Vanessa Hudgens and Ronald Krauss (Gimme Shelter)

Vanessa Hudgens and Ronald Krauss: The Interview (Gimme Shelter)
Shakefire had the opportunity to sit down with Vanessa Hudgens and director Ronald Krauss to talk about their latest film, Gimme Shelter. The film is based on a true story about a young pregnant 16 year old who runs away from abusive mother in an attempt to find her father. When that doesn't go so well, she ends up taking refuge at a shelter specifically for pregnant young girls and finds a new loving family in the process.
Shakefire (SF): Welcome to Atlanta. Is this your first time here?
Ron Krauss: No, it's not actually. I was actually thinking about shooting the movie here. We ended up shooting the movie in New Jersey in the real shelters, but we were thinking about recreating it here. But in the end I decided to go with it just because everything was there and when you see the movie it’s all exactly how it is in the shelters and the real girls are from the shelters and in the movie and 23 babies and if I came to Atlanta I don’t know where I would have gotten all of them.
SF: So that home that you filmed in was actually Kathy’s?
RK: One of the five shelters and it’s the one that I worked in. I lived in two of the shelters for a year when I was writing the script with the girls and the mothers and babies.
SF: You’re really hands-on as a director. Do you always play that hands-on role with every project or was that specific to this film?
RK: I think it was pretty specific to this film because unlike other films I’ve worked on I was the only one who understood the shelter and the girls and their lives and the imagery of it. The makeup people that would come on would start to make Vanessa look like Vanessa and I kept tearing it down and then they kept fixing it so it was weird. Finally, there’d be a fight and I’d say “No, you guys don’t understand. These girls don’t really wear makeup in a shelter. They have no reason to wear makeup.” It became a real challenge to keep it on the path. You see the film and you don’t recognize her in the entire movie. Even in the end when she looks a little more like Vanessa she still looks completely different. She’s 15 pounds heavier. Vanessa cut her hair off for this movie. She gained 15 pounds. And she lived in the shelter also for about three weeks.
You saw Darlisha. She’s great. She’s a lot different than when I met her, but she’s one of the inspirations behind the movie. When I met her, she was homeless, had walked about 35 miles in freezing weather in New York, and I actually brought her into that shelter. And she was pregnant. She had her son and her son was in the movie. He’s the one that’s crawling on the bed with James Earl Jones at the end of the movie.
SF: What made you pick Vanessa?
RK: After I wrote the script, which took me forever, and with the girls and their feedback, we would all have dinner and sit around the table and pass different parts of the script around. People were very animated about it. When I went to go cast, I finished the script and went back to Hollywood. I started passing the script around and because it was so different, you know, every script that gets made in Hollywood, nobody’s making movies about shelters. There was a variety of calls and actors and people that wanted to do it, which were all the contemporaries of Vanessa. After meeting with all these girls I realized that I didn’t think a Hollywood actress could play the role in this movie because after being with the real girls, and knowing what you really need…had this script been written in Hollywood perhaps any one of those girls could have played it and it would have been some silly movie or something. Not silly, but just a much more shallow film than the one that was made.
I was looking for a real girl. I was going to Newark High School and I was trying to discover somebody who had these challenges in life and understood the street a little more and the ideas. I found a couple people that sort of fit the bill that I was considering. Their acting wasn’t exactly the best but nonetheless I felt maybe I could work with them. Then I got this call about Vanessa. She read the script and she wants to do this movie. Out of all the girls that were sort of infamous and famous, I knew the least about her. I started to look at her films; Bandslam and Beastly and so forth. Then I thought to myself, “Well this is crazy.” But I started to see a really interesting dichotomy between the High School Musical girl and the girl in Sucker Punch who had this one dramatic scene in the film. I thought that perhaps someone who is so uninhibited that they can sing and dance like that and she’s not afraid to go and get up and perform, but she’s been pigeonholed into this world. I said I’ll take a meeting with her, what’s the difference.
She came in and we first just had a regular meeting and she looked pretty much how she looks now. She just kept saying, “I want to do this role. I can do this role. I really believe in this role.” She was very pleasant. I said okay and that was it. She left. Then she started sending me emails. “I’m your Apple. I’m your Apple. I can do this.”  I said, “okay, why don’t you come audition.”
She came and auditioned and she was definitely different looking than the Disney girl. She had her hair back. She was much more multi-ethnic looking. And she sort of let that side show, which when she’s doing her pop thing that never comes out. Her audition was interesting. She did two scenes; one where she’s yelling at James Earl Jones and one where she’s sitting down with her father for the first time in the kitchen and she says, “I knew I couldn’t count on you.” It wasn’t an incredible something, but it was good and surprising and interesting. 
