Vanessa Hudgens is very serious about being a witch. You might not guess it from watching her in Dead Hot, the new film that rubs shoulders with the paranormal, as she and her bestie, musician GG Magree embark on a journey to Salem, Massachusetts, where they learn about witchcraft, ghost hunting, and connecting with the spirit world.
See, in the film and in life, Hudgens giggles a lot. She giggles at the end of most of her sentences, a high-pitched, stop-everything laugh that is as quintessential to her as her 2008 bop “Sneakernight.” She and Magree laugh while trying to navigate in a van to Salem; they laugh while watching YouTube videos in bed in a hotel room. In Dead Hot, Hudgens may be exploring her occult side, but doing so actually brings her closer to the most joyful version of herself.
“There's a bunch of witches everywhere,” she tells me, sans giggle. “A bunch of my friends are witches. I always say that witches find each other. They always do. You just click, and there's just an unspoken understanding that's literally spiritual.”
It’s unlikely Hudgens was the only witch at a townhouse party to celebrate the film’s release on Tuesday night in the West Village, where TikTok creators and psychics roamed the four-story home drinking tequilas spiked with dry ice.
We were all there to hear a fireside chat between Hudgens and Leslie Garvin, the film’s spiritual consultant. While we were waiting for the conversation to begin, people were getting tarot card readings, sniffing essential oils, and writing manifestations on pieces of wish paper and tossing them into flaming cauldrons. All of this was happening on a day I had been told was the luckiest of the year by a girl on TikTok that morning.
“This is first time I’m lifting back the curtain on who I am and what I believe and I am,” she told guests at the party. “I’m overwhelmed by the support.”
Getting out of being a child star relatively unscathed is nothing if not lucky. And while it’s easy to dismiss the otherworldly whims of stars like Hudgens, Kesha, or Demi Lovato, who’s Peacock show Unidentified with Demi Lovato has her singing “Skyscraper” to a traumatized spirit, it’s nothing short of extraordinary when a young woman finds a path to healing.
Because whether it’s astrology, the not-quite-ironic recent embrace of Catholicism among the young and beautiful, or Justin Bieber’s megachurch, there are multiple paths on the quest for greater self-knowing. For Hudgens, getting in touch with her witchiness is a serious, sincere pursuit — one that brings her to a more grounded place.
“There's nothing more empowering than being able to give yourself an identity to stand by,” Hudgens says. “So much about witchcraft is also practiced in sisterhoods and through female relationships, and through lifting each other up and creating a safe space where you can tap into the unknown and really reach your fullest highest power. That's such a beautiful, powerful thing.”
NYLON caught up with Vanessa Hudgens ahead of the release of Dead Hot about her long history of being able to see ghosts, what she’s manifesting these days, and how people can tap into their own witchiness.
Dead Hot is streaming on Tubi now.
How did it feel to play yourself in a way? Why was that something that you wanted to do?
I first went into it as a fun hobby. I was like, "Oh, doing a show about ghost hunting would be a blast." But after that chapter was over, I still felt unfulfilled and had even more questions. It opened up the conversation to spiritualism itself and witchcraft. That was something that I had been starting to really lean into. But I keep saying, I think the only way to heal ancestral trauma is to shine a light on it.
I want to take away the stigmatism that witchcraft has where it's demonic and Satan worshiping. There are people who do worship that, but that's not what it's about. It's been misportrayed in film for so long. I wanted to shine a light on what it actually is, but I don't know. I'm proud of who I am, and I love myself, and I am happy to be able to share a bit more of myself with my fans and the viewers.
When did you first get interested in witchcraft?
I had always felt drawn towards it. I've always been drawn towards the darkness and the unknown, as well as herbalism ever since I was a kid. And nature. I always felt the most grounded and connected when I was surrounded by trees. But I think I had my conscious witchcraft awakening when I was in Scotland filming Princess Switch. I don't know if it was [Princess Switch 2 or Princess Switch 3] but something awoke within me. I was surrounded by a bunch of women who came from long lineage of witches and was learning about the witch trials that happened there. It left me with so many unanswered questions.
Do you feel like you are a witch?
When did that realization come for you?
I feel like I always knew it, but I wasn't taking the identity until fairly recently. I now can say that I am confidently, and I'm proud of it. Whereas before it was like, "I don't even know what a ‘witch’ is."
What does being a witch mean to you?
I think that there's so many different lanes of it, but it is, for me personally, connecting to my angels, my ancestors, my spirit guides, my spiritual brigade, as I call it. And really getting super specific about the things that I want out of life and asking for them. As well as connecting to nature. Also, I have a gift of vision, and I've seen ghosts for as long as I can remember. I shut that down for a while because it was scary. I moved out on my own when I was 19, and I didn't want to see a man walking around in my house with a top hat on. I really shut that piece of myself down for a while. But now I feel more comfortable with it and protected with spirit, because I do make such a point of connecting to my angels that I feel protected.
Does this realization inspire you creatively? Would you ever make more media, or music, or an album, about witches or this side of yourself?
I mean, it definitely inspires me in more ways than one. I have my whole witchy playlist that I put on whenever I set out a manifestation. There's literally a journey to it. There's my meditation song on there, and then my writing down my intention song. It inspires me in my craft, in what I'm producing, in fashion, in all the ways.
What are you manifesting now for yourself?
A few things. I think that I'm not going to give you a fake answer and just tell you that it's really personal and that I'm going to keep it to myself.
I respect that. Have you seen Unidentified With Demi Lovato? There's some similar themes happening as to yours.
I have not. It's about UFOs, right?
Yes, and it's also about ghosts. They do a lot of contacting ghosts.
Oh, gotcha. I should check it out. What is it on?
I think it's on Peacock. Are there other ghost shows you like? Or other people that you share this interest with that you've talked to about it?
There's a bunch of witches everywhere. A bunch of my friends are witches. I always say that witches find each other. They always do. You just click, and there's an unspoken understanding that's literally spiritual. But I love all of the ghost hunting shows. I literally will watch all of them, any of them, I am wildly fascinated by it. It's the coolest thing ever to me.
I think you're right, I think there are witches everywhere.
How can people tap into that within themselves? How do you know if you're a witch?
I mean, I think trust your intuition always, but especially with witchcraft. If there's something in you that is curious, follow your curiosity. Don't shut it down. And know that divine timing is real, and the universe will present you things, or people, to help you on your journey and to explore it deeper.
What do you want people to get out of, to take away from Dead Hot?
I've been saying I think that the only way to heal ancestral trauma is by shining a light on it. I think that there is so much ancestral trauma when it comes to witchcraft. So many people were wrongfully accused. I want to hopefully open up people's eyes to the fact that it may not be as you think it is. It's not devil worshiping like the media's portrayed for so long. That there's a really beautiful and empowering side to it. If you feel compelled or drawn towards it, to lean in, because it'll only allow you to be in your power all the more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.