After conquering the ballroom on Dancing with the Stars and soaring to the top of the country music charts with her singing, of course Julianne Hough would also want to try her hand at acting on the big screen. And, what better way for her to do so then as the female lead in director Craig Brewer’s take on the 1984 classic Footloose. As Ariel, the rebellious preacher’s daughter, Hough got to utilize her known talent as a dancer, while drawing from her own experiences growing up in a religious family where she had to fight for attention among her brothers and sisters. What results is a performance that not only can she be proud of, but that will also establish her as a true triple threat.
At the film’s press day, Julianne Hough sat down with Collider for this exclusive interview about the challenge of starting from scratch with her acting career, her desire to fight for the role because it was something she wanted to show people that she could do, how much she really identified with Ariel, the instant chemistry that she had with her co-star Kenny Wormald, and how important dancing is, in her own life. She also talked about how incredible the experience of making Rock of Ages was, how excited she is to work with Diablo Cody for Lamb of God, and how she plans to start a production company with her brother, Derek Hough. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Here’s the film synopsis:
When Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) is transplanted from Boston to the small southern town of Bomont, he experiences a heavy dose of culture shock. A few years prior to his arrival, the community was rocked by a tragic accident that killed five teenagers after a night out, and Bomont’s local councilmen and the beloved Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid) responded by implementing ordinances that prohibit loud music and dancing. Not one to bow to the status quo, Ren challenges the ban, revitalizing the town and falling in love with the minister’s troubled daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough) in the process.
JULIANNE HOUGH: I love it! Honestly, challenging myself is my favorite thing to do in the world. Yeah, starting from scratch somewhere is always a little nerve-wracking, but I feel like when it’s scary, I should probably do it. A lot of people don’t know that when I first moved out to L.A., it was to act, and Dancing with the Stars fell into place. I know everybody has discovered me as a dancer, but hopefully this will be the chance that I’ve been looking for, for people to see me as an actress.
What was it about this role that made you really want to fight for this, especially with all the changes this film went through?
HOUGH: It was a long, long process, and I was attached when it was a musical. I was excited because it was a movie, and I was attached to it. I thought, “Oh, this will just get my foot in the door for the films I really want to do later on, down the line.” Then, people started falling out, and Kenny Ortega left, and then Paramount decided to put it on hold for a minute, so I was like, “Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t do this. This is not feeling right. It’s not the right script. It’s not like the original. The script is kind of corny.” And then, Craig Brewer got attached and rewrote it, and I read the script and was blown away. I was like, “First, it’s like the original. People aren’t going to get mad. Second, this will actually show a range that I can do, on the acting side. It’s not really about my dancing.” So, I basically had to fight for the role, for the second time. I had to prove to Craig that I was Ariel, and I did, so here we are. The super-fans of the original Footloose will not be disappointed ‘cause they’ll see the things that they loved and remembered. But then, the generation that hasn’t seen it, if they never knew this was a remake, then they would think it was a fresh movie. I think we did a lot of explaining from the original, and set the tone at the beginning, with the crash.
HOUGH: I relate to Ariel a lot. The conversation that she has with her father, at the very end of the movie, where she says she doesn’t want him to be disappointed in her anymore, is a conversation I remember having with my dad. I relate to how she wants attention. I grew up in a very heavily religious community. There were five kids running around, and I was the baby, and you have to do something to get attention, so I definitely acted out. I was a good kid, though. At the time, it seemed really bad, but I look back now and I’m like, “I was really good.” I’m not like her because I’m actually really worldly, I think. I lived in London on my own, for five years, when I was 10, so I’m not so small town.
Did this feel like the perfect way to satisfy your fans with being able to see you dance while really seeing what you’re capable of, as an actress?
HOUGH: It’s a little bit of both, yeah. Honestly, I think this is the perfect movie that I could have done for breaking into the world. I’m not stepping out of my fans’ comfort zone too much, ‘cause you still see me dance, but it does give me room to actually act. It’s not just a dance movie with no storyline. That was great. I’m really excited about that.
Is it more challenging to do choreography that has to come across as spontaneous?
HOUGH: Sometimes, yeah. I had to tone it down a few times. Craig was like, “You know, you’re supposed to be 17 from Bomont, and not a professional dancer, right?” I was like, “I know! But, once the music comes on, I just want to dance!” But, I did tone it down for a few things.
How was it to work with Kenny Wormald and establish the relationship between your characters? Was it nice to work with someone you didn’t have to teach how to dance?
HOUGH: Yes! Well, we didn’t actually know each other at all, until his final audition. We got to know each other as we were shooting the movie, and I’m so glad. We’re both up-and-coming actors. We’ve never really done this before. And we’re both dancers, so we get each other. There was an instant chemistry and connection because of that, and then we also had each other’s backs. We really both want each other to do well and to succeed. We’re happy for each other, and we’re happy for the movie, as a whole. It was fun. We had a great time. It’s so politically correct to say, “Oh, we had a great time on set!,” but honestly, it was the best set that I’ve been on. It was so easy and everybody was calm. The cast was so friendly towards each other. It was all young kids. It was like we were all at summer camp. It was awesome!
