Interviews

Beastly Set Visit: Vanessa Hudgens & Alex Pettyfer

Source: Edward Douglas
January 21, 2011

It may not be surprising that Quebec gets kind of cold at night, even in May, and by the time we had a chance to talk to Ms. Hudgens, it was nearly 9pm, and we ended up having to borrow a heavy coat from wardrobe so we could do a quick interview with her while sitting outsider her trailer. At the time we spoke, her movie Bandslam hadn't been released, but she had signed on to star in Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch, a set we wouldn't visit for seven more months. (Look for that set visit soon, hopefully!)

Although we never had spoken before (and we weren't exactly "High School Musical" fans), it turns out that Ms. Hudgens was quite delightful to talk to, especially after we had met her parents and sister earlier in the day.

ComingSoon.net: I know this had been in development for about a year and a half, so how did they come to you about this and what was the appeal?
Vanessa Hudgens:
It was just a script that was in the pile, you know, and I read it, and I thought that it was really interesting. I had a meeting with them, and I remember running in, and I was late and I felt horrible, and we just had a great conversation. It was me, Susan the producer and Daniel the director, and we just sat and talked about the project. Just hearing Daniel's ambitions, what he wanted to do, how he wanted to shoot it, how he wanted to develop the characters. It just seemed like the right next choice.

CS: Had you already finished the last "High School Musical" movie at that point?
Hudgens:
Mm-hmm.

CS: What about "Bandslam"?
Hudgens:
That was actually before "High School Musical."

CS: Had you been looking specifically for non-singing roles?
Hudgens:
Yeah, I'm growing and I want to be able to grow as an actress, and I think the best way of doing that is just by trying to sink my teeth into as many different things as I can. This came to me and it just seemed different. It was a fun, interesting character that I would really be able to play with, so I was like, "I'm totally on board."

CS: Did you read the book or did they want you to read the book?
Hudgens:
Um, no, I read the script first, and then heard about the book later on. (laughs)

CS: Did you want to pick up the book to see what your character was like?
Hudgens:
Well, yeah, definitely.

CS: So you've read the book?
Hudgens:
Um... I don't want to say.

CS: Talk about your co-star, Alex. We've seen him before and he's a really good-looking blonde guy and then he has a very different look as "The Beast." I know your character doesn't like him when he's the blonde guy in some ways. Can you talk about the relationship he has with his two incarnations?
Hudgens:
Well, it's the stereotypical, nerdy girl always falls for the bad boy. Even while he is himself, she is the kind of person who sees good in everyone, so from the get-go, she kind of already had a thing for him.

CS: She's a nerdy girl? Is that how you would describe her?
Hudgens:
She's just kind of different. She's the artsy one out of the posh people. She'd be the one wearing a scarf and layers and just look more artistic than everyone set in New York where it's very posh and sleek.

CS: Even in high school?
Hudgens:
Well, in our version of high school. (laughs)

CS: I didn't go to high school in New York, so I don't know what it's really like.
Hudgens:
Yeah, our version is very posh and sleek and very sophisticated. It's supposed to be in an extremely wealthy school, so Lindy definitely stands out from everyone else. He slowly starts to follow her, and she kinds of takes refuge with him and they just slowly fall for each other, because he ends up having a great soul and kind of wins her over from the sweet things he does for her.

CS: It's the "Beauty and the Beast" story. What about your father in the movie? There are some dark underpinnings, because when you first hear about this, you assume it's going to be another PG family movie.
Hudgens:
No, it's not. It's really interesting. My Dad is a druggie and it was just crazy, because I never really done anything where it's a little darker and edgier like that. I'm being held at gunpoint in this movie, and it was my very first time, and it was interesting. It's fun. I finally get to do something that I haven't.

CS: It's interesting because Mary Kate Olsen started out as a child actress, as did Alex, who started maybe a little younger than you. You've worked with a lot of people your own age in "High School Musical" and "Bandslam" but is it different working with those who have been acting from an even younger age?
Hudgens:
I think the fact is that at the end of the day, we all love doing what we do and that's why we're here, and we all share a love for it. Whether or not we've been doing it for a long time or more recently, we're all here to learn and play.

