Growing up in Sandy, Utah, Julianne Hough (pronounced huff) begged to leave home at age 10 to attend a performing-arts school in London to study dance. Her parents, who were also dancers, reluctantly allowed her, and soon she was winning international competitions and demonstrating the laserlike focus that would earn her two Emmy nominations for her choreography on Dancing with the Stars and make her a two-time winner on the dance-reality show. She is also a singer, and her self-titled debut album topped the Billboard Country Albums chart in 2008. The 23-year-old Hough's success in music and TV has largely paved the way to the big screen. After starring in last year's remake of Footloose, she appears alongside a mainly shirtless Tom Cruise in Adam Shankman's new film adaptation of the Broadway musical Rock of Ages, a love story set in 1987 Los Angeles during the height of the Sunset Strip hair-metal scene. At home in L.A., where she hangs out with boyfriend Ryan Seacrest, she took a break to talk with us by phone, so we couldn't tell if she did the entire interview in a plank position or while en pointe. But one thing is clear: Hough doesn't waste a moment. She's got the kind of enthusiasm that's hard not to cheer for, and these days plenty of people are doing just that.
DIMITRI EHRLICH: In Rock of Ages you play a girl who moves to Los Angeles in search of stardom, and in real life you moved to L.A. at the age of 18 in search of stardom. Did you also bring a suitcase full of LPs? Because that would seem to be some impractical packing, especially if you didn't bring a turntable with you.
JULIANNE HOUGH: Well, I was in the generation of CDs, so when I moved to L.A., I think I probably brought my Shania Twain Come on Over CD and that's about it. But trust me, if I lived in the '80s, I would definitely be the one going to the record stores.
EHRLICH: Your character in Rock of Ages is starstruck by Tom Cruise's rock star character. In reality, how did you relate to him on set? Did you actually become buds? Or is there sort of a "Hey, this is Tom Cruise" kind of vibe?
HOUGH: I think my generation will always look at him as Tom Cruise, the movie star. But the thing about Tom is that he's super-cool, and whatever nerves I had going into a scene with him, afterwards he would say how funny it was or what a great job I did. So that really made me feel confident. But at the same time, my first scene with him was when my character, Sherrie, meets him for the first time and he says that she has a perky heart as he's grabbing her chest, so that was definitely pretty real.
EHRLICH: Tom Cruise got to second base with you. What else will it say on your gravestone?
HOUGH: It's kind of great that I can say that now.
EHRLICH: Did your boyfriend, Ryan Seacrest, get jealous at all that you're doing this movie with Tom Cruise?
HOUGH: No, not at all. But he did come on set a couple of times and—
EHRLICH: Did he threaten to wrestle Tom?
HOUGH: He was like, "Wow, this is a little sexy!" There was one scene we did that ended up not making it into the film, but it was a really great dance-and-vocal number—"Rock You Like a Hurricane." It was in the strip club, and I gave Tom a lap dance in the scene. The movie flowed better without it, so I understand why it got edited out, but at the same time, I'm like, "Wait a minute. I got to do that, and it's not even in the movie?"
EHRLICH: Rest assured, that will be in the DVD extras. Rock of Ages kind of reminds us of a time when radio was dominated by sheer white-male testosterone. Do you relate to that kind of white-male aggression in music?
HOUGH: Well, what I love about '80s rock music is the amazing, fantastic melodies. In pop music, it's all about the techno beat to dance to in the club and the repetitiveness, whereas in rock music there is literally, like, balls-to-the-wall singing and playing. I love it.
EHRLICH: Did everyone in the film do their own singing?
HOUGH: Every single person sang every single thing, which was really cool. Alec Baldwin—he sang everything. I mean, even Paul Giamatti had to sing a couple of lines. One thing I love so much about this film is that so many different actors who are so good at what they do came into this a little bit vulnerable and out of their comfort zone, and it brought out so many great things. I feel like everybody was excited and had a lot of energy because it was this new thing they were learning.
EHRLICH: There's one line in the movie when a fellow waitress warns your character that her boyfriend is about to become famous, and she says, "The spotlight doesn't only light them up, it makes us disappear." As an actor working in a world where so many people are striving to be successful, has that issue impacted your relationships? You're in a relationship with a man who also gets his share of time in the spotlight. Did that line kind of resonate with you at all and your experience?
HOUGH: Yeah, I think there are always gonna be challenges and people throwing themselves at you in a nondiscreet way. But it's just so public now that you have to be careful saying hi or giving somebody a hug, because then somebody will turn it into something else. So I think you're always a lot more careful. I started out in a relationship with a guy who wasn't in the business, and there was definitely a resentment thing that kind of happened. In the end we figured we were probably better off apart. As far as my relationship with Ryan goes, we've been really aware of these issues, and we work really hard at maintaining it.
