By the pop-culture powers vested in us, we’re crowning Vanessa Hudgens the new queen of the rom-com. You probably first got to know her as Gabriella in the High School Musical trilogy, but Hudgens has since transformed her career with a wild turn in Spring Breakers, an action-packed, blood-soaked role in Machete Kills, and the star of non-high-school-musicals Grease and Rent. But it's her recent roles in rom-coms that seem to have connected the most with fans, and for good reason. She held her own against Jennifer Lopez in last year's Second Act. And her memorable characters in Netflix original movies The Princess Switch and The Knight Before Christmas, which premieres today, stand out from the usual dime-a-dozen holiday movies that flood the market this time of year.
Both movies have also allowed Hudgens to show a balance of humor, heart, empathy, and chemistry with her costars that keeps even the most far-fetched plot lines and twists captivating. The Princess Switch proved to be so popular, in fact, that a sequel is in the works, with Hudgens on board as a producer. Movies like these are often written off as fluff, but Hudgens is here to change that. She says she's not looking to reinvent the wheel—just elevate it and have fun in the process.
Below, we talk with Hudgens about that, how she feels about her legacy being split between her High School Musical past and Netflix rom-com present, and more. Read on.
Glamour: We've crowned you the new queen of the Christmas romantic comedy, and—
Vanessa Hudgens: [Cheers] I love that! Thank you. What an honor.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
I would like to thank Netflix for making us all believe in the magic of the Christmas spirit and J.Lo for being such a staple in my romantic-comedy viewing experience.
Did you get any advice from her during Second Act that you applied to your rom-coms?
She’s just her. She lives behind the camera and in front of it honestly and truthfully. I think that's what so captivating about her. Just spending time with her as an individual and seeing the way that she lives her life was really wonderful and educational.
What’s your favorite J.Lo rom-com and your favorite scene?
The Wedding Planner. My mind instantly goes to her and Matthew McConaughey sitting on a log and then they danced because there's music and it's sad music and it's really beautiful.
Rom-coms in general, but particularly holiday movies, feel like an escape to a slightly unrealistic but totally charming and magical world. Do you feel transported in that way when you make them?
I would like to say yes, but I'm going to go for the brutal, honest truth and say probably not. It's a lot of work. Every time I'm on a set, I'm always amazed that films are even made because it takes so many people to put it all together, not just what you see in front of the camera. A Christmas movie is no different.
This was the first time that you've produced a feature film. You’ll also be producing The Princess Switch sequel. Do you feel you got more opportunities because you were able to work in this smaller format but for a huge audience?
For sure. I have been doing this for more than two decades, and that's crazy for me. So I've been thinking of it for a long time, and I have my own point of view on art. I feel as long as you have a point of view and perspective, that's all it really takes to be able to make something your own. Coming into it, I was like, "This is a great, lighthearted film. I just want to bring joy to people. No need to get too heavy or serious." It seems like a good place to start, and then going through the process and being able to be a part of creating the film to be what it is felt even more collaborative. To me, that's really fulfilling.
With The Princess Switch 2, will you be working on the script and nuances of your character, or is it more an overall standard producing role?
I feel like I don't know what a standard producing role is. I only know the way that I approach it, and that's in all angles. The script was definitely already written, but I've been a part of going through it with the writer and my director and giving my notes and trying to throw ideas at them to see how they can take it with their knowledge and roll in what they do and be able to bring that to life.
“The world is a crazy place. It's a crazy time. We all need a little escape.”
Christmas movies have this reputation for being fun and fluff, but you mentioned earlier that all movies are the same amount of work. Do you think holiday movies have a perception problem? And if so, do you hope to make people value them more?
Now more than they have been. They're shining at their brightest, as they should because they're about joy and magic and love and bringing magic to your life. No one can deny feeling a bit lighter after watching a Christmas movie, and I think people are coming to terms with that. They don't have to be dramatic. There might be a hint of drama in it, but it doesn't have to be one thing in order to make it good. It's a really open and welcoming time for these types of films in general that are lighthearted. The world is a crazy place. It's a crazy time. We all need a little escape.
You told me last year that you’d be interested in a Christmas musical. Would you ever consider doing a Christmas album? What song would have to be on it?
If I had a little downtime and was in a time of my life that felt Christmasy, I would 100% go out on a whim and do it. I love Christmas music. My favorite is probably “The Christmas Song.” Classic. I love jazzy, cozy-feeling songs when it comes to Christmas.
Is there anyone you’d dream of doing a rom-com with—Christmas-specific or in general?
When I think Christmas movies, I think of Macaulay Culkin. I’d love to do a Christmas movie with Macaulay Culkin because, hello, Home Alone. As far as normal films go, there's so many phenomenal actors I have looked up to for so long. My go-to person is, of course, Meryl Streep because I admire her career so much. She's done this for so long, and everything she does, she does it with the utmost care. She is always amazing. To work with her would be a literal dream come true. I would fall on the floor and bury myself in a grave.
Something I find so interesting about your career is that one generation of people will always know you as Gabriella Montez in High School Musical, but some of the younger generation will know you as this Netflix rom-com star. Others will see you as a musical star in things like Rent and the upcoming Tick, Tick...Boom. How do you feel about that?
The thing that still surprises me about High School Musical is kids who are still watching it, kids who are younger than when it came out, because their older brother or sister was watching this movie. Even to the kids, I'm still known for that. I don't mind because I think it's really beautiful. My love for acting started with musical theater and watching West Side Story. So if I can ignite a child's dream, that's pretty special.
Lastly, you recently [did karaoke] to "Breaking Free" from High School Musical on Instagram Stories. I'd love the story behind how that happened. Was this the first time you sang it since performing it in the first movie and tour?
I think I actually [did karaoke to] “Breaking Free” in a private room karaoke situation when I was with my cast of Powerless, this TV show that I did. I tried to get Alan Tudyk to sing it with me, and he had no idea what it was, so I ended up singing the whole thing by myself, which felt very awkward and embarrassing. But this time, I was in this small town in Oklahoma that me and my castmates made our home. Across the street from our hotel was a bar. We would go and hang out there all the time, and Fridays and Saturdays were karaoke. It was my last night with my cast because I was leaving the next day right after work to come back to L.A., and I was like, "We're going to do it. We're going do this. Like, one for the books." I was on a roll. I sang so much karaoke that night. I love karaoke. I sang “Part of Your World” with one of my castmates, and this girl came up to me and was like, "You know, my go-to karaoke song is ‘Breaking Free,'" and I was like, "Oh my God. We should sing it then!" So I sang it with a random girl at the bar that I met.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Alyse Whitney is a writer and editor based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @AlyseWhitney.
Originally Appeared on Glamour