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The Fretts on Film Interview: Julianne Hough

February 11, 2013

If you’ve read my teeth-pulling interview with Bruce Willis, you know that movie stars aren’t always easy to talk to. Unless they’re Julianne Hough. The charming Dancing With the Stars alum stretches with her most dramatic role to date in Safe Haven, a twisty weeper based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, that opens opposite A Good Day to Die Hard on Valentine’s Day. I spoke with Hough for the New York Daily News and found her to be surprisingly thoughtful and articulate. Here’s the unedited transcript of our chat.

How did you get involved with Safe Haven originally?

I actually went in to audition with Josh pretty early on, right when he got attached to it. I actually had the audition with him and Marty [Bowen] and Tucker [Tooley] in the room, and then Lasse [Hallstrom] was actually on the iPad on Skype in Bedford, NY. So it was a really interesting audition because I felt very restricted like I couldn’t move around the room because he wouldn’t see me or he wouldn’t feel the chemistry in the room or see my eyes—you know, certain things. So I remember leaving and being like, ‘Oh man! That did not go as I wanted.’ I felt like there was definite chemistry between Josh and I, but again, it was this battle of having it go through the screen. So I called up and they had already seen me and that was that and I was like, ‘Absolutely not. I really want to have another audition—please, please, please—I was begging, and I want Lasse to be in the room and see,’ so finally, after begging, they had me come back and Lasse was there and I ended up changing my hair a little bit and my makeup and went for it—it was so much more free. It was cool because you could see that the second time I saw Josh, our chemistry was even better so we knew that no matter what happens, if we did get this, our chemistry would be good.

I’ve never heard of an iPad audition. That’s a new one! Where you a fan of Nicholas Sparks’ movies or books before this?

A Walk to Remember was the first book and movie that I saw of his, and it was my favorite for sure. I am the girl—I am the demographic who come to see his movies—so I was really excited to do this movie because of that, but also Lasse Hallstrom is the most prestigious director I’ve worked with thus far so that was a major reason why I wanted to do this film because I know, ‘All right, there’s no singing, there’s no dancing, it’s just dramatic…’

There’s a little dancing…

Yeah, but come on. That’s all like falling over each other, and is more about the charm, rather than the actual moves. But I knew that regardless of how well this movie does or what not, I knew I was going to grow as an actress by doing this kind of film and by working with Lasse, and that was the most important thing to me.

And you felt ready for that? This was something you were seeking out?

Absolutely. I mean, I don’t know when you’re ever ready for something. If you’re ready, then you probably already have done it. My theme is always, if I’m scared to do something, I should probably do it, and it ends up being my favorite thing that I’ve done or the most proud I’ve been of a project, and this really is. I think there’s a part of me that feels there’s still some proving to do, that I can be in this space in this entertainment world, and not just the dancing or singing, but the acting world. And I think also proving to me, too. I think as the outside looking in, I guess I look confident and positive, but there’s definitely insecurities where I’m just faking my way through this and hopefully nobody figures me out! But doing this movie gave me the confidence that I have because I’ve never felt so trusted from a director that the reason why I was hired was for my acting.

julianne-hough-josh-duhamel-lgSo was the chemistry with Josh instant? How do you account for that? Is it just something that happens or it doesn’t? Or do you have to work on it?

I think there’s definitely—when we first met each other—I had met him a couple of times with Fergie at different events, and he’s just got this great, open soul and I know it’s authentic with him. There’s no pretense with him. It’s all what you see is what you get. And that’s exactly who I am. I think going into this movie, we both had the same goal, like, ‘We know what kind of movie this is, we want people to feel the love that these two people have for each other,’ so knowing that, we had the same goal in mind, and when you have the same goal, you kind of just naturally do it without trying. It’s just what we both wanted. And by the way, he’s not that hard to look at [laughing].

And how does your boyfriend Ryan Seacrest feel about all of this? Has he seen the movie? Did he cry?