CS: But Mary Kate obviously has different experience, and I was curious whether you've had a chance to bond with her over it or talk to her about it.
Hudgens:
I mean, no. We came here to do our movie and we had a great time doing it together. The past is the past and we just kind of let it be.

CS: What about Daniel as a director? Have you had a chance to see his other movie "Phoebe in Wonderland"?
Hudgens:
Yeah, I'm in love with Daniel. I think he's such an incredible director. He's helped so much in character involvement and just kind of figuring out mannerisms to play with my character and a way of speech and just truly developing the character to the fullest. He's so smart.

CS: What do you feel you've been able to bring to the character that shows a different side of you?
Hudgens:
It's a whole lot different than me. I'm very outgoing and confident and when it comes to Lindy, she's a bit more all over the place. She's kind of the person that has a bunch of word vomit. She'll say something and then instantly start to retract it, yet she can't stop talking about it. She's just kind of this neurotic character that's just a lot of fun. There's much more of a deeper undertone to the way I speak in it, because I have an extremely high voice (laughs).

CS: So you're speaking in a deeper voice?
Hudgens:
Yeah, yeah.

CS: So was a lot of that characterization in the script or was that something you developed with Daniel?
Hudgens:
I think a lot of it was what me and Daniel created together. I feel like we created this strong person who I have a lot of fun playing.

CS: I did want to quickly ask about "Sucker Punch" before they take you back to work. Do you have any idea when you start that?
Hudgens:
I start that right after this. I go straight into training, and I'm extremely excited. I'm a big fan of Zack's, and I've heard him say that this is going to be his first action film, so I'm kind of freaked out.

CS: His first action film besides "300" and "Watchmen"?
Hudgens:
Yeah, exactly. That's what I said.

CS: What has he told you about the character or what have you worked out?
Hudgens:
It's an ensemble piece, so I play the character of Blondie. It's just a bunch of strong women. (laughs)

CS: Do you think that's going to be the movie that finds you a different audience that has never seen any thing you've done before?
Hudgens:
Yeah, definitely. The kids aren't going to be able to watch "Sucker Punch," that's for sure, but I'm excited. I feel like I'm hopefully going to be able to branch out and reach out to some new people.

CS: My editor's niece is a huge fan of "High School Muscial" and of you and she wants to start singing. How do you feel about being a role model in that sense with lots of young girls wanting to sing and dance?
Hudgens:
I think it's incredible, but I think their role model is the character, not necessarily me, and I think that Gabrielle is a great role model, but at the end of the day, I'm doing this for myself, so I'm going to do some films that the kids won't be able to watch, but I'll try to come back and make PG films for them, because the fans are incredible. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here.

CS: They'll also get older so they'll grow into your other movies
Hudgens:
Yeah, they'll go with me.

CS: What's been the most fun thing you've done on the movie or the thing you'll remember the most about the movie if you've done it already?
Hudgens:
Oh, my gosh... probably just working with Daniel, just really working on scenes, and really developing a character, her mannerisms, a new way of speech, a new way of carrying myself. It's just a lot of fun. I feel like we're really taking it to the next level rather than just half-assing it.

CS: I know you're going to do a stunt next so how much of that have you been doing in the movie?
Hudgens:
(laughs) I've had one stunt already, which was quite frightening 'cause I'm afraid of heights, and I had to climb up a ladder, hold onto something upside down, they rigged me and I was literally hanging upside down on a pole, and then they would let the latch go, and they'd count "3,2,1" and then I'd let go and fall into Alex's arms.

CS: So that was part of the scene you're shooting tonight in some ways.
Hudgens:
Yes, exactly. It's a continuation of this scene, but it's exciting. It makes things fun.