HOUGH: It definitely steps your game up a little bit because you feel like, “Oh, I don’t want to suck in front of them.” Dennis talked to Craig and said, “I always do my best, but these kids are really good. I didn’t know what to expect, with them being dancers, but I’ve got to step my game up a little bit.” It was fun to feel that, and even hear that. Both of them were so wonderful, and just really complimentary. They really helped build my confidence, and let me really perform. They’re great. They’re just wonderful.
Did you have a moment on set where you paused for a minute and thought, “Wow, we actually are making Footloose here”?
HOUGH: It wasn’t when we were on set. We would shoot during the week, while the dancers were rehearsing for the upcoming number. On a Saturday, both Kenny and I came in and they showed us the Footloose dance, and we were standing on chairs so that we could see the whole thing. I got chills, and I got a little emotional and teary-eyed. I looked over, at the same time Kenny looked at me, and we both had tears in our eyes and were like, “Oh, my god, this is amazing! We’re doing Footloose!” It was pretty cool. We texted Craig Brewer, because he was scouting something, and we were like, “Oh, my god, we’re doing Footloose!,” and he was like, “No shit!” It was funny.
HOUGH: Honestly, I don’t know what I would do, if I didn’t have dancing in my life. It’s all I really know. From when I was born, my dad would dance with me in his arms, and I would watch my siblings dancing around in the living room. I just grew up with that. That was just my life. It’s just a part of who I am. I’d feel a little bit dead inside, if I didn’t have dancing. It’s such a way of expression and exercise and life and love. You laugh, when you’re being corny and dorky-dancing. It’s everything. It gives you discipline, definitely, and a work ethic. I worked my butt off when I lived in London, from 10 to 15. It’s sometimes really tough. I was not the best dancer when I moved to London, and I became it when I really focused and worked hard. It was tough, but it was great. And, it taught me how to be professional. When I go on a movie set now, people are like, “Man, you have the best work ethic I’ve ever seen.” It’s because of that.
What was it like to have the experience of doing something like Rock of Ages, and getting to work with Tom Cruise?
HOUGH: It’s incredible! I’ve been really lucky. I know this does not happen every day, so I definitely don’t take it for granted. I did my first film with Cher, and then Footloose, and then I got to do a film with Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Paul Giamatti. It’s pretty incredible. And, I almost didn’t do it because I was like, “I don’t know if I want to do another musical. I want to branch out.” But then, I found out they were all doing it and I was like, “Okay, maybe I should do one more!” They all are seasoned actors, and they all changed a little bit to play these roles. They were all a little bit intimidated by the next person, so by the time we all came together, there were no egos anywhere. Everybody was wanting to learn from everybody, from all different directions. It was really fascinating and really cool.
HOUGH: They were awesome! I love ‘80s rock songs. If you listen to most of today’s country pop music, they’re all basically ‘80s rock songs – all the melodies. I loved them! I was really excited about the “More than Words” and “Heaven” mash-up that we did. That was really good. It almost got cut out of the scene because it was slow, but we kept it, and now it’s the best part of the movie, apparently. We’re really excited about that. “Rock You Like A Hurricane” was a number that I did with Tom [Cruise]. And, Mary J. Blige and I got to sing “Harden my Heart” and “Shadows of the Night” combined together. That was unreal! We’ve become such good friends. I love Mary so much. It was just a weird experience, but weird good. I was like, “How?! What am I doing?! I’m dressing up like an ‘80s girl, on set with Tom Cruise, and I’m best friends with Mary J. Blige now, and my mom was in a scene with Catherine Zeta-Jones!” It’s the weirdest thing ever, but the greatest thing ever.
You’re a champion dancer, a country singer on the top of the charts, and a lead actress in a movie. Do you have any idea what you want to do next?
HOUGH: Oh, my gosh! I’m just gonna stay on this path, right now. It’s crazy. If I could do everything in the world, I would. I’ve said that since I was eight years old. I was like, “I just wanna do everything!” But, I can’t, and I can’t do all of them very well. So, I’ve got a lot of momentum with the acting right now, and I’m focusing on that. I’m doing another film with Diablo Cody (called Lamb of God), coming up in the beginning of the year, so I’m going to focus on that. And, I have a couple other things in the works. And then, my brother (Derek Hough) and I have a lot of ideas, and he’s so unbelievable behind the camera, so we’re going to start our own production company soon and just play.
Are you excited to take on the acting role for Lamb of God, where you don’t have any of your familiar crutches to fall back on?
HOUGH: It’s amazing! If it’s something scary, I should probably do it, and it is scary. Sometimes it might not work, but you’ve gotta just go full-force ahead and do it, and take those risks and challenges. It’s a little scary, but I love it!