It's been ten years since Vanessa Hudgens danced her way onto the Disney Channel as the smart and sweet Gabriella Montez in "High School Musical," and now she's gearing up to play a high-schooler with sass. On the West Coast set of Grease: Live, the anticipated Fox musical event that will air later this month, she talks to us about recreating Rizzo, the gritty gal at the heart of Grease.
So, what was your reaction when they asked you to play Rizzo?
Vanessa Hudgens: I was like, "Are you sure?!" Because, growing up, I was always Sandy. I was always the good girl, and I never realized how fabulous Rizzo was until I thought about it and watched [the film again] and realized what an incredible part it was. Then I jumped at it, of course!
Tell me about getting to play a bad-ass.
VH: It's fun! This is the first time I've ever played a character like this. I'm always nice or some version of nice. But, it's fun. I get to be "over it" a lot and get to speak my mind and don't have to be polite. It's definitely a stretch from who I am, but it's fun because we all have a bit of that inside of us. Sometimes we just have the niceties that we're used to, so we don't speak our thoughts, and Rizzo does that all the time.
I'm sure you were a fan of the film.
VH: Yeah, of course. I mean, "High School Musical" was "High School Musical" because of "Grease." It was the original "High School Musical," which is why it's so awesome that I'm now coming back ten years later and playing the opposite character.
What were you like in high school — or around high-school age?
VH: I didn't go. I was home-schooled. I was working. I was working on "High School Musical." I was kind of similar to how I am [now]. Obviously, I was the same person, but a bit more timid and not as confident.
What excites you about theatre? How is it fulfilling to you?
VH: I live for theatre. I think I was born to be a performer. I love doing film, but you don't get to sing and dance when you're filming movies most of the time. I love being on the stage. I think the first time I ever came out of my shell was when I was on the stage doing my first play at seven years old. I kind of "found myself" through being in the theatre — being able to hide behind characters and feeling like I was home. Because I [was around] it so much growing up, it just became a place that I held so dear to my heart. I just felt safe, which is interesting because it should be the opposite, but I just thrive in front of a live audience. I could have slight butterflies, but as soon as I step foot on the stage…
What are some bucket-list roles for you?
VH: Maria in West Side Story. That was the first musical I think I ever watched…and I just love Natalie Wood, so Gypsy obviously I love, [too]. I want to be Satine in [a stage adaptation of] "Moulin Rouge" because I love the music in that so much.
Were you having a great time in New York on Broadway?
VH: The best time of my life. I lied [down like a] starfish on the last day before the show and just bawled my eyes out. I was so sad that it was coming to an end because it was just so special to be sharing a stage with the cast in a Broadway theatre. Knowing that was my first go at it and that I'm never going to get that back was just so sad to me, but it was just so special. I'll never forget it.
What's your best memory from Gigi?
VH: I have so many, but one that's so vivid in my mind is from the last performance. I come down the staircase for my final bow, and I was already so emotional — because I'm like, "This is the last time I'm going to go down these stairs in this costume that Catherine Zuber designed…" They were beautiful. I normally have a moment with one of the ensemble members, Max [Clayton], and I looked at him this time, and he was just sobbing, and it made me just break down and start sobbing myself. His face literally was like…just so torn up. I miss them.
So, what's it like behind the scenes with the Pink Ladies? What do we need to know about?
VH: We just all have a lot of fun. We're all pretty darn close. They're such amazing young women and so talented and just have really good hearts! We all get along.