Witchcraft Meets ‘The Simple Life’: Why Vanessa Hudgens Is Bringing Her Spiritual Journey to TV
Vanessa Hudgens is ushering in a new season: the season of the witch.
Hudgens is known for her triple-threat talents, from acting in “Spring Breakers” to singing in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” to dancing in “Grease Live!” and starring in franchises like Netflix’s “The Princess Switch” and Disney’s “High School Musical.” But her latest project is her most personal yet — she is embarking on a spiritual journey in Salem with her best friend, musician GG Magree, for the unscripted film, “Dead Hot: Season of the Witch.”
“Dead Hot: Season of the Witch” — which premieres April 14 on Tubi — is a true passion project for Hudgens and Magree, who are fascinated with the spirit world and came up with the idea to document their experience together. In the film, the duo set out to Salem, Mass., where they explore witchcraft, ghost hunting and connect with spirits.
“It was a lot more personal than anything I’ve ever done,” Hudgens tells Variety. “I’m not hiding behind a character as I normally do in films — this is me, exploring something that I am very passionate about.”
“I knew it would be extremely personal, and I would be sticking my neck out doing so,” Hudgens continues. “But I’m hoping that it makes other curious people out there to be inspired to open their hearts, minds and soul. Trust their intuition and find a bit more peace in the unknown.”
The creative team behind “Dead Hot” explains that this is not some ghost hunting schtick. Hudgens and Magree are both self-taught students of witchcraft who have been experimenting and connecting with the spirit world for most of their lives. During the pandemic, they spent their quarantine together watching shows about the afterlife, and exploring how ghost hunters, mediums and witches engaged with the spiritual world.
“During 2020, I think we were all looking for ways to better ourselves, to grow and come out of it as better people,” Hudgens says. “I really started to lean into rituals and manifestation. I was actually leading little coven meetings over Zoom with a few other witchy friends. It was such an uplifting community and it had me even more curious about witchcraft. The exploration seemed like a special thing to document and share.”
But after Hudgens and Magree embarked on a ghost hunt that went awry, the two friends realized they needed proper mentorship and training, and so, they had cameras chronicle their pilgrimage to Salem for their masterclass in witchcraft. They first shot an episode of a ghost hunt, but when Hudgens’ and Magree’s curiosity deepened about the spirit world, the production pivoted to focus more on spiritual connection and less on ghost hunting.
“The stigma is quite serious, so we wanted to approach it more in like a friendship and in a light way for people like us that are self-taught,” Magree says of witchcraft.
Julie Pizzi, president of Bunim-Murray Productions, which produced “Dead Hot,” says that the tone of the project isn’t necessarily what you’d expect with witchcraft at the center. Hudgens and Magree “really wanted to live in this space of growth, positivity, love and kindness,” Pizzi says. “To marry that with ghost hunting felt very magical.”
And of course, the journey between the two friends is a ton of fun. “It almost felt like ‘The Simple Life’ meets ghost hunting,” Pizzi says.
“We knew that the way they approached witchcraft was very healthy and positive,” adds executive producer Farnaz Farjam. “We didn’t hinder them or ask them to do anything in any other kind of way than in the way they would normally approach it themselves.”
Hudgens and Magree were determined to approach the genre from a different perspective, highlighting their personal friendship, as well as their connection to their femininity. “Many of the ghost hunting shows are led by men, it was an opportunity to ground this in a really feminine point of view,” says Pizzi. “There is so much power inside each human, and to see two young women really grow and embrace their own abilities and manifesting their own destiny, there’s something really great about grabbing onto your inner wisdom and power. And I don’t think that that’s always encouraged.”
As Hudgens and Magree were preparing for their journey, it became clear that mediums and spiritual advisors would be necessary for the self-taught witches. Pizzi and Farjam tapped the spiritually-gifted producer Leslie Garvin, a producer from “Shark Tank,” who says she has been able to connect with those who have passed since she was eight years old. Garvin joined “Dead Hot” to guide and mentor Hudgens and Magree as they dove deeper into the invisible world.
“We needed somebody with the gift to be with us, to help guide this,” Farjam explains.
Once Garvin joined the team, the entire production felt they were in safe hands. “Leslie was put on this earth to heal and make the world a better place,” Magree raves. “Within meeting her in the first five minutes, I’m talking and just pouring my entire life into her because you can just feel her energy is so pure and so light.”
Garvin says, “The very first moment that I talked to GG and Vanessa prior to going out to Salem, I just fell in love with them immediately. The passion, the excitement, the ability to focus and tune in and their desire to want to grow and learn was palpable.”
But the entire journey wasn’t entirely smooth. As Garvin mentored Hudgens and Magree, they all stumbled upon a series of sensitive moments from connecting with loved ones who have died to being contacted by darker energies. While they experienced harrowing moments, Garvin believes the film proves that “the time is now for women to step into their power and to use their voices.”
Hudgens recognizes that there might be naysayers about her passion for the spirit world. But she hopes that her film is inspiring and empowering for audiences.
“I think when you’re doing something against the grain there will always be some sort of pushback,” Hudgens says. “But the overall message is so empowering that hopefully — skeptic or not — you can walk away feeling a bit more in your own power.”
“Dead Hot” is produced by Bunim-Murray Productions and distributed by Banijay Rights. The film debuts April 14 on Tubi.