The tropical Hawaiian setting of the Kahala Hotel and Resort seems to suit dark-haired beauty Vanessa Hudgens. The former High School Musical star looks right at home in a suite at the secluded vacation spot, which is surrounded by palm trees, sandy beaches and a deep-blue ocean. She's made herself available to discuss the 3-D fantasy adventure, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which opens Feb. 10.
In the Brad Peyton-directed Journey 2, (a sort-of sequel to 2008's Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D), Hudgens plays Kailani, the strong-willed daughter of Gabato (Luis Guzman), a helicopter pilot on a South Seas island.
After some haggling, they both agree to transport 17-year-old Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) and his new stepfather, Hank Parsons (Dwayne Johnson) in a search to find Sean's missing adventurer grandfather (Michael Caine).
Along the way, the helicopter runs into a massive storm and crash-lands on a peculiar island, stranding all four of them. They soon locate the grandpa there, only to discover they have just days to escape the island before it sinks into the sea.
Loosely based on Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the movie was filmed on location in and around the jungles of Oahu in Hawaii. Hudgens said she enjoyed playing a no-nonsense female surrounded by males in the wilderness.
"She definitely stands up for herself," said the 23-year-old of Kailani, "just (as) I think that all women should stand up for themselves, because we're powerful, and Kailani definitely sticks with that."Other motivations for her character were inspired by the exotic settings at Oahu's Waimea Valley, China Walls and the Kualoa Ranch, where Jurassic Park was filmed.
"Hawaii was definitely a large part of making everything real, because there are so many magical places," says Hudgens. "I would show up for work, and almost be in tears at how moving and how stunning these places are."
A bonus was the friendly cast of Johnson, Guzman and Hutcherson, who briefly dated Hudgens while filming Journey 2. "It's refreshing when you meet people who are very true to themselves," said Hudgens. "A lot of people can care about what other people think, and try to morph themselves into something that they're not."
Despite the amiable cast, glorious vistas, and tropical Hawaiian climate, she did have to suffer a little bit during the jungle shoot. "The centipedes that were crawling around were just so disgusting, and they were massive, with all their little legs crawling," she recalls. "That freaked me out."
Even worse, there's a sequence in Journey 2 that called for Hudgens' character to be submerged in water. "I have a pet peeve that's so ridiculous, but I hate getting my face wet, or fully submerging myself under the water, or even opening my eyes underwater."
She did what was required just the same. If nothing else, Hudgens is a trouper, who committed to an acting career at an early age. Before doing the High School Musical TV shows and movie alongside former boyfriend Zac Efron, Hudgens was an ambitious child performer who worked in and around Los Angeles in theatre productions.
"I did a lot of theatre growing up," she recalls. "It started with theatre that I had to pay to be in, and then it started becoming theatre that I was paid to be in."In 2003, she won a co-starring part in Thirteen, followed by a series of guest appearances on kids' shows, including The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, The Brothers Garcia and Drake & Josh.
Then there was High School Musical, and the teen frenzy that came with it. Over the last few years, Hudgens has been trying to break free from her teenybopper image. She did that most notably with her Blondie role in last year's R-rated fable, Sucker Punch.
Upcoming is the Scott Walker murder mystery, The Frozen Ground, set for release next December and starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack. Hudgens plays a homeless girl on the run from a serial killer. To prepare for the part, she chopped off her hair and donned fake tattoos and piercings, "and I actually lived in a pregnant, homeless teen shelter for about two weeks before we started filming, just to become one of the girls, hanging out with them, hanging out with their children."
It's the kind of acting experience she hopes to repeat. "There are definitely projects that you truly invest yourself in, and can only hope for the best, but I do this because I'm so passionate about acting," Hudgens says. "I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I love it with all of my heart, and I will always fight for anything that I want. I was going to say to the death, but that's a bit intense."
She thinks about that, then adds, as an afterthought: "All the parts I play are definitely an extension of myself, so I have to pull from that, but at the end of the day, I go back to being the happy, bubbly, giggly Vanessa."