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We didn't get a chance to talk to Alex Pettyfer until weeks later, because the young actor wasn't comfortable doing interviews while in his make-up as Hunter aka The Beast, and frankly, it was fairly jarring that it may have been distracting. (Granted, we did speak to Josh Brolin in his Jonah Hex make-up and we've even talked with actors in even more gruesome make-up.) But he generally wanted to stay as much in character while in the make-up and didn't want to be distracted from playing the role, so he made some time a few weeks after they had finished production to get on the phone with us.

Ironically, we'd be talking to the young actor again nearly a year later when we visited the set of his next movie, D.J. Caruso's I Am Number Four, an interview that you can read here.

ComingSoon.net: So you're finally done shooting?
Alex Pettyfer: Yeah, completely done, finished, wrapped.

CS: A day without having to wear that make-up must be a good day.
Pettyfer:
(laughter) We suffer for our art.

CS: I would say that getting three hours of make-up every day, that's not easy.
Pettyfer:
It was phenomenal, though. How many actors get to say that they get to experience that life-changing experience, where you get to change how you look.

CS: I'm curious about the idea of getting into doing something like that. Obviously, "Beauty and the Beast" is a fairly well known tale that's been updated via the book, but I was wondering about doing three hours of make-up and having to be in that make-up all day. You must have realized that was going to be the case when they came to you with the script?
Pettyfer:
Yeah, when I first auditioned and when I even got the part, you don't even feel like you're getting into a crazy, crazy, crazy experience, and you have no idea. For someone who has had no experience using prosthetics at all. I did a little horror movie before this and I had a little bit of blood, but nothing like this, not even a touch. To go into this world, because it is a world of it's own, and experience what some people are lucky to experience is just weird and crazy and exciting. Every actor looks for a different mask with different performances, whether it's creating a different personality or a twitch or something, but to actually recreate yourself and visually look different, it's amazing. I was so lucky and so privileged to be a part of it, and the process of being in a chair for three-and-a-half hours before you even go into film, to do seven hours to do the full body make-up. I think I spent like five days of my life in the chair in the trailer. So then, how people react to you, that's even a weird experience. When you walk out and the director or the producers act completely different, not in a bad way, but it's a very freeing experience. A lonely one, but a very freeing one.

CS: Did they show you any sort of mock-up of what you were going to look like beforehand? Did they have any designs before you signed on?
Pettyfer:
No, no, I signed on, I got the part, and then I went to Tony Gardner, who is a great prosthetic make-up artist and they showed me the design then and then we did the plaster mold and then we started creating this beast. But they showed me on a piece of paper visually what he was going to look like, and I was just completely blown away. When it comes into 3D and it's on you, it's even crazier.

CS: You also had to shave your head to do this... wait, did they shave your head?
Pettyfer:
They did shave my hair.

CS: What's that like? You obviously have this great hair that people would kill for... I hope you donated it to someone.
Pettyfer:
I was always looking for a role to look different and not be this blonde-haired guy, and I found it. Not only did I find that but I had to shave my head and I happened to look like something different. I do think I'm someone who if I'm going to do something I'm going to dedicate myself 100%, whether it's playing golf, playing tennis, acting in a film, driving, racing a car, and I really wanted to go the whole nine yards with it. It really helped me with my character as well. For me, it was a very weird thing to take away a comfort zone. People have comfort zones and my hair was kind of this comfort zone for me, and to shave it, I lost a little bit of confidence, and it gave me this weird feeling and I added it towards my character.

CS: I know that Kyle was originally a cocky and arrogant jock type...
Pettyfer:
No, that's the thing. He's not cocky and arrogant, he's just a jock. He's a charismatic very wealthy, materialistic guy. I can't explain. You know Quentin Tarantino has this very edgy way about him? You want to say he's arrogant, but he's not arrogant. He's a likeable human being, isn't he? But the way he does things, he's very quick, he's very snappy, he's very like that, that's what Kyle is like. He starts off his conversation to the school in front of 400 people telling them that they're a very aggressively, unattractive bunch of people, but while he's saying this huge speech, practically insulting them, they're loving him. They love what he's saying, and that's what's great about it is that he has this charismatic charm to him, which makes him so appealing. I didn't to go down that whole good-looking jock. I wanted to go down that very sleek, well-educated man that everyone falls in love with but he's an *sshole.

