinner and it was incredible. We were all so supportive of each other. Without these girls I wouldn’t have been able to get through all of this.
Q: What kind of music is being used for the numbers? Is it stuff that’s been specifically created for the film?
Hudgens: Yeah, it’s all original music. It’s crazy because everything is extremely different; each one is very defined. You just have to wait and see. They’re so different that it’s hard to explain.
Q: With so many different kinds of things to do, did you have to jump from one to another pretty quickly or was it organized so you wouldn’t have to go from performing to acting to action?
Hudgens: I mean, there’s been a few days where we would have to go from brothel to action, but for the most part it’s pretty separate, and we have enough time to get ourselves prepared for what the day holds.
Q: Was there anything they showed you in pre-visualized form that you wondered how you would be able to pull off?
Hudgens: Well, on my very first day, they kind of threw me right into it and started teaching me the choreography right off the bat. I actually didn’t see anything until after I did it, which I think I was better off it was kind of stepping into everything blindsided and not know what’s going on, you just gotta do it. And now I cannot wait to see; I mean, from the moment we started rehearsing, I was like, “Can we just watch the movie already?” Because it’s just so exciting, it’s so crazy.
Q: Because he has so many things to coordinate, how specific can Zack be in shepherding you through a performance that has so many different demands?
Hudgens: Zack’s been incredible. He’s been there with us every step of the way, and one thing I’m extremely thankful for is how real he tries to make everything. In a sequence where something bad happens, I’ll say, a gunshot goes off in the scene, and normally I feel like somebody would just say “Bam!” and then it happened. Behind the set we actually had a gun go off and a light flash at the same time, and it just gets you in a place where everything is so realistic, and it give you that extra push to go to a place where it’s very real. He’s so amazing; he’s just such a sweet guy, and he’s so visual. It’s amazing, it dumbfounds me, the things that he’s thought of. I read the script and I said, “Zack wrote this? He’s too nice of a guy! Where does it come from?”
Q: Did you find out where it came from?
Hudgens: Somewhere deep in there. I don’t know. (laughs)