it's vanessa's world...and we're all just living in it.

read our february cover story here!

by: nylon

photographed by aaron richter

February 17 2014



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It's a long weekend, which means there's really no better time to settle in on the couch and read (or reread!) our February cover story with Vanessa Hudgens. Inside the new issue, the actress opens up to NYLON's executive editor Ashley Baker about the struggle to be taken seriously, dealing with haters, and her next (carefully-considered) career steps. Check out the interview in its entirety below, and get even more Vanessa in the gallery.

The deafening EDM that reverberates through a candlelit SoulCycle studio in Williamsburg Brooklyn, has been so remixed, remastered, and repurposed that it's hard to imagine these sounds were ever touched by humans. 'three minutes!' warns an instructor, referring to an imminent start time, but Vanessa Hudgens is already primed in the front row. She wears an aerodynamic, all-black ensemble, her thick hair messily scraped back into a topknot, and sits within inches of today's guru, Anthony, a sinewy club-kid type with a half-shaved head and a vampy manicure. Hudgens is hunched over her bike, spinning furiously, eyes closed and trance-like, shaking her head back and forth in a so-bad-it's-good, no-no-no motion. As the lyrics of Thomas Jack's 'Booka Shake" sharpen, Anthony bellows, 'out of the saddle!" and she lunges toward the handlebars, her legs even blurrier than before. This is Hudgens's happy place. 

Throughout the 45-minute session of push-ups, jumps, and crunches that all, improbably, happen while pedaling, Hudgens's performance is a technically correct yet personalized interpretation of Anthony's choreography. 'I've considered signing up to be an instructor, but not in a ‘fuck acting' way," she says afterwards. 'Just because it's fun. But I don't think my manager would like it." In the merciless light of the unisex locker room, even the back-row slackers are sweatdrenched, but after a quick facescrub, Hudgens is good to go to lunch. I offer a dab of my moisturizer. 'Can I have some?" a pudgy fortysomething dude asks Hudgens flirtatiously, even though it's not exactly hers to give, before pinching some from my pot. She smiles while wriggling into a gray loose-knit sweater, shapeless black overcoat, and knee-high, fur-covered boots. Outside on once-industrial, now condo-heavy Kent Avenue, not far from the apartment of her boyfriend, The Carrie Diaries' Austin Butler, the afternoon is gray and dingy, and snowflakes are drifting lazily toward the pavement. 

After passing a place hawking $10 'single estate and single origin' chocolate bars with their own flavor profiles, Hudgens ducks into the yoga center where she would like to lunch. There's a pillow-strewn alcove over the juice bar where we are supposed to sit on the floor, but I am spared, because they aren't serving yet. 'I know another place," she promises, leading me to a cheery little vegetarian restaurant named Bliss. It's barely noon, but the place is filled with the unconventionally employed, and the only table left is a rickety two-top near the kitchen. 'I love fresh juice—it gets me so high," says Hudgens, settling down and ordering one, along with a sexless plate of kale, brown rice, and seitan. The juice-swilling, hippie-dippy greens-eater before me isn't the most well-known version of Vanessa Hudgens. That would be the Disney queen with over two million Instagram followers, a shameless love of selfies ('It's the girly-girl me"), an Old Hollywood themed 25th birthday party, a Bongo campaign, and an angsty romantic past with her High School Musical co-star, Zac Efron. Self reinvention is something of a part-time job. 

The current wave of public image transformation began last spring, when Hudgens starred as a murderous coed-gone wild in Harmony Korine's 2013 opus, Spring Breakers, which you loved (if you're under 35) or hated (if you watch The View). 'You hear what you want to hear," she says of the Breakers backlash. 'If you're not into something, be open about it. If you don't like me, I don't care." Hudgens's performance in her new film, Gimme Shelter, will silence the critics who suggested she was going for cinematic shock value in Spring Breakers. As Agnes "Apple" Bailey, Hudgens plays a pregnant teenager who flees her maternal home--a meth den motel -- and tries to survive on the streets. 

'It was the first time I really stepped out of my comfort zone, physically and material-wise," she says. 'I'm a little afraid of myself when I watch it." Gimme Shelter is based on the stories of young women living in Several Sources, a New Jersey residence for young mothers that was once the home of its founder, Kathy DiFiore. Ron Krauss, the film's writer and director, spent a year living among its residents and their children while writing the script. 'I originally wanted to cast an unknown—I didn't believe a Hollywood actor could play this role," he says. When Hudgens auditioned, he claims he wasn't familiar with her starmaking work on Disney. 'But in the end, I put about 15 to 20 girls—some actresses, some unknowns—on a plane to meet the real girls who lived at the shelter, just to affirm my idea of using Vanessa. 

