Who Is Vanessa Hudgens?
Vanessa Hudgens had an early love of show business that drove her to perform in local musical productions by the age of eight. She got her big break in 2006 when she landed the lead role in Disney’s wildly popular High School Musical film franchise. The actress followed with grittier roles in films like Sucker Punch, Spring Breakers and The Frozen Ground. Hudgens has also released two albums, served as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance and starred in live televised productions of Grease and Rent.
Early Life and Career
Vanessa Anne Hudgens was born on December 14, 1988, in Salinas, California, to secretary Gina Guangco and firefighter Greg Hudgens. She and her younger sister, Stella, grew up in San Diego. The family later moved to Los Angeles when her consistent auditioning began to yield results. She briefly attended Orange County High School of the Arts but then started homeschooling.
In 2003, Hudgens landed a small role in the critically acclaimed box-office film Thirteen. In 2006, she played a recurring character on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody before landing her breakthrough role as Gabriella Montez in High School Musical.
'High School Musical'
Directed by Kenny Ortega, in 2006, the Disney Channel’s High School Musical became a global phenomenon that only expanded with the sequels, 2007’s High School Musical 2 and 2008’s High School Musical 3: Senior Year. Hudgens starred as the brainy and bookish Gabriella Montez with Zac Efron starring as Troy Bolton, the star athlete at a small-town high school, who falls for her at a holiday karaoke party. When her character serendipitously transfers to his high school, Troy and Gabriella reunite and audition for the upcoming school musical. Ashley Tisdale plays their nemesis, Sharpay Evans, who schemes to squelch their chances. The squeaky-clean films launched the careers of its cast of unknowns and also paved the way for Hudgens’ recording career.
Albums and Songs
Hudgens and co-star Efron scored a massive hit when their duet “Breaking Free” from High School Musical soared to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2006. Later that year, Hudgens released her debut album V, which was certified gold on the strength of the single, “Come Back to Me,” which samples from the song "Baby Come Back," by the 1970s rock band Player. Her second album, Identified (2008), debuted at No. 23 on the Billboard 200. It ultimately underperformed in comparison to V, leading Hudgens to part ways with her recording label, Hollywood Records, and focus on acting.
Films and TV Shows
'Slamband,' 'Sucker Punch'
On paper, Hudgens’ role in 2009’s Slamband doesn’t sound like a big leap from High School Musical: She's the new kid who arrives in town and decides to put together a rock band to compete with other bands. However, Hudgens told The New York Times that she was attracted by the screenplay’s description of her character as “deadpan,” “introverted” and “a bit off.” Sucker Punch (2011) provided more of a departure from her Disney image, as she played a young woman in a mental institution who fantasizes it’s a brothel.
'Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,' 'Spring Breakers,' 'Gimme Shelter'
In 2012, Hudgens went from the big-budget Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012), which put her opposite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Josh Hutcherson, to the vice-ridden Spring Breakers (2012), in which her character, Candy, participates in a wet-and-wild threesome with co-stars James Franco and Ashley Benson in a backyard pool. In 2013, she starred as a pregnant homeless teenager in Gimme Shelter and as a stripper in The Frozen Ground (opposite Nicolas Cage and John Cusack). She also had a small part as Sofia Vergara’s daughter in the star-studded Machete Kills.
'Dog Days,' 'Second Act,' 'The Princess Switch'
After starring the short-lived comedy series Powerless, based on the DC Comics universe, Hudgens went back to work on feature films in 2018. In Dog Days, she plays a disillusioned barista who, along with an ensemble cast, leans on their furry companions to help them get through life. She also had a supporting part in Second Act, starring Jennifer Lopez and Milo Ventimiglia, and took on two roles in the Netflix romantic comedy The Princess Switch.
'Polar,' 'The Knight Before Christmas,' 'Bad Boys for Life'
Continuing her association with Netflix, Hudgens opened 2019 with a co-starring role in the film adaptation of the comic series Polar. Late that the year she headlined another holiday-themed romantic comedy for the streaming service with The Knight Before Christmas, before joining Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys for Life in January 2020.
Theater Work and TV Musicals
Hudgens began working in musical theater productions when she was still a child, performing in various roles in shows such as The Wizard of Oz, The King & I, Carousel, The Music Man and Cinderella. In 2015, she made her Broadway debut in the titular role of the beloved Academy Award- and Tony Award-winning film and stage musical Gigi. Unfortunately, the show’s adaptation failed to resonate with critics and audiences and closed after 20 previews and 86 performances.
Hudgens bounced back in 2016 with her starring role as Betty Rizzo in Grease: Live!, which was nominated for 10 Emmy Awards and won five. She then served as a judge for two seasons of the competition series So You Think You Can Dance, before showing off her own dancing and singing skills once again with a show-stopping performance as Maureen Johnson in Rent: Live in January 2019.
Empowering Beauty via EcoTools
In 2017, Hudgens teamed up with EcoTools and their national campaign #MyTrueBeauty, which aimed at telling young girls to celebrate their individual beauty. In an interview with Teen Vogue, she said, "It’s all about taking the intimidation out of makeup application. And it’s also about empowering women to embrace their own true beauty, which I think is so important. I also love the partnership they’re doing with The Girl Project — the proceeds are going to women’s education around the globe. I love what they stand for.“
Hudgens and her on-screen love interest Efron became a couple off-screen as well. Their highly followed romance lasted through both sequels of the High School Musical franchise, until 2010. Hudgens then began dating actor Austin Butler in September 2011, their long-term relationship enduring until it was reported they had split in early 2020.
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