Hollywood star Vanessa Hudgens lived for two weeks among the homeless while preparing for her role as a poverty-stricken teen in the drama "Gimme Shelter," which opens in the United States on Friday.
The film, which is based on a true story, is centered on pregnant adolescent Agnes "Apple" Bailey (Hudgens), who struggles to survive after she flees her abusive mother (Rosario Dawson) and is rejected by her Wall Street executive father (Brendan Fraser), who disagrees with her decision to keep the baby.
Thanks to the intervention of a kind stranger, she eventually finds a substitute family and gains hope for the future at a shelter for pregnant young women.
"I spent two weeks at a shelter before we began filming," Hudgens told Efe, "and I'm very grateful that my director put me there because it allowed me to understand these girls and have a clear idea of what their lives are like, their problems and concerns."
"Becoming Apple was a tremendous journey. Creating someone so far removed from who I am was exhilarating. It's the hardest role of my career, no doubt," the 25-year-old former Disney star, who previously shed her angelic image in the 2012 film "Spring Breakers," said.
Hudgens herself offered the role of Apple's mother to Dawson, and the physical transformation they underwent for the film makes the two almost unrecognizable on screen.
Unlike Hudgens, who grew up in a middle-class family along the U.S. West Coast, Dawson did not need to learn about poverty up-close because she lived that life as a child in New York City in the late 1980s and early 1990s, growing up surrounded by cocaine addicts, some of them members of her own family.
The 34-year-old Dawson told Efe that she started working as an actress at age 15 and had a mother who gave her all of the support and love she required to defy the odds and achieve her dreams.
She said movie-goers would also be able to connect with the story of Apple's mother, June, and feel "compassion for her in the end."