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Guitar Heroine

She's become a global star with her role in High School Musical, but Vanessa Hudgens refuses to be type-cast as an all-singing, all-dancing show-stopper.

The 20-year-old, known to millions of tweens for her breakout role in Disney phenomenon High School Musical, is on a mission to carve out her own niche in Hollywood, and Vanessa Hudgens won't be letting the glare of the spotlight get in her way. "It's flattering, you know, but it's hardly something that I tend to gravitate towards; it's just not something I really pay attention to," she says of being a paparazzi darling and finding herself on lists of the sexiest and best-looking celebs.

"I hear it and I think it's neat; I say 'thanks' and I try and move on. I do everything I do because I do it for me. Just as long as I'm happy with everything that's going on, that's all that matters."

Right now, the American actress has plenty to be happy about. Just three years after being cast in HSM, she's got a movie career, a gold-certified album and a host of awards jostling for space on her mantelpiece. Oh, and she's dating Zac Efron.

But Vanessa isn't resting on her considerable laurels -- she's eager to prove she's a whole lot more than East High's Gabriella Montez by racking up a string of diverse roles.

"I'm up for a challenge and I like doing things that are different and make me step out of my comfort zone," explains the softly spoken star.

Next up is Bandslam, a teen-friendly romp about a bunch of school misfits who form a rock group to compete in a local contest. The gang beat the odds to become a band but when disaster strikes, it's time for them to make a choice: do they admit defeat or face the music and stand up for what they believe in?

Vanessa plays quirky Sa5m ("Sam with a silent 5"), a loner who eventually finds her voice while also finding love with geeky Will (Gaelan Connell).

"She's not a happy-go-lucky kind of girl -- she's a little bit darker and very deadpan throughout the whole thing and I thought it was a lot of fun because it was different," the actress says, explaining it was a refreshing change to play the outcast.

And it was a change from Vanessa's own school days when she wasn't either part of the cool crowd like Gabriella or a misfit like Sa5m.

"I was the girl that was just kind of there. All through elementary school I think I had one girlfriend, and my idea of fun was lying on the ground and looking at the clouds and making shapes out of them.

"When I grew a little older, I think when I was 13, I started to make more friends. But I was kind of friends with everybody; I wasn't necessarily in one particular category."

Bandslam director Todd Graff wanted the band's performances to be authentic so the young cast had to play instruments.

While Vanessa isn't a stranger to music (she has released two albums, V and Identified), it meant mastering the electric guitar and finding her inner rock chick.

"I usually do pop music or show tunes and, for once, I got to be up there with an electric guitar and I felt like a bad ass!" she laughs. "It was a lot of fun performing but doing it differently for once. I didn't know how to play the guitar before and I never really pursued it afterwards, but I was playing that song! It was extremely hard because I have little tiny hands, so it was hard for me to play all the right chords; it was ridiculous!"

Vanessa had a blast hanging out with the cast on location in Austin, Texas, including Lisa Kudrow who plays Will's mum.

"She's very sweet, so we had a lot of fun for the short period of time that we did," she gushes, going on to praise the Friends star's acting.

Vanessa also counts Natalie Wood, Natalie Portman, Angelina Jolie and Julia Roberts among the actresses she admires, but says she doesn't want to emulate anybody else's career.

"Honestly, I'm not really trying to mould my career after a certain somebody. I just find things that I gravitate towards and do them," she says.

In the vein of multi-taskers, such as J-Lo, the rising star doesn't think she needs to choose between the silver screen and the charts because acting and music "kind of go hand in hand" for her.

But she admits that musicals will have to take up residence on the back-burner while she adds some other genres to her resumé.

"I need to do a few more films that don't have music in them before I'm allowed to go back to a musical, for my own sake. But I love musicals; that's what I grew up on. It's like my home base," she says.

Vanessa, who was born in Salinas, California, fell in love with the entertainment industry after starting out in musical theatre at the age of eight. TV roles followed and she made her movie debut in Thirteen in 2003. Three years later she got the call telling her she'd bagged the part of Gabriella.

But if those early acting dreams hadn't been realised, Vanessa is certain she would have pursued a career behind the scenes in Hollywood.

"Maybe cinematography, or maybe doing hair and make-up because I love it, or maybe fashion design," says the star, shyly revealing that she sometimes styles herself for red-carpet events.

Next up is a modern-day adaptation of Beauty And The Beast and a part in Zack Snyder's highly-anticipated action flick Sucker Punch, perhaps followed up by a romantic comedy. It's all about mixing it up because, Vanessa explains, she gets bored "doing one particular thing".

"I just want to do something different," she says with a smile.


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