EHRLICH: One of your lines in the film that made me laugh out loud is when you're talking to your boyfriend and you confess that you've been working as a stripper, and he's says, "Well, I'm in a boy band," and you say, "You win." I know you had a conservative upbringing. How did you feel about portraying a stripper? Is it awkward when your father goes to see you in a movie like Rock of Ages?
HOUGH: I think it would be a lot harder for him if it wasn't a musical. If it were a dramatic film where I'm stripping and it's for real—taking off my clothes and doing things. My dad understands that—my family, I should say, understands that—because it's a performance.
EHRLICH: And actually your wardrobe was quite conservative, I thought, in that particular scene.
HOUGH: But for the scene I did with Tom Cruise that got cut out, I was in a bra and underwear, basically giving him a lap dance, so my father will probably like that scene getting cut out.
EHRLICH: You better buy up all the DVDs before he gets them.
HOUGH: But, like I said, my dad understands that this is a profession and it's about work and what I love to do, and as long as I'm sane in the head, then he's okay.
EHRLICH: Dancing with the Stars wound up launching your career. But I understand at some point you had a little bit of trepidation about the show because you wanted to be taken seriously as an actor. When you look back on that fear, do you feel like, Wow that was silly, because it turned out to be such a big platform?
HOUGH: Absolutely. A lot of people don't know this, but when Dancing with the Stars first asked me to be on the show, I said no, because I wanted to act and to be taken seriously. And I thought that being on a reality show would hurt my credibility. But what I've come to realize is that being on that show completely launched my career and gave me a family and a built-in audience. My biggest fear is that people think, Oh, just because she was on Dancing with the Stars, she thinks she can act now. But I've been acting my whole life, which people don't realize. I just haven't had the opportunities that I've had with my dancing.
EHRLICH: You also appeared in Footloose. Do you ever worry about being typecast as a dancer who acts?
HOUGH: I started out dancing on a reality TV show, but always with the intention of making my way over to film. I transitioned into the film world by doing certain things that my fans had been used to seeing me do. My dancing and singing gave me the confidence to act. The movie I just finished with Diablo Cody is a dramatic comedy and I don't dance in that, and the projects that I have coming up now have no musical aspect to them. But I didn't want to do something so totally out of the box at first that people wouldn't get it.
EHRLICH: You were born in a place called Sandy, Utah. Was it coincidence that the original Footloose was filmed near there? Or do you think it was destiny?
HOUGH: It's pretty crazy. We shot ours in Georgia, but the original was shot in Utah. And if you are from Utah, Footloose is like our cultural amazing-ness, you know? We love Footloose. We're very proud of it.
EHRLICH: Tell me about growing up in Utah. With Mitt Romney as the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, America will soon be hearing a lot more about Utah and Mormonism. What are your memories of it? What's your point of view as someone who grew up inside it?
HOUGH: Growing up in Utah and growing up a Mormon are separate things. Utah is so wonderful. My greatest memories of Utah are of always being outdoors. It's a very athletic environment that I think gave me a lot of drive to be fit and live well. As far as being LDS [Latter-day Saints], I think that with any religion, no matter what religion it is, people are going to make their own stereotypes. But you know what, who cares? The thing that I loved about growing up Mormon is that I had morals and standards instilled in me as a kid—like, you need to be a nice person, and a thoughtful person, and if anybody is trying to dog that, then I think that's rude. It's, like, don't you want to raise your kids with that kind of mentality? I mean, I may not be as active in it as some people are, but I think that the church has taught me great life lessons.
EHRLICH: I know people have far more serious problems than being famous, so no one wants to complain, but do you ever blow your stack when you see paparazzi trying to shoot you from a boat hovering off the coast while you're on the beach?
HOUGH: Um, yeah. That recently happened. We were on vacation, and I swear, my boyfriend and I try to keep it as low-key as possible. We don't really go out when we're at home. We don't go to places to get pap'd. The only times we ever get photographed together is when we're on vacation, because we can't really control it, you know? So it looks like we're always on vacation. Over Christmas we were on a friend's boat, and I had gained a little bit of weight while I was on the trip, as you do over Christmas . . .
EHRLICH: Obese! Obese!
HOUGH: Yeah, exactly. So I'm thinking, Okay, if they shoot me right now, all they're going to say is something about my bikini. So I'm like, "I'm going to show them. I'm going to do a frickin' dive off the top of the boat, and then my cool points will go up, and they can't say anything about the weight that I've gained." So I did it. I was like, "Damn right!"
here was one scene . . . in a strip club. My boyfriend did come on set and he was like, ‘wow, this is a little sexy!—Julianne Hough