You can’t walk past a newsstand or flip past a TV talk show without seeing former Disney Channel stars Selena Gomez or Vanessa Hudgens touting their new movie, the edgy and definitely R-rated “Spring Breakers.”
Like previous Mouse House alums Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, who shed their squeaky clean images a decade or so ago by becoming edgy pop stars, Gomez, 20, and Hudgens, 24, figured it was time to break away from their goody two shoes images and show their dramatic range by joining forces with auteur filmmaker Harmony Korine, 40, (“Kids,” “Gummo”) to depict college girls on an unforgettably debauched and deadly trip to Florida during the holiday break. (The other two actresses along for the ride in the fantasy drama are Ashley Benson of ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” and Rachel Korine, the director’s 26-year-old wife.)
James Franco, who plays the wizard in Disney’s hit family movie “Oz The Great and Powerful,” is almost unrecognizable as a cornrow-haired, grillz-wearing small time drug dealer who bails the girls out of jail when they get busted for drugs at a party and turns them into his personal harem/gangster posse.
Gomez, best known for her role on the Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place,” and Hudgens, who had her big break starring in the wholesome “High School Musical,” arrive for a press conference dressed in matching pink and black letterman-style jackets emblazoned with the “Spring Breakers” logo over their regular clothes. Wearing lots of bling and heavily made up, they are alternately giggly, amused and defensive about this trippy, controversial film and their reasons for wanting to change their images.
Q: There’s been a lot written about you two trying to trash your Disney image and wanting to do something new with this movie. Is it true, and was that your motivation to do this film?
Gomez: I definitely don’t think it’s us trashing or trying to shed an image. I think I can speak for Vanessa when I say we are super-passionate about what we do and at the end of the day, we are entertainers, we’re actors, and to have an opportunity to work with someone like Harmony (Korine) and James (Franco), it’s basically a given. In a way, it was a way for us to step out of what we’re known for (and) to do something like this was more of an experience that we were really excited about and proud of.
Q: Do you think this is a female empowerment film?
Hudgens: Totally. It’s really rare that you get to see this kind of movie being held together by four young women. It’s really empowering. There are amazingly shocking images and it’s an experience. This movie will give people an experience. They’re going to be moved by it. They’re not going to be able to just shrug it off. That’s really special as an entertainer. It’s what you strive to do.
Q: You spend a lot of time wearing only bikinis. Did it get chilly?
Hudgens: The first day was kind of nerve-wracking being in a bathing suit in front of the camera, but you realize that you’re surrounded by hundreds of other spring breakers, who are in bathing suits and way less, and they are having the time of their lives. We got to feed off of their energy and I got chilly sometimes. That’s what happens when you’re in a bathing suit, but we were fine. We kept each other warm.
Gomez: I think it added a sense of vulnerability to the characters too when you see them in jail in that state, in a bikini. It adds a whole other element because they are girls and they’re exposed and they should be cold, and that’s not really a comfortable setting.
Q: What did you do to pass the time off set?
Hudgens: We listened to a lot of music. We were dancing around all the time.
Q: Was James Franco in character the whole time you were working with him? Did you feel like you didn’t really get to know him?
Hudgens: He’s amazing. He’s like an actor’s dream, honestly, because he just came to set everyday and had his A-game on and kind of took us under his wings when it came to the scenes. He would go on these massive rants that made it into the movie where it was just mesmerizing because he’s such a brilliant actor. He’s a genius and just completely transformed himself and was so committed every day and was just such a giving actor, which is incredible because he was so brilliant. When they turned (the camera on us for reactions), he’d be just as giving to us, because he wanted us to have a good reaction. He was amazing.
Gomez: He was actually very quiet, though. He also was kind of in his own world. He’s really smart. He was really sweet, especially when I did my (seduction) scene with him. He is very giving, and it definitely made me feel uncomfortable when we were doing it, but then, after we were done, he was super-supportive, and gave me a big hug, which was nice.
Q: Are you encouraging your younger fans not to see this film now, and perhaps wait until they’re older?
Hudgens: That’s why it’s rated R so that they don’t see it.
Gomez: We definitely can’t control that.
Q: Did you have a back story for your characters? Why do they do what they do?
Hudgens: One of the most important things for all of our characters is just becoming as close as possible. Harmony had us come out and we would rehearse for an hour or two and go over the script and on the schedule for the rest of the day it would just be like hang out with the girls, go to the beach. We got to be really, really close and I think that was the most important thing, to create that bond. They’re college girls. Harmony would send us videos of normal college girls in their bedroom being goofy, listening to rap music and dancing. They’re girls of this generation and they grew up in a small town so they’re just aching for a change of pace. I think when you’re told ‘no,’ it makes you want to rebel that much more and that’s kind of why they really go for it on spring break.
Q: When you got the script, what did you think?
Hudgens: Being able to play a character that’s so far from yourself is really appealing and sometimes the more disturbing the material or the scene, the more I’m drawn to it because it just takes you into another place.
Q: What were your biggest fears going into it?
Gomez: I wasn’t scared. I definitely wanted to do this. I thought it would be a great opportunity for me, and Harmony explained the movie perfectly, and that’s the reason why. Getting to know Harmony and the way he makes films, he said all these things to me when I was auditioning and he told me, “Are you ready to kind of leave your lifestyle behind a little bit and come on this journey with me?” That’s like the most exciting thing in the world and I didn’t know what I was getting myself into but while we were there it was incredible to create and to play. It was liberating more than frightening.
Q: How was the filming itself different on this than what you’ve played before?
Gomez: It was awesome. We can relate to everything that we were part of before is a little bit more processed. It’s more about how many pieces of jewelry you have on and make sure your hair looks perfect and your makeup looks good. Being able to come to a set where none of that mattered was really rare as crazy as that is and it was nice. I’m so used to continuity and checking, I would ask Harmony, “Did I have this on?” (in a previous shot) and he was like, “I don’t care, I don’t know.” It was great to be able to do that and to be an actor and just go and play and focus on those things and create things from thin air and that’s something I’ve never done before. I’ve never been able to just be thrown into a scene. It was like a theater, in a way. Just getting thrown in a situation and creating a scene out of thin air was great. He spoiled us, I think.
Hudgens: Yeah, so much. You don’t get to do that. You really don’t. Things are so strategic and planned out and being able to be completely free and move around wherever we wanted and really use our space and to be able to be completely present and say whatever we it was that came into our minds and bounce it off of each other and have it thrown back in your face. It was like a workshop but we got to make a movie out of it. It was really special.
Q: What was it like filming in Florida? What did you like and what didn’t you like?
Gomez: I loved it. It was really quiet. It was nice. The people were really sweet. The fans were great, very supportive, very welcoming. It was more quiet. We got to go on boat rides and we got to go to a nice Greek restaurant. We went to a movie theater that was stunning. I enjoyed it.
Hudgens: It was amazing shooting out there, especially on the beach. We saw the most magnificent sunsets. It’s ingrained into my mind. I have the best memories. The water was so warm. I remember, we’d be filming, and when we had a little break, we’d run out into the water and go for a swim.
Q: Do you have funny stories about filming alongside actually spring breakers in Florida?
Gomez: There was this one woman who came out and yelled at us. She was wearing polka dots and curlers…
Hudgens: …and a muumuu. (Both are laughing at the recollection.)
Gomez: She got the garden hose and sprayed it on us. It was absolutely amazing.