LOS ANGELES -- When we first saw Vanessa Hudgens as she came out for lunch in the courtyard garden of a hotel, she instantly reminded us of Rosemarie Sonora and Sheryl Cruz.
The Filipino-American actress headed to our table to say hi to Rich Ross, president of Disney Channel Worldwide. We had just discussed with Rich the phenomenal success of ?High School Musical? all over the world, including the Philippines. Rich stood up to chat with Vanessa, who with summery blouse looked perfect in this sun-dappled outdoors setting.
Half an hour later, Vanessa sat down for a press con. The 18-year-old singer-actress, her on- and off-screen boyfriend Zac Efron (who is also the high school heartthrob in the movie ?Hairspray?) and the rest of the gang are back in ?High School Musical 2? (?HSM2?), whose predecessor caught everyone by its success on many levels: over 100 million viewers; 7 million plus DVD copies sold; the soundtrack CD topped the charts last year; and the concert tour in the US, Canada and several Latin American countries were sold-out affairs.
The best assets of Vanessa, whose mother Gina Guangco is a Filipina, are her dark eyes, which twinkle when she smiles or laughs. Her brunette hair was artfully arranged in the back. She wore several bracelets on both wrists.
Another Fil-Am, Charles ?Chucky? Klapow, returns as choreographer along with Bonnie Story and director Kenny Ortega of the production numbers which ?HSM? is known for. Chucky, whose mom is also a Pinay, won with Kenny and Bonnie an Emmy Award for Best Choreography in ?HSM.?
Zac, whom we interviewed separately, politely refused to answer a colleague?s request for him to talk about his personal relationship with Vanessa. Zac and Vanessa, who play Troy and Gabriella in ?HSM,? even have a term coined for them a la Brangelina: Zanessa. So we asked Zac instead to chat about Vanessa on, ahem, purely professional basis.
Here?s what he said: ?Vanessa and I go way back to the very first auditions for this movie. From the start, we were always paired together in the auditions. I think we were the only pair from the mass of kids that was never separated. We always read together over and over. I wish I could put my finger on what makes our chemistry work onscreen. But I can tell you that she?s easy to talk to, very kind, sweet and she has a great sense of humor. When you combine that with an amazing voice and her beauty, you?re going to have a star. She?s amazing to work with.?
In ?HSM2,? Ashley Tisdale as Sharpay again plays kontrabida in the lives of Troy and Gabriella.
Vanessa, who has an album titled ?V,? has a younger sister, Stella, 11, also an aspiring actress. Their father, Greg Hudgens, is of Irish and Native American descent.
Can you share your thoughts about your Filipino heritage?
I am so proud of my heritage. I love being a Filipina. There aren?t very many Filipino girls in the industry. So being able to stand up and be that girl makes me proud. My mother is so proud. She grew up in Manila. I don?t even think she knows it?s doing that well over there. I?d love to make it over there sometime. Unfortunately, I have not had a chance to visit.
Do you speak Tagalog?
Oh, not really. My mom tried to teach me when I was younger. I am not that great at languages. I really want to learn, though.
When do you think you will visit the Philippines?
I think whenever I have a good second to do nothing and just go where I want. I have been talking about it forever and it never materializes. Hopefully, soon. I can?t wait to see the Philippines.
What did your mom tell you about the Philippines? And in what ways are you Filipino?
She told me several stories about where she used to live. She has 11 brothers and sisters so she had a big family. I love Filipino food. I love halo-halo, pancit and adobo. I am such a Filipino?I eat rice every day (laughter).
How much of an inspiration is your mom in your career?
My mom was the one who was always there for me, especially with singing. She was always the one who kept me going when it came to singing. When I recorded my album, I said, ?Mom, thank you. I can finally say thank you for all that stuff that you did for me.? It finally paid off?everything she taught me, about morals and everything. She?s an inspiration. She always tells me how proud she is of me. It?s really touching.
How strict are your parents?
My parents are kind of strict. My mom raised me very well. I didn?t date until I was 16. I never really went out that much. I am the kind of girl who loves to stay home and just watch movies. They don?t really have anything to be strict about.
What did your mom tell you about boys?
My mom never said, ?Watch out for this or that boy.? She knew that I had good judgment. I always liked the nice guys anyway so it was never like I am going for the bad guy. She just said, ?Be careful with boys.? But I always just went for the nice surfer guys. I guess she was okay with that (laughter).
How did you start singing?
It started when I was in pre-school. I was in a play and I never told my parents. I don?t know why I didn?t tell them. I guess it never crossed my mind to tell them. I told my mom that I needed a baby doll. So she went out and bought me a baby doll which was a huge thing. I always had hand-me-downs so I was excited to have my new doll. I made my parents take me to school and it was evening. There was a blizzard. We were living in Oregon then. We almost didn?t go. My parents got to see me singing ?Away in a Manger.? I was holding little baby Jesus and I was Mother Mary.
