This time last year, Netflix unleashed a bizarrely brilliant Christmas movie on an unsuspecting public. The Princess Switch, a surrealist holiday romantic comedy, centers on a low-key Chicago baker (played by Vanessa Hudgens) who discovers she’s the doppelgänger for a royal duchess (also played by Vanessa Hudgens). After the two hatch a plan to switch places, they fall in love with each other’s respective partners, and, well cheeky romance ensues. It was instantly beloved by audiences nostalgic for the classic switcheroo trope, à la The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday.
Now, to the delight of millennials everywhere, Hudgens has returned to the streaming service in yet another rom-com — this time starring as a high school science teacher named Brooke who falls for a Medieval English knight. In the cleverly titled The Knight Before Christmas, which is streaming now, a witchlike “crone” casts a spell that transports Sir Cole (Josh Whitehouse) to present-day Ohio to fulfill his one true quest to become a knight. As it happens, the quest becomes a matter of the heart — only when Sir Cole reveals his true feelings for Brooke does he get to return safely home to the 14th century.
It doesn’t hurt that in real life, Hudgens is in a similarly lovey-dovey couple with longtime partner Austin Butler, whom she considers her own personal Prince Charming. After initially meeting on the set of High School Musical, the two officially began dating in 2011 — one year after her split from Zac Efron — and their adorable paparazzi photos and public declarations of love on Instagram can best be described as #relationshipgoals. A clear romantic at heart, career-wise, Hudgens seems to be following in the footsteps of her Second Act co-star Jennifer Lopez, taking on roles that upgrade the traditional romantic comedy by highlighting racial and socioeconomic differences amid the meet-cutes.
The plot of The Knight Before Christmas is basically a gender-reversed Enchanted set in 2019, complete with slapstick scenes in which the knight confronts an Amazon Alexa and hunts a skunk in the yard for dinner, combined with heartwarming moments infused with Christmas magic (a widowed father receives a bounty of gifts for his kids just in time). “It’s always special when you are telling a story in which you yourself have to suspend belief,” Hudgens said recently by phone. “It allows the audience to be able to enjoy the ride a bit more.”
In the midst of cuffing season, the film also sheds light on the overwhelming pressure on singles to pair off for the winter months. “[The holidays] can be hard for anyone,” Hudgens said matter-of-factly. “No matter who you are or what phase you’re at in your life, there is always something that can get you down — it’s your perspective that is going to change the experience.” Our recommendation? Indulge in a blissful hour and a half of pure cinematic escapism.
Here, more from Hudgens about her new movie, J.Lo Oscar buzz, and the Bad Boys sequel.
Why did you decide to do another Christmas rom-com?
The holidays can be a stressful and sad time because some people, including myself, are reminded of those who aren’t around to enjoy them with you. If I can help facilitate families coming together and watching a movie so they can go about their day a little more lightheartedly and feel the Christmas spirit, then that’s a really wonderful gift to be able to give.
There’s much more representation in the genre now, especially on Netflix. Did the absence of on-screen diversity prompt you to seek out these types of roles?
I would like to say yes, but honestly, no, because of the way that my mom raised me. She was born and raised in the Philippines and then came to America and embraced the American lifestyle. I never personally saw color or the differences in race between people. I was like, “These are just different people’s stories and I want to hear all of them.”
Did you have any special holiday traditions growing up?
I’m very basic. We would drive around and look at Christmas lights, decorate the tree, sit under the tree, and open up Christmas presents while we watch the Christmas parade on television. Now I make mulled wine every year because it smells amazing and tastes phenomenal. We also have our go-to Christmas cocktail, which is Fireball with Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider and that is delicious. I had a party one year where I hired a pianist and she came with a bunch of booklets full of Christmas song lyrics so we scream-sang all of them very poorly. That’s something I’d like to keep up.
What are some of your favorite rom-coms?
I’ve always loved J.Lo rom-coms. Maid in Manhattan and The Wedding Planner are my go-tos. I like the fish out of water thing — she’s put into a world that she’s not necessarily comfortable with and finds love through being vulnerable. It’s always really attractive to watch someone be vulnerable.
J.Lo is getting major Oscar buzz for her performance in Hustlers.
I’m always rooting for J.Lo. I’m her fan ‘till the end.
There’s a part in the movie where your character says, “We all grow up fantasizing about finding true love with a knight in shining armor and living happily ever after.” Who did you fantasize about?
Jonathan Taylor Thomas. And I’m not that far off! I ended up with a beautiful blonde charming man. I’ll Be Home for Christmas was one of my favorite movies growing up — another romantic Christmas comedy.
Apart from the fact that he’s a time-traveling knight, Sir Cole seems like the perfect suitor. When it comes to relationships, do you think that there’s always a compromise?
Of course. No one is perfect. And I’m not perfect. It’s important to know your worth but also know that relationships are about compromise and meeting each other in the middle. It’s a partnership, not a single race.
If you could time travel, when and where would you go?
I’m a very big music fan and I have watched all the documentaries on Woodstock — I would have loved nothing more than to be sitting in the mud watching Jimi Hendrix play live.
Netflix recently greenlit a sequel to The Princess Switch where you play three characters instead of two. How are you feeling about taking on a third role?
I have to take a deep breath every time I think about it. She’s a completely different person from the girls that we know, and I think that contrast is what’s going to make it fun for me. I still haven’t done it yet so I don’t quite know who she is — I start filming in a week and a half. But it’s a really entertaining and unique spin on things. I grew up watching The Parent Trap many, many times.
The Lindsay Lohan version or the original?
Oh, the Lindsay Lohan version. My sister and I would always say the lines back to each other and act out the scenes. We knew them all by heart.
What was the last thing you binge-watched?
The Politician. I’m such a big fan of Ben [Platt] and Ryan Murphy so I watched that very quickly. Also Dustin from Stranger Things [Gaten Matarazzo] has a prank show [Prank Encounters] that I watched in one sitting.
You also wrapped the upcoming Bad Boys sequel. What was it like working with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence?
I recently saw an old interview where I’m maybe 15 years old and saying that I really want to do action films, and I got to have a sweet moment of reflection and gratitude that I’m exactly where I wanted to be. What’s more iconic than being in Bad Boys as far as action flicks go? I love my character — she’s a badass adrenaline junkie — and I’m alongside these two guys that were such a part of the zeitgeist in my youth and to this day. It feels legendary.
Can we expect more rom-coms too?
I want to do it all. And I want it all until I die, so I’m sure there will be many more on the horizon.