He has not seen the movie yet. I don’t want him to see it until the premiere because I think it’s better when you see it with an audience. My whole family will be there so if he gets a little freaked out by the love scene, I can have them to fall back on [laughing]. What’s great about both Josh and my significant others, if you call them that, is that they’re both in the industry, doing different things, but they understand it. And they both want us to succeed in what we’re doing, and this is the name of the game. This is what happens.

So you’re coming out on Valentine’s Day. Obviously it’s a date movie—I won’t say a chick flick, but it’s playing to that demographic. How do you feel like couples are going to decide between you and let’s say, Die Hard, to see on Valentine’s Day?

Well, let me just put it this way—if the guy knows his lady, he’s going to really respect her and wants the date to be about her, then they’re going to go see Safe Haven over Die Hard [laughing].

I think that’s wise.

By the way, I gotta say, guys will be genuinely surprised. It’s not just all sappy crying and kissing—it’s got suspense, it’s got thriller. It’s more about second chances than first love gushiness. I like that part.

MV5BMTg3Mjk4MjU3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjEzMTEwOQ@@._V1._SX640_SY427_How was Lasse Hallstrom? Was he how you expected him to be based on his body of work and reputation?  What’s his style like?

Well, before I had met him, and I had been a fan of his and I had seen his work, I had no idea what to expect, but I obviously knew that there would be some kind of quirkiness about him because of what he brings to his films like human behavior and the awkwardness and just those moments of realness. But I didn’t realize how calm and how—I wouldn’t say spacey because he’s very much there when he is there—but he just enjoys every second at every moment, and he tends to wander. He’d wander off and we’d be like, ‘Where’s Lasse?’ But he just brings out the best in his actors. I think that because he’s so open, I think that the scary part was that he doesn’t give you a lot of direction like, ‘You should do this, you should do that.’ It’s more like, ‘Oh no, you can do whatever you want.’ So at first, it was like well, I’ve never experienced that. Usually I’m told what to do. But that’s his method—by not telling you what to do, he’s actually telling you what to do because it’s helping you find those moments and create something that’s so authentic and real.

How was it shooting down South in the summer?

It was pretty brutal, especially in the woods because there was no breeze and it was hot and the trees and the ticks and the alligators and everything. But once we got towards the water, it was just heaven. Just stunning and gorgeous, and the people were incredible—like the locals—and they would make us food all the time, and we’d sit on their porch and chat and eat their food. And the pumpkin house, as we liked to call it—the orange house in the movie—they were really there all summer, and they would bring batches and batches of cookies like almost every day for not just the cast, but the crew members and everyone.

What was the biggest challenge for you in the movie? I know you’ve talked some about your past that you draw on for the role. Was that the toughest part? 

Actually, no. That stuff was—I wouldn’t say easy, but it was easy to draw from. I think the hardest part for me was you know, Katie’s very guarded, she’s got her guard up and she doesn’t want to let anybody in. So how do you make that girl with all of those things interesting? And how do you get Alex to fall in love with her? How is he going to fall in love with a girl that’s completely guarded? How is he going to see her? So that was hard for me to find the balance of being guarded enough and having that wall up enough, but still breaking a little bit so that you could see who she really is on the inside, and have that love build. So that was the hardest part for me.

gtye_julianne_derek_hough_dr_110211_ssh-250x193Do you still keep up with Dancing With the Stars? Do you still watch your brother?

Yeah! I still watch my brother.

Do you vote for him?

I actually am terrible—I haven’t voted since I was on the show. Actually, I don’t even think I voted when I was on the show.

No? You didn’t vote for yourself?

I did not! [laughing]

Well, you won anyway. so there you go.

Exactly. But anyways, yeah, I watch it. Last season was really fun with the all stars.

Would you ever go back as a star, as opposed to a pro?

That would be so unfair [laughing]. I would kill everyone! No, I’m just kidding [laughing]. No, I doubt I would go back. But I definitely owe where I’m at to the show, and to the fans, really, of Dancing With the Stars who have followed me from the show to what I’m doing now, and have always been loyal to me.

So is acting your top priority now? Are you still doing music? Where are you finding the balance?

