She's gone from Disney darling to serious actress, challenging herself to take on more heavy-hitting roles while staying grounded and confident.
"I am so comfortable with myself," Hudgens, 24, tells October's Marie Claire (on sale Sept. 17).
"Honing in on what I love and what makes me powerful," she says. "Things I've been doing lately, I'm super proud of. So I don't really care if someone doesn't like it, because I love it."
Tesh / Marie Claire
"She's not jaded at all," says Gomez. "The person you see and talk to is the same person I talk to."
Adding that Hudgens was "very protective," during an encounter with paparazzi, Gomez says, "I was distracted, and she took me aside and talked to me about who I am and what I represent. I felt safer after that."
Hudgens attributes her ability to deal with daily difficulties, like the paparazzi, to her sense of perspective.
"A sense of knowing I'm part of something bigger than myself has allowed me to enjoy life more. And not worry about the little things. Like paparazzi."
As for the future, Hudgens has a small checklist: "A vintage Mustang, kids and an Oscar," she says.