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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "High School Musical" actress Vanessa Hudgens embodies the dreams of millions of girls around the world in her role as the brainy but beautiful math whiz Gabriella Montez, who also wins the heart of star basketball player Troy Bolton.
Hudgens, 19, who stars in this week's "High School Musical 3: Senior Year," has been acting since she was three years-old, and made her first movie, "Thirteen", in 2003.
The petite Filipina/Chinese/Spanish/Irish and American Indian actress with tumbling black hair talked to Reuters about the success of the three Disney films and how they gave her the high school experience that, as a home-schooled teenager, she never had for herself.
Q: Do you feel you missed out on the American high school life portrayed in "High School Musical."?
A: "This series was definitely my high school experience. It's been three years, almost four. I've made the most amazing friends through this project, people I know I will always be able to call. I have grown up with them."
Q: The prom scene in "High School Musical 3; Senior Year" is very romantic. But you never had a prom or a graduation ceremony.
A: "My prom in the movie was a lot better I think than the normal prom! There was no drama. I got to wear the most beautiful gown and it was a total fantasy. I got waltzed around. And I got to wear a graduation cap and gown for the first time."
Q: How have you been dealing with fans and the success of the movies?
A: "It's been crazy. Every time I go to a premiere I just get butterflies in my stomach because it's such an extraordinary thing to be a part of. It seems no matter where we go, everyone is genuinely excited. In Spain, they would wait outside the garages and chase our cars as we left. But I still get a normal life. I'm not dressed up all the time, and I still go grocery shopping and everything.
Q: What do your fans say to you when they write?
A: "That the movies have inspired them to do different things and go for their dreams. The movies give kids the courage to step outside the box and do what they really want. Kids don't have that much to look up to because there are so many bad things in the world. The fact that we get to bring something to the screen for families to look up to, and feel good about, and which is a good lesson, is really great."
Q: What's next for you? Do you worry that you might now be typecast?
A; "I am looking for things I can grow with. I'm not looking to separate myself from Gabriella because she is an amazing role model -- it's always nice to play the smart girl. But I do want to play different roles. My new movie, 'Bandslam' which comes out in July, is a bit more rock'n'roll. I get to play this character who is a lot darker."
Q: Gabriella and Troy have a very sweet relationship in the movies. Your fans will want to know whether you and Zac Efron plan on staying together in real life?
A; "That's very sweet."