It’s hard to do all of these things at the same time, and to do them all very well. So I think you pick your battles and right now, I have some momentum, and I’m really, really enjoying this path that I’m taking with the films, but it’s not to say that I’m done with the music. What’s kind of been great is setting aside being an artist and just now listening to music and what’s out there today—what is my style? What is my taste? On the top radio, your listening to country songs, you’re listening to Mumford and Sons—there’s so many different types of genres being played on the top 40 that you can really create your own genre right now. That’s kind of where I am with figuring out who I am as an artist.

tumblr_lt8p4wzArb1qgjvrso1_500I didn’t realize that you had done acting before Dancing With the Stars. My daughter, Olive, who is 11, is going to be obsessed with the fact that you were in the first Harry Potter movie. That must have been so cool at that age to be at Hogwarts!

Yeah, it was pretty awesome, I’m not gonna lie, it was kind of a big deal [laughing]. Being in Harry Potter was the highlight of my life—no [laughing]. Honestly, it was cool because I was 10 years old, I was living in London and I’m one of the Gryffindor students, and you can see me twice in the movie! That’s kind of my claim to fame when I was 10 years old.

You should freeze frame that. So it seems like you’ve set out to make this transition by drawing on the musical and the dancing backgrounds in the first few movies after Dancing With the Stars. Is that the way you approached Burlesque and Footloose and Rock of Ages—like, ‘If I ease my way into this in a way that people are comfortable with, and then I can push the boundaries a little bit after that’?

Yeah, I think so. I think that, again, I’ve been really fortunate to have fans that have followed me from day 1 from Dancing With the Stars to my music to film now, and I think that if I went and did Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as my first film, I don’t know how those fans would have thought about it [laughing]. But I think that it was obviously stepping 15% outside of the box as what people had discovered me as, but then also easing my way in for comfort and I don’t want to go above my head and think that I can do Girl With the Dragon Tattoo at this point of my career. I think that I’m taking the right steps and into more challenging roles, and eventually, I want to be doing really challenging roles that push me so hard that I don’t think I can do it and I’m petrified, but I’m gonna do it because I do believe in myself. Even though some things might be hard that I’ve done, I still believe that I can do it so I want to just keep that going and keep growing, and finding things to do that push me.

julianne-hough-nola-brandI don’t know much about the Diablo Cody movie that you’re working on, but it sounds like that’s going to be pushing you even more. Is that the most challenging thing that you’ve done? Based on what I read, it sounds like it’s a little edgy.

Yeah, it is a little edgy. Her writing style—going from this movie where a lot of it was improvised to what her movie was, which was very specific writing and tone. And also, my character, Lamb, in that movie she’s 21 years old and kind of a smart-ass, kind of like a know-it-all. But at the same time, she’s so naïve that she’s almost like a 15 year old. So there was this young, innocent, know-it-all who has been really tragically changed. She’s got 2/3 of her body that’s been burned from a plane accident and now she’s trying to figure out how to move on with her life. That was really tough to do because there is some vulnerability and wanting to be taken care of, but then at the same time, you’re so sick of people taking care of you, and to stop looking at you like you’re different. So it was a battle. I haven’t seen it yet so I have no idea how it is, but I think Russell was really great in it too. He showed a different side of himself, too. It wasn’t just the Russell Brand that we know so it was very charming and sweet.

And there’s a religious theme to it, too. I know you have a religious background so was that a concern for you to work with that kind of material?

You know, I think that for the religious communities that are around the world who see what this movie is about, they might be like, ‘Oh my god! She renounces God in church,’ but once you actually see the movie or read the script or whatever, it’s not even about the church. It’s about finding who you are, and not finding it through an organized religion, but kind of finding it through your own personal relationship with God. I think that any religion would say that you have to have a personal relationship with God, regardless of your community.

What’s your favorite romantic movie? When you do get Ryan to sit down on the couch, which I assume is not very often, what’s the movie that you watch that is the most romantic to you?

A Walk to Remember was one of my favorite movies growing up. But anything with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. I was a huge fan of Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. But I also love Love Actually—there’s a lot of great movies.

So you really are the target demographic for this movie?

I am! [laughing]

Do you think Julianne Hough’s got what it takes to be a movie star? Post a comment!

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