Vanessa Anne Hudgens, who was born in Salinas, CA, lived in various places along the West Coast, from Oregon down to to Southern California, along with her parents and younger sister Stella. Hudgens came from a very ethnically diverse background, with her father Greg being of Irish and Native American descent, while her mother Gina was a mix of Filipino, Chinese and Spanish. When she was eight, Hudgens started performing in local theater productions of "Carousel," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Cinderella." After a successful commercial audition, the young actress moved to Los Angeles with her family to pursue a full-time acting career. She made her feature film debut with a small role in "Thirteen" (2003), a brutal look at modern-day teenage lives starring Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood. Though the role was small, it was enough to get the ambitious teen's foot in the door. Her next big screen project was much lighter and more family-friendly than her previous project. Co-starring with Bill Paxton in "Thunderbirds" (2004), a live-action adventure flick based on the popular 1960s TV series, the film did little to raise her profile since it did little business. She also continued to land minor appearances on sitcoms like "Quintuplets" (Fox, 2004-05) and "Still Standing" (CBS, 2006), before appearing in a couple of episodes during the second season of "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody" (Disney Channel, 2005-08). What happened next was a life changing moment for Hudgens.In 2005, Disney Channel executives set out to revive the movie musical genre, with the plan of using young stars who grew up watching stage classics such as "Peter Pan" and "Les Miserables." An audition for as yet untitled project to be directed by "Dirty Dancing" (1987) choreographer Kenny Ortega called for fresh new faces that Disney Channel fans could relate to. Hudgens won the coveted role of Gabriella Montez, a newly-transferred student and academic decathlete who finds herself drawn to East High's star athlete and resident hunk Troy Bolton (Efron). Together, they try out for the school musical and break free from the cliques they once belonged to. To say the TV movie was an overnight smash, was an understatement. "HSM" became the Mouse channel's most successful movie, with 7.7 million viewers during its premiere broadcast in the U.S. The movie's soundtrack also blew away expectations, becoming the best-selling album of 2006, thanks to songs like "Breaking Free" and "When There Was Me and You" - both of which featured Hudgens on lead vocals. September 2006 also marked another milestone for the tween set's latest "It" girl. She signed with Hollywood Records and released her debut album V. The album reached gold, while the infectious first single "Come Back to Me" became a radio and MTV staple. Another single, a ballad titled "Say OK" reunited Hudgens and Efron in the music video, fueling rumors among fans that the two were more than just co-stars. With her first album a success, Hudgens announced in 2007 that she was going to record her second album. The massive success of "HSM" also inspired a hugely-successful U.S. and Latin American tour, starring Hudgens and her co-stars Bleu, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel and Monique Coleman. Efron was the only original cast member who did not go on the road because he was in Toronto filming the movie musical "Hairspray" (2007), leaving singer and songwriter Drew Seeley (who also sang Troy's parts in "HSM") to fill in for him. Hudgens and Efron not only sang and danced during the making of "High School Musical," they also reportedly fell in love. The pair secretly dated for a few months, unofficially revealing their relationship in the pages of tabloid magazines during a Hawaii vacation in the summer of 2007. They were snapped on the beach kissing and instantly became young Hollywood's newest sweethearts, following in the footsteps of Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder in the Eighties, and Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears in the Nineties. Teenage fans of Hudgens and Efron even nicknamed the pair "Zanessa," a combination of their first names.The media coverage of the young lovebirds only helped bring more attention to "High School Musical 2." Premiering in August 2007 on the Disney Channel, the creators dubbed it the most anticipated sequel of all time. Hudgens joined her co-stars and boyfriend Efron at a world premiere event at Disneyland in Southern California a few days before. By August 2007, "High School Musical 2" broke TV records as expected with a total 17.2 million viewers making it the highest-rated basic cable broadcast of all time. The road to a third "HSM" movie hit a major bump however, when the National Enquirer reported they were going to print controversial nude photos of Hudgens. Many speculated it was a hoax until a full frontal nude photo of the star surfaced on the web in September. It was confirmed later that day on TMZ.com by Hudgens' representatives, with a statement that claimed the photos were taken privately on her own phone for the benefit of Efron and it was unfortunate they had been leaked to the public. Speculation that the photos would be the cause of her being dropped from "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" (2008) proved false when Hudgens reprised Gabriella Montez for the third installment to the successful musical franchise.Following the release of her second album Identified (2008), she earned critical praise for her performance as Sam, an emo singer-guitarist who falls for the new kid at school (Scott Porter) while trying to lead her band to winning a competition in Todd Graff's well-received comedy "Bandslam" (2009). That same year, Hudgens had another brush of embarrassment when more nude photos of her were leaked which led to her suing one of the websites that published them on privacy grounds. Meanwhile, in 2010, Zanessa was no more after Hudgens and Efron called it quits. On the big screen, Hudgens had starred in the unusual "Beastly" (2011), where she played a high school student who forms a bond with an unsightly recluse (Alex Pettyfer) affected by a magic spell cast on him by a Goth girl. From there, she had a supporting role as Blondie in the critically derided feature "Sucker Punch" (2011), before joining Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Rachel Kornine for "Spring Breakers" (2013), director Harmony Kornine's teen thriller about four college girls who rob a fast food restaurant to pay for spring break, only to run afoul of a drug-dealing hustler (James Franco). The film was well-received in its premiere at the 2012 Venice International Film Festival and was praised by critics as being a cross between "Scarface" (1983) and Britney Spears. A supporting role in Robert Rodriguez's genre pastiche "Machete Kills" (2013) continued the growing up in public process. At the same time, Hudgens continued her expansion into live theater, taking on the title role in a revival of the musical "Gigi" on Broadway in 2015. The following year, Hudgens played the iconic role of tough-girl Rizzo in the all-star television event "Grease Live!" (2016). Her next TV role came with her headlining role on the DC superhero comedy "Powerless" (NBC 2017), in which she played the head of Research and Development at Wayne Enterprises.
All Apple Originals.
New Apple Originals every month. Watch on Apple devices, streaming platforms and smart TVs.