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Vanessa Hudgens and Director Ron Krauss talk 'Gimme Shelter'

Any indie film team working on a micro-marketing budget knows the show must go on when it comes to spreading the word about their latest project. Not Hell, nor high water, nor record setting low temperatures and snow can get in the way. And while most celebs wouldn’t have left the LA sunshine to enter Chicago’s Polar Vortex, such was the case recently when actress Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical, Spring Breakers) and writer/director Ron Krauss came to the Windy City to promote the upcoming release of their film Gimme Shelter.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens and Writer/Director Ron Krauss at the AMC River East to promote 'Gimme Shelter'
Amy Zanlungo

Gimme Shelter shows a very different side of Hudgens than fans have seen before. She plays Apple, a young, pregnant girl from a very broken home who flees her unhealthy surroundings to go it alone, only to discover it’s a pretty scary world out there, even more so when you’re with child and homeless. A shelter is recommended to her, where other girls in similar predicaments safely stay with their babies, and Apple discovers a new, true family of her own. The film also stars Ann Dowd, James Earl Jones, Brendan Fraser, and Rosario Dawson as you’ve never seen her before.

Both Vanessa Hudgens (VH) and Ron Krauss (RK) sat down with Chicago Sun-Times editor Laura Emerick (LE) to answer questions from fans who saw an early screening of the film at the AMC River East 21 Theatre. Below are some snippets from their Q&A.

LE: It’s incredible to think this is you. It’s amazing, the transformation. From this stubborn, scared child in the beginning to the maturity you display in the final scenes. It’s been a big year for you with Spring Breakers and now this film. How does it feel for you to have gone on this journey, as an actress? It’s a lot of ground to have covered.

VH: It’s exciting. I mean, that’s a very honed down word for what it really is. But it’s been fun. It’s been a challenge. There’s been moments of fear but I feel like that’s what’s made me drive into it that much further. I’ve been able to work with some incredible people, great directors who have my back and are there with me every single step of the way. So I didn’t feel alone. I’ve always wanted to push myself. I’ve always wanted to do different genres, and really try to tackle as many characters as possible. It’s been fun really going all over the spectrum.

LE: But you lived in the shelters for a month, right?

VH: I lived there for about two weeks before we started filming. So I got to know Darlisha, whom my character’s based off of, just to know her story and dive into her past and hang out with her and her son, who is so precious, and just work out the script. Just being in the environment and I think just reading the lines, getting the words into my body, getting into this place where it actually came from, I think just made it come to life so much easier.

RK: I mean, there was a huge transformation that sort of transpired from when I met Vanessa to the character. I think with Vanessa, one of the first things when we came to the shelter was we cut all her hair off, which I remember being involved with ---

VH: He took the scissors and said, “Can I?” and I said “Sure”, like an idiot. And he chops it like right there at the base of the root. [She laughs.]

LE: That says a lot though, as one of your defining characteristics is of course your beautiful hair, so for you to take that leap of faith…

VH: Yeah that’s kind of like the actor’s dream though, you know something that really just gets to kind of deprive you of anything you could rely on. Anything that could be your fallback, you know? You couldn’t rely on your hair. I couldn’t rely on my looks. I had to actually rely on working on the craft and developing the character.

RK: I don’t know if Vanessa really knows the story or not, but these girls (in the actual shelters) picked Vanessa. She was my choice for the role but then I sent the link to them of the couple choices, for them to see who they responded to. They didn’t know who she was; they don’t go to the movies. But they confirmed, they said, “This is the person who should play this role.” and they knew, probably better than I did.

VH: It was just a shock, a change of pace. These girls didn’t care about the things I had been used to caring about …it was just completely different. Their values were different, but yet they had this trust in me, which was so amazing, because they just gushed out their lives to me. If they didn’t, there’s no way I would’ve been able to understand my character as deeply as I did.

RK: Vanessa became this character. She really did. I remember the whole movie I kept calling her Apple through the filming of the film, because I believed she was that character and identified with her on that level. There’s a certain honesty about the end of the film where she her family is the shelter right now. These are the people that supported her, these are the people that reached out to her. The first person who put their arm around her and said, “Hey, it’s OK, come with us.”

RK: The key with this is that, these kind of films, personal stories – we need these stories in our lives. Other films are great – the superhero movies and action films and all the big movies Hollywood makes are really great but these are the personal stories, the human emotion that connect us all. The only way these films can exist is when people like yourselves tell other people about these films. That’s why, the good thing about today is it’s easier with social media. We can reach out, spread the word. It’s the only way these films can survive.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Your transition was just so different than I thought it was going to be. It was just awesome, oh my God. You should get a Golden Globe or an Oscar nomination…I really cried, I’m being honest. Seriously, I was homeless myself, I know what it’s like being there. I got out of prison and I spent 5 years in a shelter so I know making that transition…You made me see that there’s a better tomorrow and I like that. You inspired me. I just wanted to say that you made that transition and it touched me.

VH: Well thank you, first off. It means so much to me to hear you say that… I was excited and thrilled to be able to play this character because I’d always dreamed of being able to find someone like this that I could portray, you know… I was blessed to have this character to become, and I did. I was just a different person. It was hard for me afterwards because then I went home and I was still Apple and I didn’t know who Vanessa was anymore. I looked in the mirror and I saw my character and I didn’t see myself. I felt different in my body because I’d put on 15 pounds and I didn’t have any hair. I was just a complete disaster. It took a while for me to rebuild myself. That was the harder part, but being in it was a gift from God for sure.

RK: I want to say something. You asked about awards and stuff. YOU are our Golden Globe. Your courage, your story, and the fact that it touched you… This movie doesn’t need awards, it just needs people like yourself. That’s the award for me, the filmmaker. You’re a big guy, so for you to cry it must’ve really resonated with you.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Were those real piercings? Did you wear a wig? Can you talk about your physical transformation?

VH: …I feel like it [chopping off the hair] was so liberating, it gave me a clean, fresh slate to embody this character. It was a first step into Apple. The piercings were fake, the tattoos were fake. A makeup artist made my eyebrows bushy and super unkempt, and put spots on my face to make it look my skin was even worse than it was, even though my skin was really bad at that time. I was going through it personally so it wasn’t that hard to push it over the edge and make it I think, as shocking as it may seem.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Vanessa, what other projects are you working on?

VH: I just did one called Kitchen Sink, which is completely different than this. It’s a horror comedy; kind of Shaun of the Dead meets the Breakfast Club. This character is so, so different. She prides herself on her looks, so she’s the token hot chick but also the village stoner. She lives in a time where vampires, humans, and zombies live together as harmoniously as they can. It’s very different, I turn into something very different.

LE: Vanessa, what would your dream role be? Who would you like to work with?

VH: I grew up on dark fantasies like The Neverending Story or The Labyrinth so Guillermo Del Toro is right up there on my list. I’d love to play a whimsical character that’s of a different realm. I’m open, honestly. I feel like the projects that have found me were just meant to be. I have an open heart and I’m listening and whatever resonates I go forth with.

Gimme Shelter releases in theaters nationwide on January 24th. Click here for the film’s official website.

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