Interview: Vanessa Hudgens on Playing a Pregnant, Homeless Teenager in “Gimme Shelter”
Posted on January 22, 2014 at 8:00 am
Vanessa Hudgens gives a performance of extraordinary courage and sensitivity in “Gimme Shelter,” based on the true story of a teenage girl who is pregnant and homeless. Her name is Agnes, but she insists on being called Apple. Both Hudgens and writer-director Ron Krauss moved into a shelter run by Kathy DiFiore, played by the magnificent Ann Dowd in the film, to immerse themselves in the lives and experiences of these girls.
Hudgens, Krauss, and DiFiore were in Washington to present the film, and the next day Hudgens met with a small group of journalists to talk about the experience of preparing for and making the movie and why it was important to her. When she first read the script, she was immediately drawn to “what a strong character she was, the fact that she was a real survivor who took her future into her own hands. I just love strong women. I always love the idea of transformation, like Sharon Stone in ‘Monster.’ It’s amazing to watch an actor and not see the actor, just the character. I love that aspect of acting and I knew it was going to require that.” She talked about working with Rosario Dawson, who plays her angry, manipulative, drug-addicted mother. “Everything was really present and in the moment, discovering as we went. Of course the fighting scenes we blocked out so no one was hurt. But she just understood the role, we already had a good relationship as people, so we just did our thing.” She talked about getting to know the girls in the shelter. “The fact that I was there and wanted to tell their story, to make it a glimpse into their lives and not an over-dramatization. They saw my passion for the project. They knew I was really invested in it and this was not something I was going to take light-heartedly. I stayed in the shelter for a couple of weeks. I was doing the chores with them, I didn’t put myself on a different level. The one I got closest to was Darlisha, the one who had the real experience with her mother that we see Apple go through in the film. I was surprised by how uncensored Darlisha was, how open.”
She told us what she looks for in a role. “I’m very selective about the things that I do. I first listen to my intuition, my gut. I love being able to be a chameleon and trip people out by being a different person. I look for a character with depth, something real, something I have not done before, situations I have never personally been in, the further away from me, the more of a challenge, the cooler.” As she created the character, “In every moment, I tried to find something that was Apple, not Vanessa, playing with the lip rings, the way I spoke, touching myself, making every moment a bit more harsh and ugly, more raw, more real.” She appreciated “an instinct connection” with Krauss, “a magical dance connection. We just kind of got each other. I put him in his place and he put me in my place. He could do it with just a look. Because we had both lived in the world of the shelter, that became normal for us. There were times when I wanted to punch him! But his sheer dedication and motivation — I could never have done this without him.” The timing of the film and the character felt right for where she was. “I feel the movie came to me when I was at a point of transition myself, stepping into the world more, trying to figure myself out…I pushed myself harder than I ever had. It was a big touchstone for me. Afterward, I looked into the mirror and saw Apple. I didn’t see Vanessa anymore. I didn’t feel comfortable in my skin. It was kind of a disaster. That was the lowest part for me, just finding myself again. But then I got myself back on my feet and continued to work. Now that it is relevant in my life again, the journey is still continuing. I see signs everywhere I go. It is such a God-driven film. It has taken on a life so much bigger than the movie, connecting with women and bringing healing. It’s transcended into such a beautiful thing. It’s a gift.”