CS: He must have done something to have Mary-Kate's character get mad at him and transform him into that hideous creature, though.
Pettyfer:
Yeah, 'cause he feels threatened by Mary-Kate, because Mary-Kate symbolizes what his father is to him, disrespectful. His father doesn't really care about him. He cares, but he doesn't really care. That's what Mary-Kate does at the beginning when he's doing his speech, she walks out on him, and who walks out on Kyle Kingsbury? No one walks out on Kyle. That really riled his buttons up, and he plays on that, and then he starts to bully her and he can't get around her by doing the whole insulting thing so he gets around by doing the charming thing and inviting her to a party, and then in front of everyone, he then insults her and she puts this spell on him and that's how the story begins.

CS: We're all very familiar with the Beast as depicted in the Disney animated film and the TV show, and it's a very different, and your version isn't a monster who has rages and a bad temper. Is that the case?
Pettyfer:
Do you know what? The Beast is something you've never seen before, which is great, visually, and his personality is completely different than you've ever (seen). Most of the stories you've been witness to before have been the "Beauty and the Beast" where it's from the woman's side and you only see bits of the Beast. In this film, you are with Kyle and Hunter, who are the same people—Hunter is the Beast, and Kyle is the human being. You follow their story all the way through. Hunter and Kyle are in every scene, and visually, I can't think of anything that looks like the Beast. You have to remember that this is just a 17-year-old kid who has been transformed.

CS: It's funny how you mentioned how people react to you, because I remember the first time I saw you on set, I'd never seen any pictures, and I saw you from a distance and it just looked like you had tattoos and then I saw you up close and was like, "Wow"... I saw that your family were on set so they must be used to it.
Pettyfer:
That's what I love about the make-up. It's not so much that you are always looking at it going, "Wow" and are turned off by it. It's the subtlety that you come across and then you fall in love with Hunter's personality. You feel for him and you forget what he looks like and you follow this character, and that's what's great and what's so ingenious about what Daniel and Tony Gardner have come up with. That was always my biggest worry, that you always looked at the Beast and... the only example I can give would be Edward Scissorhands. You go "Wow, what does this guy look like?" and then halfway through the film, you've forgotten and you're following this love story.

CS: That's a great analogy. What about your co-stars Vanessa and Mary-Kate? You all come from different backgrounds as child actors. Did you go to drama school and all that?
Pettyfer:
No, I didn't go to drama school. I was fresh off the boat. I left school and I got this opportunity to be in a TV drama by Stephen Fry, a wonderful English actor and a very intelligent man, and I learned a lot from him. I've always been a film fanatic, which I hear you are as well, but it all levels from there. I went back to school and a year later, I got a call from an author who had written a series of books about "Alex Rider," and Harvey Weinstein was putting together a film and I got offered a part in that and I've just gone from there.

CS: What I wanted to ask about the difference in your background to Vanessa and Mary-Kate's was whether you found some sort of middle ground between the ways you were used to working in order to create the chemistry you needed?
Pettyfer:
Look, every actor has a different way of preparing or creating a character and yeah, we all are from different backgrounds. I've learned by watching films that inspired me and people who inspired me like Robert Redford and Paul Newman. I love old school acting. I love subtlety, and I also love being spontaneous, and that's really what works for me. Watching Mary-Kate, someone who has done it from such a young age, it's I can only say magical, and to act alongside her was such a great experience. To act alongside a TV idol of mine, Peter Krause, was phenomenal. I watched him in "Six Feet Under," I watched him on "Dirty Sexy Money" and I'll carry on watching him, and I've been lucky enough to be a part of that world with him. Vanessa's such a beautiful human being. She's so humble, so nice, and I think the finest kind of acting is the one when you show so much emotion but so subtly and that's how talented she is. She is a very down to earth human being and this is the first chance she's really been given to really show her potential, and she's really done it well.

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