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“I am honestly the freest-spirited control freak you’ll ever meet,” Vanessa Hudgens says, sitting in the backyard of her new Studio City home, the Valley skyline extending behind her. She just moved in this summer, so the place is sparsely decorated, but she has big ideas for the vibe — keywords include “’70s,” “porny,” and “masculine” — and plans to design it herself. (Her previous place required too much upkeep for someone as on-the-go as she is.) From her current perch, Hudgens can point to her first house downhill, where she lived for 11 years and experienced the kind of Hollywood whirlwind few can imagine. The property line even butts up to where she is now — she is quite literally looking down at her old life.

It’s mid-afternoon in early August, and Hudgens estimates she’s spent only five or six nights at the new house in total. It was her call to do our interview here, rather than the planned Mexican restaurant. She got back from a work trip to Capri the night before and is heading to Arizona in the morning to visit her boyfriend, Arizona Diamondbacks player Cole Tucker, whom she met during a celebrity meditation Zoom group. “I’m not going to call it a celebrity Zoom, but it was a Zoom meditation group that Joe Jonas put together, yes,” she says. “I did not expect it at all. I don’t think if I entered a meditation Zoom, I’d be like, ‘This is where I’ll meet my person.’ I just showed up and I was like, ‘Who the f*ck is that?’”

Tonight she is hosting a birthday party for a friend who has been staying at her house, and over the course of our two-hour hang, she is quietly directing the party-planning around her, at one point suggesting what flavors of ice cream another friend should pick up from the store. She takes partying very seriously. “There’s nothing that infuriates me more than when I’m ready to throw down, and then I show up somewhere and it’s just not the vibe,” says Hudgens, dressed in a cropped white tank top and silk Versace pants, still in full glam from the photo shoot earlier. “If it was up to me, every club would be an underground rave with lasers and smoke machines and just vibes and it’s dark and you can’t really see anyone.”

After buzzing me through the gate, Hudgens welcomes me into her vast kitchen and offers a canned Caliwater, her brand of cactus water beverages — “We got a new distributor so the packaging is a little off, but it still tastes good,” she notes — then starts scrolling on Postmates to find something to eat. Eventually, she lands on H.O.P.E., a vegan restaurant nearby. Though I insist I’m not hungry, she hands me her phone to order something anyway. “Are you sure? Have you ever had H.O.P.E.?” she asks. We both get beefless jerky, per her suggestion. Finally situated cross-legged on a patio sofa, her dog Darla at her feet, she relaxes. “I just figured I’m home so rarely, it’s nice to spend as much time here as possible,” she says.

“I’VE BEEN THROUGH TWO VERY LONG LIFE-CHANGING RELATIONSHIPS, AND NO ONE REALLY KNOWS WHAT HAPPENED EXCEPT FOR ME. WHEN I WRITE MY MEMOIR, IT’LL BE AMAZING.”

Last November, she starred in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Netflix film adaptation of Tick, Tick… Boom!, earning some of the highest critical acclaim of her career thus far. The same month, she reprised her roles in the third installment of Netflix breakout hit film series The Princess Switch, on which she also serves as a producer. Earlier this year, she stepped into a completely new role: red carpet host, taking on high-pressure gigs for the Oscars, the MTV Movie and TV Awards, and the Met Gala, the latter of which marked an acceptance into the high fashion world that eluded her in her early career. (She only attended Paris Fashion Week for the first time this year.) “I believe in divine timing, and for whatever reason, I wasn’t meant to be in that place any sooner,” she says. “I’m so grateful to have it later in life because I’m more comfortable with who I am as a human being.”

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Vanessa Hudgens is our December coverstar. The former High School Musical idol and star of The Princess Switch and Tick Tick…Boom! speaks to GLAMOUR’s Jessica Radloff about her journey from teen icon to finding her true self…

Vanessa Hudgens has a plan. She turns 33 on December 14, and since it’s the first time in two years that she will be home in Los Angeles for the holidays, she knows how she wants to spend the occasion. “I’ll probably get all my friends together and throw a rave. It’s pretty standard,” she says rather nonchalantly. “Two of my best girlfriends are DJs, so I’m definitely locked in. I got connections.”

Does she ever. The actor/singer/producer has been in the public eye for the better part of two decades, has worked with the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Selena Gomez, and has amassed a social media following of more than 70 million fans. She is a Gen-Z and Millennial icon to a generation of women who grew up on Disney’s High School Musical, on which she was catapulted to global fame at the age of 18 playing the all-singing, all-dancing Gabriella Montez alongside Zac Efron’s Troy Bolton. Of the influence and impact of this generation-defining role she has said, “That’s beautiful that I got to create a character that is so ingrained in [fans] and a part of their childhood. It feels special to be a part of people’s lives like that.”

On her bios on Twitter and Facebook specifically, Vanessa’s mantra is front and centre: Be you. Do you. For you.

But who exactly is the real Vanessa Hudgens?

The California native is often seen laughing and giggling her way through press appearances, whether it’s talking about voicing the character of Sunny Starscout in the Netflix animated film, My Little Pony, or playing multiple roles in the royal/feel-good fantasy movies, The Princess Switch. She’s charismatic, happy and – to borrow a phrase from My Little Pony – sparkly.

But Vanessa is also complex, outspoken and private. A few times during our interview in a suite at the Chateau Marmont hotel in West Hollywood she wants to keep some topics to herself, whether it’s baseball game traditions (her boyfriend, Cole Tucker, plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates) or the role she really wanted but didn’t get. After almost 20 years of red carpets, photo shoots and interviews, she has her boundaries. Remember, Be you. Do you. For you.

“I feel like I’ve lived many, many lives just because I’ve been in this industry for so long,” she tells me after a festive photo shoot for our December digital issue. “I had big dreams and was so excited and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. You know, I think it takes time to get comfortable with yourself, like truly comfortable. I know the pandemic – like having to sit at home with myself and really work on my shadow self; those things you don’t really want to face – has forced me to grow because it’s uncomfortable. Those are the moments that challenge you and really force you to make an opinion as to who you are and how you want to present yourself to the world.” She adds, “I feel like I’ve had that moment multiple times throughout my life and it’s been evolving and changing just like I am.”

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