To make a long story sort, I was very interested in her and I sent a link to the girls at the shelter with eight girls and they picked her two. They didn’t know who she was so when they said, “this girl, this girl should play this part.” I said yeah, I think so. She was so determined. There was something inside her that she knew she could play this role and she just needed a chance. She’s a great actress. She did a great job in this movie and it’s going to change the course of how people see this girl as a very multifaceted girl.
SF: How often were people from the shelter on set?
RK: Every day. Darlisha’s in the movie.
SF: Did they have a lot of say with Vanessa?
RK: I think she relied on them. They’re the truth of the movie and she really needed their support. She became them, you know what I mean? She needed the guideline to keep in line with what the reality is.
SF: You become very involved with the film and have said that you’ve felt detached from the world. Can you talk about what you were feeling and how you were able to overcome that?
Vanessa Hudgens (VH): I had been so used to playing this character that I became completely disengaged from who I was. When you’re in a certain state of mind for a long duration of time it’s really interesting how you start to become that person. My self-confidence was at an all-time low. I just felt very meek and didn’t love myself at all. It was tough. Luckily I had my best friend come and really pull me out of that. I just had to take some time for myself, just getting back into my body losing the weight again. Extensions helped, haha. Yoga kinda saved me as well. I went on a yoga retreat in Hawaii and that really just put my mind at ease again.
SF: What scene were you most proud of and what did you take away as a person from your acting?
VH: I really loved blowing up and exploding in ferociousness. It’s not really something I’ve ever gotten to do. I’ve gotten to cry. I got to be sad. I’ve gotten to do a lot of these emotions but really just blowing up is something I haven’t been able to do. I think I probably hyperventilated during it but it was such a high I was feeling after that scene…
RK: At James Earl Jones?
VH: No, well yes with that but also with the dad and the step-mom, when she leaves me at the abortion clinic. There’s so much honestly, and I watch the whole movie and I’m just proud of the whole thing.
SF: Why were you so persistent to get the part?
VH: It’s so rare that a role like this comes around that you really do get to transform yourself. I think it’s every actors dream to be able to really change themselves, whether it’s physically or emotionally, and just break down who you are and play someone completely different. Something inside of me just knew that I had to do this. I really connected to my character. It sat somewhere inside of me and was just waiting for a way to be channeled out.
SF: How did you prepare for the role and your experience at the shelter?
VH: I went out to the shelter for about two weeks before I started filming and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to prepare for a role. It just completely had me submerged into this world and my main focus was to be one of the girls. I got to build some amazing relationships. Of course I put on weight before I went to the shelter, which really set the tone I think because I felt different in my own body. Then of course the cutting of the hair and the whole aesthetic of it all.
Then as well as the physical aspects. I think it’s really important to be able to watch a movie with the volume down low and be able to tell what’s going on. The way she carries herself I think is very specific. I just wanted to change everything about myself and try to make it completely someone else.
SF: What kind of direction were you able to take away from the girls at the shelter?
VH: I think it was honestly just their energy that I really valued. Just having them around, seeing what they were into and what got them excited. Once I could wrap my head around that and start to make them my own, it really allowed me to be in the same headspace as them.
SF: What was your biggest takeaway from the film? Was there anything surprising you learned?
VH: I think seeing how hard it would be to really be a 16 year old and go through the things my character went through. When I was in it, that was me. I wasn’t looking at it from an outside perspective. I was first person. But stepping back and seeing it, it’s just so hard and heart wrenching. It’s happening right now and the only way that’s going to change is if we make an effort to make a change; if we help out. If we somehow volunteer our time to shelters or to help young woman because it’s happening. It’s very relevant. These women normally don’t have a place to go and they’re thrown out and it’s just sad. It’s sad how life can be so tough on people sometimes and how alone we can be at times. I think it also shows that we’re not. As long as we have a conscience choice to make a change in our lives, we can get there and we can have someone else who’s been in the same situation. When you have faith and trust in yourself you can change your future.
SF: How was it going back to playing someone 16 now that you’re older?
VH: I think of myself as a young spirit to begin with. Age wasn’t very relevant because I still feel young in a lot of ways and this character, this venture, was something I’ve never done before so I became an infant in that sense. Staying at the shelter and getting to know what excited them and what they were into definitely helped a lot, but this was all so foreign and new to me so it made me feel very young and lost.
RK: Those girls at the shelter. Their commonness is the suffering and the neglect and the abandonment so the age thing is not relevant.