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Vanessa Hudgens talks about pain and transformation in the movie ‘Gimme Shelter'

On Jan. 21, at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria, Examiner Dorri Olds met with Vanessa Hudgens to talk about her new movie, “Gimme Shelter.” The drama opened in New York City on Friday, Jan. 24.

Vanessa Hudgens talks about playing the challenging role of a pregnant homeless teenager.
Vanessa Hudgens talks about playing the challenging role of a pregnant homeless teenager.
Dorri Olds

Hudgens plays Apple Bailey, an abused girl who runs away from her cruel and dangerous mother, June Bailey (Rosario Dawson). The desperate Apple shows up on the doorsteps of her wealthy dad, Tom Fitzpatrick (Brendan Fraser). And, as if things weren't already bleak enough, she finds out she's pregnant. Things go horribly wrong during her reunion with her father and she runs again.

Apple ends up in the hospital and meets Frank McCarthy (James Earl Jones). Like a mad dog, she almost bites anyone who tries to help. Finally, beaten so far down, she accepts his help. He introduces her to Kathy DiFiore (Ann Dowd), a woman with a huge heart who runs a shelter for homeless pregnant teens. Apple nearly bites her too. Sometimes you'll want to strangle Apple, but you'll also ball your eyes out for her.

This is based on a true story. The writer and director, Ron Krauss, lived in one of DiFiore's homeless shelters for a year. He originally intended to shoot a documentary but as he got to know the shelter girls, it became clear to Krauss that he'd found a fascinating and important story for a feature film.

Hudgens walked into the interview looking lovely and in high spirits.

Dorri Olds: How did you connect to your character Apple?

Vanessa Hudgens: I made Apple as gritty as possible and just pulled ideas out of my pockets. She was based on one of the girls who were in the shelter who had problems with her mother. Even worse things had happened to her but they were not in the movie. They’re too graphic. I connected with Apple's strength and openness.

Did you meet her?

Yes, she and I became close. She was a driving force in my heart. We’re still friends and her son is one of my favorite people.

How did it feel to cut your hair off all of your beautiful hair?

So liberating!

And putting on weight?

Fun! I was in Cannes before I filmed this movie. In France it’s very easy to put on a couple of pounds.

What did you eat?

Wine and cheese — not the healthiest combination.

How was it working with James Earl Jones?

So cool. When he’d show up on set, you’d know by that voice. There’s no one else on the planet that sounds like that man. He’s incredible. Such a brilliant actor. It was an honor.

How was your relationship with Kathy DiFiore, the woman who ran the shelter?

Great, I would go to her whenever I needed strength. I know she was secretly praying for me. Kathy is the most selfless person I ever met in my entire life. She was such an inspiration.

Did you enjoy working with Ann Dowd who played Kathy?

She is great and one of those actresses that you see in so many different films. I love her career and that she is such a standout actor but not all that many people go running up to her on the street. That is the ideal career, I think.

What are your upcoming projects?

I have a movie coming out in October called “Kitchen Sink,” which I’m really excited about. After doing this and “Frozen Ground” and “Spring Breakers,” I thought, “I need to do a comedy.” I had so much fun and I’m excited. I was a giddy girl coming home from work every day thinking, “I’m funny!” [Laughs]

Gimme Shelter” is now playing in New York City at AMC Loews Village 7 and Regal E-Walk Stadium 13. Drama. Rated PG-13. 90 minutes.

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