Since then, I have always loved acting, singing and dancing. I would always dance around my house when I was 3 years old, choreographing my own dances to ?Everyone Dance Now.? I moved from Oregon to California so I could start taking dance and piano classes.
You lived in many places. Where did you grow up?
I lived in a lot of places while I was growing up. I was born in Salinas (California). I lived in Oregon and Paso Robles (California). I moved all over the place until about the age of 4 or 5, when we moved to San Diego (California). That?s where I grew up. I moved to Los Angeles about two years ago.
Can you talk about suddenly finding yourself in one of the most successful teen TV movies ever made?
It?s so crazy. Especially coming from a Disney Channel movie that I had so much fun doing. Once it started to blow up, it just blew my mind away because I never ever thought it would become as big as it did.
How hard is it to have a relationship with Zac, especially since the two of you are so much in the limelight because of the success of ?High School Musical??
I am a private person. I always have been. I love keeping my personal life to myself so we just try not to talk about it that much. We have a professional relationship on camera and outside of that is bizarre when you see pictures from the paparazzi and everything. But you just have to take it the best you can. There?s really nothing you can do about it. People are interested because they love what you?re doing. So I guess in a way it?s a compliment.
What did you think when you first heard the term, Zanessa?
It?s just weird to know that people actually cared. It?s just bizarre to me but it?s okay.
Did you and Zac know each other before ?High School Musical??
It?s really funny because we?re friends with the same people. But I have never met him before. The first time I met him was at the audition callbacks when they were mixing and matching people. They paired Zac and me from the very beginning.
How was your own high school life?
Unfortunately I never had a chance to go to a real high school. I was homeschooled my entire high school years. I kind of lived my high school years through ?High School Musical.?
So how fun is it to be homeschooled?
It was okay. It was different because I was in the business. I was homeschooled because I really didn?t have any time to go to a real school. I?d wake up late because I like to sleep. I?d do school work for several hours and then hang out or go to Disneyland. It was cool. It was different because my mom was teaching me but it was nice. I got to study what I wanted.
Are you a math genius in real life as you are in the movie?
I never loved math. My favorite was biology. I also loved science and chemistry. Math was never my favorite.
When did you start professionally as an actress?
One of my girlfriends asked me if I could go to an audition with her for a commercial. Fortunately enough, I booked it. I was doing tons of community theater at the time so I was already used to doing musicals and stuff. One thing just led to another. I did a commercial and then another one. I started getting guest spots on TV shows and went on from there to do the movies ?Thirteen? and ?Thunderbirds.? Oh, and then I had my album which was crazy because I never thought that it would happen.
So what is your priority, singing or acting?
My main focus from the very beginning was acting. Singing was something that I was good at, but never really thought of pursuing. The opportunity to do an album came after ?High School Musical.? There were several offers and I couldn?t decide who to sign with. Finally, I picked Hollywood Records and I made my album, ?V.? It was a learning experience, being in the studio and finding what kind of music suits my voice best. I tried different kinds of music. I did pop, R&B and rock. I threw it all together and had this collection of different music which is why I call it ?V.? The V is not only for Vanessa but for variety as well because there?s a different mixture of music there. Acting has always been my number one priority but we?ll see what happens.
Are you a willing role model to the young set or would you rather not be one?
I love being a role model. I think that in Hollywood, not many people are very good role models. Kids are looking up to the wrong people. All of us at the Disney Channel are good kids. You?re not going to see us dancing on tables at the clubs. That?s just not us.
Are you going to finish your education?
Yes, because education is really important. It is something that will be there with you forever. I definitely want to get a college education when the time is right. Right now, the opportunities that I have are too amazing to pass up.
Which countries have you been to with the show?
We toured most of Latin America. We also went to London which was amazing. Australia was one of my favorite places because we had the most time to just hang out there.
What can we expect between Gabriella and Troy in the second movie?
Sharpay tries to come between Troy and Gabriella and things get complicated. There?s a lot of drama. We are definitely taking it up a notch. It takes place over the summer in Ryan and Sharpay?s country club.
Sharpay decides she wants everything to go her way this summer. The only way that?s going to happen is to get Troy as her boyfriend or her boy toy or whatever she calls him (laughter). She makes the head of the country club call Troy Bolton and try to get him to come work at this club. But he won?t go by himself. He has to get all of his friends who need jobs at this country club. We all arrive there and Sharpay freaks out because it was supposed to be just Troy. I get a job as a lifeguard. I was quite frightened by wearing a one-piece red bathing suit (laughter).
We battle our way through to survive working at the country club. Some people get pushed aside and left in the shuffle. Other people change. At the end of the day, of course it?s a happy ending.
No one dies?
No one dies (laughter).
Are you signed up to do ?High School Musical 3??
Not yet. I know that they?re writing the script. I have not read it. I don?t know exactly what the story line will be about, but I think if the script is good, and if everyone comes back, then I?ll definitely be a part of it.
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E-mail the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog, ?The Nepales Report,? on www.inquirerbloggers.net/nepalesreport.
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