They didn't know who she was, but they picked her as well; they thought she was most like them." To research the role, Hudgens spent two weeks living in the home, where she gave herself a dismal bowl cut and gained 15 pounds strictly by, she swears, 'eating lavishly" and carbo-loading on pasta. (She's lost it all, probably thanks to joyless meals like this one.) Many Young Hollywood types would politely decline such an unflattering proposition, but Hudgens, in all iterations, is eager to work the camera. 'I loved looking in the mirror and seeing myself with short hair and bad skin and tattoos," she says, fingering the diamond-encrusted om pendant that hangs around her neck. 

'The uglier I could make myself, the more giggly I would get on the inside." Playing Apple's drug addicted mother, Rosario Dawson witnessed Hudgens's metamorphosis firsthand. 'I'm really almost taken aback at just what an intense experience [the film] is," she says. 'It's a very real and very raw performance." Dawson happens to have the same manager as Hudgens, so the two had met several times before filming began, and she first learned of Gimme Shelter when the trio was touching down in Cannes on a private jet. 'To see Vanessa shut down and cut [herself] off was painful to watch. But I'm glad she was able to go there—and that she wanted to. You see something like High School Musical and it's very easy to think that maybe you would never see those kids do a performance like this. Vanessa has been very clear and very specific that she wants to be a great actress, and you can see that commitment in her work." 

Krauss, for his part, claims to have never really met his leading lady. 'She was always in character," he recalls. 'I didn't even call her ‘Vanessa' while we were filming—she was always ‘Apple.' Months later, I read this story online about Vanessa smoking a cigarette and fighting with some paparazzi guy. And I thought, ‘Oh my God—she's still in character.' It must have taken a while to get back to herself." Pushing the seaweed around on her plate, Hudgens ponders her image. 'I don't think it's ‘good girl gone bad,'" she says of the story line ascribed to her in the wake of a certain underwater sex scene (with Spring Breakers co-stars Ashley Benson and James Franco).

 'I think it's more ‘girl growing into a woman and being passionate and taking chances.' I have so much work to do, and I think I will always feel that way. There's this quote: ‘Blessed unrest that keeps us marching,' and I feel like that's how it will always be for me. Yeah, I'm just going to continue to push myself and try harder and stay true to what I want, bu it's always a struggle." Her religious life is also undergoing a transformation. 'I grew up Catholic, and then got really far away from that, and thought I was an atheist," she explains, obediently finishing the last few bites of her kale. 'Then I started to open up to spirituality and seeing the magic and beauty behind everything. Fairly recently, I started going to church, and building that relationship. It's been the most impactful and beautiful thing that's ever happened to me." She attends services at Hillsong, a Pentecostal megachurch with branches in Sydney, Kiev, Cape Town, and New York.

 'I know God's plan for me is bigger than anything I could ever plan for myself," says Hudgens. 'It allows me to not worry about the future or what other people think and just to be present and enjoy and try to shine as much as I can." It's possible she has such broad appeal because she's not afraid of being all things to all people. When she's wandering around Coachella in eyelet pajamas and a flower crown, Hudgens is a credible bohemian. When she's describing her on-screen threesome as 'just the weirdest thing ever" to Jimmy Kimmel, gold manicure glinting as she gesticulates adorably, she's the perfect male fantasy. Case in point: 'One night in Cannes, we went to all these different parties, and we were dancing until the sun came up," recalls Dawson. 'It was one of those epic nights where you end up sleeping all day, exhausted and shutting the curtains like a vampire. We were walking barefoot back to the hotel in the morning, and there were all these paparazzi, and it was not a cute look [for us]—running makeup, matted hair, dirty feet from walking barefoot as we snuck back into the hotel."

After offering to take care of the bill, Hudgens shrugs on her overcoat, and wraps her scarf around and around and around her neck. As she exits the café and weaves her way through the crowd on Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg's main thoroughfare, the sunlight appears to be draining from the sky. When asked about what's on the horizon, Hudgens breaks into a grin: It's a broad comedy called Kitchen Sink, which concerns small-town teenagers (Hudgens, Ed Westwick, and Chris Zylka) who are fighting a zombie/vampire takeover attempt. 'It was a riot," she says, adding that her character is something of a hippie. 'But then her life takes a turn, and she turns into an enchanting vixen." Sounds familiar.


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