The first thing you notice about Vanessa Hudgens during interviews is her expert media training. Not that you should be surprised. Hudgens started acting at the age of 15, became a Disney mega-star after appearing in three "High School Musical" films, and is part of the never-ending tabloid rumor mill (particularly after a nude photo scandal back in 2007). As a result, she often stays on point when talking to the press.
However, during our conversation, Hudgens spoke about some of the things she's not typically known for: voicing a character on the raunchy Adult Swim show "Robot Chicken," participating in a Funny or Die video about cats, and taking a very un-Hudgens-like role as a pregnant teen in the upcoming film "Gimme Shelter." Granted, that doesn't mean she has given up fun movies for good. In her latest project, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island," which hit hits theaters this Friday, she travels to a lost island where her and co-stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Josh Hutcherson and Michael Caine stumble upon Atlantis, flying bees and Captain Nemo's Nautilus from Jules Verne lore.
Moviefone spoke to Vanessa about "Journey 2," Adult Swim and her love of "The Neverending Story."
For "Journey 2," it's cool to see a Jules Verne story being presented to an entirely new generation of kids. Did you read "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" when you were younger?
I didn't, no. I knew about "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and thought the idea was really interesting. It definitely ignited the imagination, but I didn't know that much about Jules Verne. Actually my dad was the one who was extremely excited when he heard that they were making [a movie based on Verne's] "The Mysterious Island." He sent me a long text message [telling me] how I needed to go out and get it.
I am sure he was happy you got to crawl through Captain Nemo's makeshift gravesite.
I know! It was awesome. So epic.
My screening was interesting because there was actually a school trip in the theater, and they were very much along for the ride -- cheering, laughing. Were there any movies that did that for you as a kid?
Oh, absolutely. I always used to watch "Labyrinth" and "The Neverending Story." Those were like my two favorite movies that I would watch over and over and over again.
The sets in this movie are very ambitious -- Captain Nemo's Nautilus, Atlantis, the gravesite. How much of that was green screen?
They built a lot of the sets. A lot of it was Hawaii, so we'd be out in the jungle touching the mud, which I actually love; it was so much fun for me. Some of it would be stages, Captain Nemo's tomb was a built stage. Some of the stages were incredible. The Atlantis set, which they built in the middle of Hawaii -- how, I have know idea -- I was very impressed [with]. So it depended on the scene. The bee chase was all on a green screen. But it was fun to mix it up.
I was just stunned every day. I would see previews that our director had made beforehand; we got an idea of what things were going to look like. But nothing can prepare you for our version of Atlantis in the middle of the jungle.
Switching gears, you have 'Gimme Shelter' coming up soon, where you play a pregnant teenager who runs away from home. Do you find that you still get typecast into the rolls you are more famous for, like "High School Musical," even though you may not be looking for that particular type of character?
[The lighter films] are definitely the projects that come along a lot easier. But I feel like doing such different things [and] I am not afraid to go the extra mile and dive into a character. I think word is starting to get out there. The parts that I've been doing recently are completely different, and I've been given the opportunity to do them, so I am very thankful.
When that first photo of you came out for "Gimme Shelter," there seemed to be a very positive reaction to it.
Yea! It was awesome. I think cutting my hair off shocked everybody -- even myself.
See, I have been waiting for you to do more comedy. I was looking at your IMDb page and saw that you had a guest spot on "Robot Chicken." How did that come about?
My boyfriend at the time had done an episode, and I had run into Seth [Green, the show's creator] a bunch of times here and there, and we really hit it off. And I am such a big fan of the show, so he invited me on. It was just fun. Like, why not? [The show] is very communal.
Do you watch any of the other Adult Swim shows?
Yes! I haven't been watching a ton of TV recently, but I used to watch "Robot Chicken" all the time. I just love it, because it's so silly and ridiculous and raunchy, and it's stop-motion animation so they get away with so much.
Then you also recently did the Funny or Die video, "Cool Baby, Lame Baby." How did you get involved with that?
I just met with Funny or Die and just threw around a few ideas. I was just trying different things.
OK, so comedy, musicals, drama; you just did a one-off performance of "Rent," on stage in Los Angeles. Are you interested in doing more stage work?
I love doing theater. That's where my home is. If the opportunity came up to do an original or do something with a great director, and the timing is right, then I would totally be on board. But right now I am focusing on film.