Zack Snyder Transforming ‘High School Musical’ Star Vanessa Hudgens Into A ‘Sucker Punch’ Badass

Director Zack Snyder, the eye-popping filmmaker behind “300” and “Watchmen,” has hired none other than Vanessa Hudgens to star in his next action flick, “Sucker Punch.” But without any real action-hero experience, was it just a matter of assuming the singing/dancing “High School Musical” star can do anything that’s physically demanding if she’s already twirled around a dance floor with Troy Bolton?

“No, I didn’t even look at it that way at first,” Snyder explained, echoing Hudgens’ own excitement for the film about a group of institutionalized young girls using fantasy to escape. “She rehearsed, she did the audition for the scene. I wasn’t sure at first – [the casting people] were like ‘Oh, Vanessa’s coming’ and I was ‘Oh, okay – that sounds cool’ but I didn’t know what to think.”

“Then I saw the tape and I literally went ‘Wow, she’s good,’” Snyder recalled. “She’s really good. Then I talked to her about what she’d have to do.”

What Hudgens has to do is join co-stars Emily Browning, Jena Malone, Jamie Chung and Abbie Cornish in intense physical training. And then put her “HSM” past behind her as she kicks some ass, King Leonidas-style.

“You’re going to see her shooting machine guns, fighting, beating the sh-t out of people,” Snyder, who has Blu-ray releases coming for the action-packed “Watchmen” and “300” in the weeks to come, revealed. “It’s funny – we sat her down for her physical evaluation, and she was really athletic. She’s a dancer, so all the choreography is gonna be fun for her.”

“It’ll allow her to stretch herself and do whatever she wants, and not be too exposed by the movie – but also, on the other hand, do things that people have never seen her do,” he added, saying that since Hudgens isn’t the film’s main star, she’ll have enough freedom to experiment a bit. “She has a big part, but she’s not the center of the movie.”

It also didn’t hurt Hudgens that Snyder knew casting her would make him, like, the coolest dad ever. “My daughter is about to turn 16… I have another daughter who’s 14; Eli is 12 and Autumn is 12,” the filmmaker said with a grin. “They love ‘High School Musical.’ They try and be cool about [their dad hanging out with Vanessa]; they try and be like ‘Yeah, whatever.’ But the truth is: They’re really into it.” Shooting for “Sucker Punch” will start soon, with a 2011 release currently in Snyder’s sights.

Do you think Hudgens has what it takes to be an action hero? Or will she always first and foremost be Gabriella from “HSM”?