You might not think that the movie Second Act contains a big twist, but it does, and if you read on we will spoil it.
While the movie Second Act starts out like a light-enough Working Girl–style New York comedy — Jennifer Lopez fakes her way into a big corporate job with an intimidating younger boss, played by Vanessa Hudgens — halfway through, it reveals an entirely different side of its plot. Hudgens, as it turns out, is actually the daughter Lopez gave up for adoption when she was a teenager. It’s something you don’t expect from the movie when it starts, though Vanessa Hudgens herself knew she’d be playing J.Lo’s daughter ever since she first heard about the part. “I was like, ‘Wait, you guys shouldn’t have told me that,’” Hudgens said. “Let me have the surprise!”
Hudgens got the part in Second Act after auditioning and doing a chemistry read with Lopez, who she says insisted on casting the High School Musical graduate as her daughter. It’s just one of several projects Hudgens has in the works as she continues to branch out into every possible genre, whether onstage, in live musicals, or on spring breeaaaak. Just this winter, Hudgens starred across from herself in Netflix’s The Princess Switch, and she’ll soon star in Fox’s upcoming Rent Live as Maureen, a.k.a. the Idina half of “Take Me or Leave Me.” Vulture caught up with her over the phone to ask about her very busy winter, including what it’s like to try to intimidate J.Lo — and what exactly was going on with her Princess Switch Chicago hat.
First of all, we have to discuss the twist that comes halfway through the movie, which is that you are actually J.Lo’s daughter. Did you know that coming in?
I kind of got the surprise ruined for me. Because they were like, “It’s to play J.Lo’s daughter.” And I was like, “Okay!” And then I read the script, and I was like, “Wait, you guys shouldn’t have told me that.” Let me have the surprise!
Was it it intimidating to play J.Lo’s daughter, since she’s, you know, J.Lo?
I had to go in and read for it. Read with her. But as soon as I did my read with her, apparently she was like, “That’s it, she’s the one.” Because we just had this amazing connection where, at the end of the scene, we were both crying and it just felt so real. I feel like that’s so important.
Which scene was that? Was it the scene where she tells the the truth to you finally?
It was, yeah. And someone walked in and tried to bring us cookies during the scene. I was like, “Oh my God, you’re literally ruining everything.” So I got to have a second chance in the room.
I’m assuming you were a fan of J.Lo before this, but since she’s been in rom-coms like The Wedding Planner and Maid in Manhattan, what was it like to work with her on something new in this genre?
The Wedding Planner I used to watch on repeat. She was like, so good at the rom-com. She’s just so lovable, and gorgeous — she’s kind of everything that you want in a rom-com. So I was just so excited that she was doing another one when I was reading the script.
Before she reveals that she’s your mother, you have scenes with J.Lo where you have to intimidate her. Is that hard to do?
During the filming, it was fine. It felt a little icky, because I love her. I only wanted to show her nothing but love. But then I’d watch it and that’s what’s even harder for me — seeing it all together. Being like, “No, you’re supposed to be nice, be nice. Be friendly to J.Lo!” But it’s just funny. It’s cool, what else can I say? I was J.Lo’s boss!
She’s had a career similar to yours, covering music and film. Did you get any career advice from her?
I learned just from seeing by example. She’s the hardest working woman that I know. And that’s why she is where she is. She’s in the trenches, she’s doing the work. If not, things are handled and she’s just walking to where she needs to be. She’s really doing all the work every step of the way.
I wanted to talk about The Princess Switch. I am personally fascinated by the Chicago hat that one of the two doppelgängers wears in it. Because it … it just says “Chicago.”
I know, it’s ridiculous.
Is there any backstory about that hat?
Just to kind of really drill into people’s minds: that is an individual. Its own person. So … I honestly don’t know, I’m trying to make up an answer for you right now. It was written in the script, that’s what they wanted, so I just went with it.
In the movie, Stacy’s favorite movie is A Christmas Prince, and they watch it in a scene that’s sort of a Russian nesting doll of Netflix movies. Have you watched A Christmas Prince?
No. I’m not going to lie, I haven’t.
In the movie she rates it as four stars out of five, and I was going to ask if you’ve seen it what you would rate it as, but I guess I can’t ask that, because you haven’t seen it.
Yeah, sorry. I’m a horrible Netflix supporter.
Was that movie specifically in the script?
No, what happened was we had another movie written in but we couldn’t get clearance on it. So they’re like, “Let’s go choose something Netflix.”
You have to do both the British-ish, royal accent for Lady Margaret and then also Stacy from Chicago’s fake version of that accent. How did you approach those variations of playing each character?
I was like, “Stacy’s me, she’s upbeat, she’s a focused businesswoman, there to get things done.” Margaret is searching for a sense of normalcy in her life, which I do, at times, as well. I found myself in both of the characters, and I tried to create distinctive character traits for them. As well as having an accent, really, obviously to tell them apart. But I was excited to work with a British accent, something that I haven’t done before.
Did you work with a dialect coach?
Yeah, It was great. I think when you’re musical and have a good ear you pick up on things faster. So I’ve just did a ton of drills and tongue twisters, and make sure all my placement was right.
Speaking of musicals, are you in rehearsals for Rent Live now?
We spent a week just sitting down and learning the music. Then last week we started putting it up on its feet. It’s so exciting, I’m just so excited for this. I think everyone in the cast is phenomenal. Perfectly casted for the part. The creative team behind it is phenomenal. I think that’s it’s going to be a really special, magical experience for me and the viewers.
Were you a fan of the original run of Rent?
It’s funny, because I did this show almost ten years ago at the Hollywood Bowl, and Neil Patrick Harris directed. He hired me to play the role of Mimi. I was one of the few that had not seen the show, had not heard the music, and then when I got the audition, just dove in with both feet. My viewing experience was kind of robbed, and I had to approach it from a work point of view. But I love the musical, I think that it’s so special, and there’s so much heart. We’re just really excited to get out to a generation that might not have seen it.
I assume you have to re-create the kind Village in the ’90s vibe for the show in order to shoot it.
Oh yeah, it will feel exactly what it’s supposed to feel. Can I give you details? No.
Tell me about working with your Joanne, Kiersey Clemons, because she was a great in Hearts Beat Loud, but I don’t think people think of her as a musical-theater person. What’s it like to see her in this context?
She’s phenomenal, I love her. I’m so happy that I’m doing this with her. I tell her all the time she’s phenomenal. I think that she’s perfect for the part. I think everyone in the cast is perfect for their part.
It feels like you’ve gotten to try out a lot of different genres recently with just these three projects. Are there any new types of things you want to explore?
That’s always been my strategic game plan, to keep them guessing. Keep myself guessing. I think that’s what keeps a career exciting, when it is very … the fact that I have had such a varied year, just makes me feel really great, and accomplished in that goal.
On Fallon you talked about having a Lord of the Rings–themed birthday party. Would you want to do fantasy?
So badly. I love fantasy. My favorite movies growing up were Neverending Story and The Labyrinth. So yep, still waiting for that moment.