Vanessa Hudgens on Second Act and the lack of LGBTQ representation in High School Musical

“I think that at that time, Disney wasn’t ready for that. If it was another network…”

American singer and actress Vanessa Hudgens is currently starring in the Peter Segal-directed rom-com, Second Act, which sees Jennifer Lopez return to the genre we love her best in for the first time in seven years.

The comedy follows Maya Vargas (Lopez), a woman in her 40s stuck in a low-paying job, who receives the opportunity to pursue a career as an accomplished consultant after her best friend creates a fake resume.

Upon release, the film received positive reviews for straying away from the classic rom-com tropes. In Second Act, Maya is involved with a man, but it doesn’t define her or her success. She has a dream, and she will do anything she can to achieve it. Yas honey!

Ahead of the film’s UK release this Friday, we caught up with Vanessa to talk about her role in the film, working with Drag Race star Valentina in the live production of Rent, and the lack of LGBTQ representation in the High School Musical franchise.

So, I loved Second Act. What drew you to the film?
I love a rom-com! And I remember reading the script and thinking, ‘Oh my god, Jennifer Lopez is going to be so good in this part!’ I grew up on her movies, I loved The Wedding Planner, I watched it over and over and over again. I feel like she took a step away from that genre, so I was really excited to see her grace the screen again in this character.

In the film, there was a massive twist. What was your reaction when you found out?
Well, they kinda took away the surprise from me! They just told me straight up what the part was, and then I read the script and was like, ‘Guys! You should’ve let me have the surprise!’ But I loved it, because I’m all about a character arc and my character goes so far from the place that you meet her to where she ends.

I loved the film because it didn’t focus on getting a man, it was about pursuing your career. Do you think we need more rom-coms like this?
Yeah! It’s so important to have entertainment that inspires me. Yes, the ‘girl catches the guy’ rom-com is entertaining, but it doesn’t necessarily leave you inspired in any way. I think with Second Act, you leave the film and she’s saying this line about the way you choose to live your life everyday is your own choice, and I feel like that’s something we all know but need to be reminded. When you have J-Lo telling you that, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah! Okay! I will really take this into account!’

What was it like working with best friends Jennifer Lopez and Leah Remini on set?
Oh my gosh. I got to hang out with Leah and Jen the most while we were doing our press tour, and they’re just a riot! They are so hysterical, what you see in the film is what they are in life. They are like, speaking over each other and telling each other to shut up, they’re being outrageous, it’s like a sketch comedy show. It’s so entertaining for me to be the fly on the wall and watch them go at it with each other.

One of the best moments in the film was the boat rowing scene. What was that like to film?
We filmed that over Halloween, and I was so upset because it’s my favourite holiday! But it was very entertaining, we were attached to these big boats, and it was fairly easy, I was never splashed once. It wasn’t as catastrophic as it was made out to seem! There were a lot of stunt doubles, sorry to shatter the illusion!

What do you want viewers to take away from the film?
Multiple things, that it’s important to support other women, like there is such a thing as friendly competition. You can still have the task at hand and be your best you, win at that task, but there is also validity to supporting other women along the way. And also, that you have full control over your life. If you’re not happy with where you are, you can do something about it, you’re never fully stuck. I think that people get into that mentality and it becomes an identity, and hopefully after watching this, they realise that they are in control of their own lives and can have happiness, full acceptance, and be completely fulfilled in life.

You’re about to star in the live production of Rent. How excited are you?
I’m over the moon! We’ve been in rehearsals for over a month now, so I am living, breathing, sleeping and dreaming Rent. It’s one of my favourite musicals and it’s so exciting to be able to bring it to life for an audience at home, to be able to fully experience what the spirit of Rent it is. It’s very exciting.

What is it like working with Drag Race fan-favourite Valentina?
She’s amazing. I love her so much, she always has such a wonderful attitude and she is a burst of sunshine everyday. She’s working so so so hard and she’s crushing it, I’m so proud of her and being able to see her progress every single day. It’s very inspiring and she is a fierce ass bitch! I love her.

I wanted to talk a little bit about High School Musical, because it has such a big gay following. Do you think the series missed an opportunity to have an openly LGBTQ character?
Wow! I have never been asked that, so thank you for asking me a new question. Yeah, I feel like it’s interesting because in the past ten years, there’s been progression, but we have also taken a step back at the same time. I think that at that time, Disney wasn’t ready for that. If it was another network… Everything has its time and place. I feel like Rent is Rent because of the spirit of it, because of the openness of it, and the vulnerability and how raw it is in exploring sexuality. I personally would’ve loved that in High School Musical and a lot of people would’ve loved that as well. But I mean, Ryan was kind of a taste of that? It was never fully explored but I don’t know how straight Ryan was…

I think the general consensus is that he was gay, but not open about it yet.
Yeah that’s true. I feel like if we were to make it today, that would’ve been the case. It’s so funny looking back at it, because it feels dated now, and the fashion! There’s something classic about it because of the nostalgia, but I remember seeing it back and being like, ‘Wow! That’s what they put me in?’

Are you hoping High School Musical 4 will have an LGBTQ character?
I really do! I think that it’s so important. In high school, there’s so many different types of people and everyone should be addressed. We’re all equals, everyone has a fair shot to have their story revealed and explored.

Throughout your career, you’ve been an advocate for the LGBTQ community. How important is it for you to campaign for LGBTQ rights?
It’s so important. I was very privileged in the sense that I grew up in a household where everyone was equal, I never saw colour, I never saw race, I never saw sexuality or gender preference, I never saw any of that. Everyone was equal to me. I never really batted an eye that anyone was different from me. We are different, that’s what makes us unique and individuals, but at the end of the day, we’re all human beings who want love. Not everyone is as privileged as me or had parents who were as accepting as mine were, so I think that it is really important to show people that we all just wanna be loved, and we all deserve the same life. It’s so important to fight for humanity.

My final question: will we ever be blessed with another studio album from you?
I hope so! I feel like I have it in me and I would always regret it if I didn’t do it again. I think that I had to step away from the music industry because what I was putting out was fun, and I’m so happy it resonated with people, but as I grew up, it wasn’t the taste in music that I have. I’m such a weirdo when it comes to music, I listen to the weirdest shit, and that’s the kind of music that I wanna make. And so I think that finding my own artistic voice is something that takes time, focus and attention, and time that I don’t have right now because I am so focused on my acting career. That has been my one priority, I do love music and I do love singing, so it has been something that’s been a part of my life but… I don’t know. I feel like it will come, and I think it’s not gonna be what people are expecting, so hopefully they’ll be okay with that. It’s just gonna take a minute for me, because it will be like starting from scratch. I know that when I finally get around to it, it will be something that I’m proud of, because I’m not gonna do it until it’s right.

Second Act comes to UK Cinemas this Friday, 25 January.

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