02/10/2012 12:37 pm ET | Updated Feb 10, 2012

Vanessa Hudgens Lived In A Homeless Shelter For Two Weeks To Research A Role (VIDEO)

Vanessa Hudgens has left her "High School Musical" days behind and, like many of her former Disney cohorts, is attempting to tackle edgier roles.

In her upcoming film, "Gimme Shelter," the 23-year-old plays a pregnant, homeless teenager, and Hudgens went to impressive lengths to do her research.

"I actually went and stayed in the shelter for two weeks before I started filming," Hudgens revealed on Friday's episode of "The Rachael Ray Show." "I lived there with all the girls, with all the kids. It's really empowering and it's fun pushing yourself as far as you can."

Both Hudgens and Rosario Dawson, who plays her "meth head" mother in the film, took on radically different looks to fit the roles.

"[Dawson and I] look so messed up in this movie. I actually cut my own hair... I did that to myself, yes I did," she said referring her cropped, messy haircut in the film.

Taking on heavier roles and committing to them physically (Hudgens also gained weight for the film) is part of how she challenges herself.

"[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," she recently told The Huffington Post. "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."

Vanessa Hudgens