Vanessa Hudgens – Hold Your Ground And No One Will Bring Down

From teen sensation to blockbuster leading lady, Vanessa Hudgens has proved herself the master of reinvention. But, asks Nicola Fahey… what’s next? ›

Venessa Hudgens is the sort of woman it would be very easy to just… hate. At only 31 years old, she’s already had the kind of career most of us dream of. She got to kiss Zac Efron on-screen for three years – and off-screen for another two. She got a blockbuster trilogy, High School musical, under her belt by the time she was 19, owns two homes and lives in harmony with her equally successful actor boyfriend of eight years, Austin Butler. And this month she’s starring alongside Will Smith in the biggest action sequel of the year, Bad Boys For Life.

Ok, so she started grafting at 14 years old when most of us were still working out which lipliner best suited us (answer: none of them), cementing her place in Hollywood as Gabriella Montez in High School Musical a year later – but it didn’t stop there. While it would have been easy to bask in the glory of her Disney fame, Hudgens, it turns out, is not a fan of doing what’s expected of her. It’s for this reason that, far from being hated, she has instead managed to amass global respect from both her fans and critics alike.

It’s 11 am in LA and Hudgens has woken up in her own bed, in her palatial Mediterranean-style mansion, for the first time in as long as she can remember. She has signed out of 2019 with the release of her second Netflix film, The Knight Before Christmas, following the success of The Princess Switch. Before that, post-High School Musical fame,
she deliberately avoided getting typecast by playing the Disney-departing role of Candy, a hard-partying, gun-toting bad girl, alongside fellow former squeaky- clean stars Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson in 2013’s Spring Breakers. And yet it turns out even movie stars aren’t immune from the stresses of adulting.

It’s important to have friends who reflect the type of person you want to be

“I definitely feel more anxiety now than I ever have in my entire life. You become an adult and shit gets real. I have two mortgages and I’m spending way more money than I would like to spend – I think all of that bullshit really takes a toll on your wellbeing. Paying your taxes – all of this adult shit that you don’t have to deal with when you’re a kid, you can live young and free, then it all kind of… goes away.”

If you look at other stars who were catapulted into the limelight at the same age (or younger), you realize that things could have been far worse than a few life-admin-related sleepless nights. So how did she avoid the curse of the child star that affected those like Lindsay Lohan, Mischa Barton and Britney Spears who came before her?

“Looking back, it feels like another lifetime. I mean, I’m tired of sure. I take good care of myself. I know the things that matter the most – I do love my job, but my job isn’t everything. My family is – my partner and my friends are the things that keep me grounded.”

The partner in question isn’t Efron, who she split within 2010 following a five-year relationship. Hudgens tells me she hasn’t “seen him or spoken to him in years”, although she still has the T necklace his character Troy gave Gabriella in the first movie.“I feel like I need to sell it for charity because it’s literally sitting in a little bag rusting!”

I’ve always been a big advocate of being true to yourself

No, it’s actually another HSM alumni, Butler, who she’s been with since 2011, that informs a huge part of her life now.“It’s eight years this year – FaceTime, good communication, respect, and trust [are what keep us going]. The longest we’ve been apart was four months. It sucks! You start hating hearing yourself say ‘I miss you.’ But if it’s your person, you make it work.”

But it’s not just Butler who keeps her feet on the ground. Since finding fame at such a young age, Hudgens – who was raised in California by her mum, Gina, an office worker born in the Philippines, and late father, Greg, a firefighter – credits her sensible streak to the meticulous support network she has built around her.

“I think you become who you surround yourself with, so I think it’s really important to have a group of friends that reflects the type of person you want to be. I’ve never been one for LA clubs. I actually despise [them] – I love a good rave. I’m like, take me to New York or Berlin and put me underground in a warehouse with lasers and smoke machines and I’ll be living my best life. That’s something that makes me who I am and allows my soul to flourish.

“I was also a really shy kid. I love acting and being on the stage and hiding behind a character, but when it came to me, Vanessa, being out there, I was never one for that –
and it’s something I’m still getting used to. I think being a shy kid really helped me not go down the wrong path – being a bit antisocial, literally.”

This shyness was famously tested in 2007 when Hudgens became one of the first wave of stars to have their privacy breached by a nude photo leak. At the time, there wasn’t much public sympathy for the then-Disney Channel star, and rather than being perceived as a victim whose privacy had been grossly violated, she was blamed for having taken compromising photos and forced to apologize for something that she had no control over.

“It was a really traumatizing thing for me. It’s really f*cked up that people feel like they are entitled enough to share something that personal with the world. As an actor, you completely lose all grip of your own privacy and it’s really sad. It feels like that shouldn’t be the case, but unfortunately, if enough people are interested, they’re going to do everything they can to get to know as much about you as they can, which is flattering, I guess, but then people take it too far and end up divulging things that should be personal. I think that is because there’s a disconnect when you see your favorite actress on the screen, and you see them now on your TV in your homes, and you can watch them whenever you want. There’s almost – I don’t want to say lack of respect because that sounds negative – but it just makes you feel like you know them even though you don’t.”

Looking back now, with the benefit of hindsight, it feels like this moment may have been the making of the person she is today; which, despite the Disney backstory and “typical” leading lady roles is – make no mistake – a badass professional who swears like a trooper and takes zero shit from anyone. I found this out myself when I brought
up the topic of the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, expecting some agent-approved PC line. Instead?

“I have been talked to in ways that are not appropriate. I have been in situations where I’ve been talked to in inappropriate ways, but right then, at that moment, I was the person to just say, ‘No. Why would you say that? You’re completely out of line.’ I’m the type of person in any situation, whether it’s an audition or in work, if I feel uncomfortable, I’m going to walk away or let that person know they’re making me feel uncomfortable. Then, if they don’t respect that, they can go f*ck off. If someone doesn’t like that, literally they can f*ck off. As long as you hold your ground, no one will bring you down.”

Hudgens pauses to catch her breath, almost surprised by her sudden release of emotion.

“I’ve always been a big advocate of being true to yourself. Not everyone is going to like that – well, good. That makes you an individual. That makes you unique. And if we’re all the same, what’s the point? It’s important to look out for each other, especially in this industry, and realize it’s tough. It’s hard enough, nobody needs to make it harder.”

Being that positive, that firm and resilient takes annual investment – starting in January each year. “To me, [New Year] is a time of rebirth and new beginnings. I feel like it’s a time where I have a clean slate and have 365 days ahead of me that I can really be intentional with what I’m doing. I make a vision board every January 1st. I print out a bunch of photos, places I want to go to, how much money I want to save, what kind of films I want to do, the people I want to work with, and then I put it up on my wall and see it every day and know what I’m working towards.

“I’ve done that for the past four years now, and it’s pretty amazing how when you’re extremely intentional about what you want and want to do, at the end of the year you end up checking off a lot of the things on your vision board. I also reward myself when I do get those things done. I’m a big advocate of patting yourself on the back. I look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Hey girl, you are crushing it.’”

And crushing it she most definitely is. Whatever the future holds for Vanessa Hudgens, it’s clear that having packed so much into her (already) decade-and- a-half-long career, she now feels no need to dance to the beat of anyone else’s drum.

“If you’re putting yourself out there, you will be subject to criticism. That’s just how it is. You have to deal with it the best that you can in a way that is healthy for you.”

With an estimated £10 million banked, 21 films under her belt and two more on the way, Hudgens has gone from teen icon to bona-fide Hollywood film star by the age most of us have just about worked out how to renew our TV license. And with 2020 set to be her biggest year to date, it’s safe to say her reinvention is far from over yet.

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