Dancer, singer and now actress, Julianne Hough says she still has plenty of ambition. Film critic Tony Earnshaw finds out why.
Just 24 and with an impressive career already under her belt as a dancer and country singer, Julianne Hough’s fresh-faced combo of blonde hair and blue eyes has also made her a popular new addition to movies in the last three years.
She’s described as “a triple threat” – a performer equally at home as hoofer, chanteuse and thesp. In London’s Soho Hotel for the British premiere of Safe Haven, just her fourth film, she is bright, bubbly, giggly and garrulous.
Mention of the term triple threat precipitates a gushing if sweet recap of her short life so far.
“I heard that term when I was very young and I aspired to be that,” says the showbiz veteran who has been performing since she was 10.
“To me when I think of movie stars I think of the golden age in Hollywood, Ginger Rogers and Doris Day and Judy Garland. They all danced and sang and acted. To me just to even have that association as a triple threat is beyond [cool].”
Her entertainment background involves a globetrotting existence that includes studying in Utah, in Las Vegas and at the Italia Conti Academy in London. It was during a sojourn in the UK that she worked as an extra on the first Harry Potter movie.
But it was as a dancer on Dancing with the Stars that Hough, aged just 19, got her break. There followed an album in 2008 and then a movie, a remake of the ’80s classic Footloose. Suddenly she had arrived.
The history of Hollywood is littered with the crash-and-burn stories of actors who yearned to sing, dancers who longed to act and singers who wanted to expand their range. Hough can genuinely do the lot. How does she prefer to be known?
“That is a good question. Most of the time when people ask me what my favourite thing is I say I can’t decide. But I would like to say… oh man, at this moment in time – it may change – I am an actress who sings because this is the way I want my career to head, and do films.
“The music will always be there but that’s not a priority right now. Is that an answer? I have no idea!”
Her entrée into movies was via song-and-dance numbers. She even survived the mess that was Rock of Ages. Next up is Paradise, written and directed by Diablo (Juno) Cody, with Hough as a burns victim. In between there is Safe Haven, from the novel by Nicholas Sparks.
Safe Haven represents a dramatic stretch, as it is subtly shaded with light and dark. Hough plays a runaway who may have been involved in a murder.
There’s no singing or dancing, but there was the chance to stretch some improvisational muscles for director Lasse Halstrom.
She describes Halstrom’s faith in her as “very freeing and nerve-wracking”. After four films where, she claims, she was told how to do everything, being trusted to perform was “awesome”.
“I did feel like I was hired to be an actor in this film. I’ve never had more confidence finishing a movie to start the next one. I don’t feel stupid anymore. I feel like I’ve figured it out now.”
Our interview took place just a few short days before the Academy Awards and so Hough’s comments about Jennifer Lawrence, best actress winner for Silver Linings Playbook, exhibit impressive prescience.
“I really wanna be as versatile as possible. I wanna try to do comedy. Jennifer Lawrence is super hot right now so she’s a perfect example of doing really great credited indies and then a big box office thing like The Hunger Games. Then doing something like Silver Linings [Playbook]. There’s just so much range.
“That’s what I aspire to. Not about trying to do a dark role or character because that’s gonna show a different side. It’s about looking at somebody as great as Meryl Streep who has played many different roles and characters. It’s not about as dark as you go or as funny as you can be.”
In Paradise (previously Lamb of God) she plays a sheltered Christian whose faith is tested following a plane crash and who heads to Las Vegas for a hedonistic blow-out.
If Hough is seeking a new direction, this may well be it.
“Two-thirds of her body is burned. That’s what the whole movie is about – this outside appearance and how that changes you. And yet they only would allow me to have burns on my neck,” she complains.
“We only were allowed to do prosthetics on that part of the body; I was covered up for everything.
“You want to go so far into it, make it as real… but then there’s all those other studio guys. And of course that’s what they do: they know what works and what people wanna see.
“They thought it would be too jolting to have [it] on the face. You would see me each day, once I got comfortable, trying to move it up as far as I could.”
Dirtying down is a common practice in Hollywood. She’ll have to forget about that if she wants to be a real star.
Safe Haven (12A) is on nationwide release.
Julianne’s road to stardom
At age 12 with Mark Ballas and her brother Derek Hough, she was in the pop trio 2B1G.
Aged 15 she won two Latin dance championships at the Blackpool Dance Festival.
Her skills on Dancing with the Stars led to two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Choreography.
She released her self-titled country album in 2008. A second album, Wildfire, remains unreleased.
Not counting the Harry Potter film she has appeared in five movies: Burlesque, Footloose, Rock of Ages, Safe Haven and Paradise. Her next project is Blackpool, a drama set around competitive ballroom dancing.