Vanessa Hudgens Explodes Her ‘High School Musical’ Image in Harmony Korine’s ‘Spring Breakers’

Harmony Korine’s dizzying, trashy, and bold new film Spring Breakers stars Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine as four bored and sexy college girls on an uninspiringly small and vapid university campus, who, like most of their peers, can’t scrape the cash together to go down to Florida for Spring Break. So, what do they do? What most of us would us would—they don their ski masks and rob the local Chicken Shack, ya’ll!

Reeking of sex, pot, highly-stylized violence, Southern Florida skank,  and James Franco sporting a gold grille and cornrows as white rapper Alien (“That’s A-leen!”), the film is an enormous, gutsy leap forward in the career trajectory of its three leads—namely Vanesa Hudgens. They literally blast their Disneyfied images to high Heaven (or hell, depending on your moral stance) with the controversial new film. But Korine also shows us the little girl that still lurks within the souls of these characters, and casting Gomez and Hudgens drives the point even further home with a sledgehammer—leaving us inquisitive to his views on the current, online and violent pop cultural climate, and how could be radically affecting our very malleable youth.

No actress bares more and has the biggest transformation as such a known and beloved childhood performer than Hudgens, who, to this viewer’s eyes, was nearly unrecognizable for the first fifteen minutes of the movie. And she is fantastic in her role as Candy—vibrant, bitchy, confident in her sexuality, and fearless.

Last week, I got the chance to chat with Hudgens to find a smart young actress taking the reins of her career with a vengeance.

As a young woman phasing into a new aspect of your career, Spring Breakers is an enormous departure for you. What were you looking at when you took the role of Candy in Spring Breakers?
Vanessa Hudgens: I mean, I’m looking at my career. I’ve always been looking for projects that would push me, that would be fun. But especially now. I mean, I’m 24, and I’m growing. I want to be able to have my body of work grow with me. This is a project that was very special. Stuff like this does not come around that often. Harmony is such an amazingly special filmmaker, as well. He normally doesn’t even use ‘actors.’ So, to have the opportunity where he was actually hiring real actors, it was just a no-brainer.

There’s so much humanity in what he does.
Yeah! I mean, you have to give him props for shaking people up. He gives people an experience. He wants it be something unfathomable, something that you can’t put into words. He wants the film to be a feeling, a real experience. It’s rare that you actually even get that from a movie. Isn’t that why we go to the theatre, so that we can feel something, and be taken on a journey, and an adventure, and be completely submerged into a different world. That’s what he does.

Can you tell us about how you and Ashley researched your characters? They’re so completely different from how we usually see you.
Yes. We would watch movies, and pull from robbery scenes. The robberies weren’t scripted at all. We pulled from The Town, from The Dark Knight, and Heath Ledger’s character. We worked on being fearless, and feeling empowered, as much as we possibly could. We had to stick with that, those feelings, throughout the whole duration of filming.

I agree with you completely. Do you see yourself directing at all? Where do you see your career moving forward from here?
 Still acting; I want to be able to be a chameleon, and blend myself into these characters. You look at Johnny Depp, he’s such a transformational actor, and James Franco! James plays a character in this film that you’ve never seen before! On paper, it could have been really silly and tacky but he brings such an authenticity, and believability to his character. I think that’s’ the most empowering thing for an actor to be able to do. When they can really take something, like a different kind of person, a real character you’ve never seen before, and bring them to life. That’s what I want to do.

Did you feel on the set that the film transformed you as an actress?
Yeah! Totally. It was almost like an acting workshop. It didn’t feel like a normal movie set  where the film is so structured and people are telling you your continuity and your lines. But with this, it was so exploratory; we did so much improvisation, every single day, that you didn’t know where the day would end up. It would always take a different direction. We would just surprise ourselves every day. And that’s the most rewarding thing for an actor.

Spring Breakersis in theaters now. And for more insight into the film, check out our interview with Harmony Korine.