“I became obsessed,” admits Vanessa Hudgens of her love for “Rent.” After performing in the show at a Hollywood Bowl performance in 2010, she “fell in love with the community and family” that the show inspires. So when Fox wanted to present a live broadcast of the classic Broadway musical earlier this year, she jumped at the chance to dive back into Jonathan Larsen’s music. Watch the full exclusive interview above.
In the Hollywood Bowl production, Hudgens played Mimi, but for “Rent: Live,” producer Marc Platt had a different character in mind for her: Maureen. Nicole Scherzinger played the role at Hollywood Bowl, and as Hudgens watched her perform “Over the Moon,” she thought that “one day, when I feel confident enough, I need to do that part.” That day arrived with the Fox production, and though Hudgens says that her palms began to sweat just rehearsing the number, she pulled off a breathtaking rendition all her own.
Making individual choices was important to Hudgens. The musical has been played by countless actresses, including the originator Idina Menzel. But Hudgens opted not to rely on past portrayals as she shaped the character. “I felt like Maureen lived within me,” she says, “and she wanted “to give myself the creative freedom to make her my own.” The tactic paid off when Menzel and the original cast sang with the live broadcast actors in the finale. Instead of feeling intimidated, Hudgens reflects that it was fun to share the moment with them and show off their work.
During rehearsals, Brennin Hunt (Roger) broke his foot, and production was forced to air footage of the dress rehearsal for most of the broadcast instead of live footage. “It makes me emotional just thinking about it,” admits Hudgens. After spending so much time rehearsing and bonding with her cast-mates, she realized that she wasn’t “going to be able to have this experience again and connect with these people.”
However, the cast gathered on stage to perform concert versions of many of the songs while the pre-taped rehearsal footage aired. Those “gung-ho” numbers made the difference to Hudgens, as she says they embodied “the spirit of ‘Rent.’” For the actress, that spirit mostly centers on seeing one another on a human level. “‘Rent’ has always been the story where it doesn’t matter who you are” she says. It’s about a group that “comes together in a time of need and creates a community.” That simple message is why Hudgens is glad to have been part of the powerful production.
Hudgens will be on the Emmy Awards 2019 ballot this summer as Best Limited Series/TV Movie Supporting Actress. It would be her first career nomination if she makes it in the field.
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