Utah-born Julianne Hough is working hard to sharpen her skills as a triple-threat these days. She’s a two-time champion of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” and found success several years ago as a country singer. But lately, she’s focusing hard on honing her talent as an actress.
Making the transition from dancer/singer to motion picture star, it was inevitable scripts for musicals would land on her plate. But even with movies like Burlesque (2010), Footloose (2011), and Rock of Ages (2012) to her credit, Hough told The Seven Sees nothing has been that simple.
“Well, let’s just put it this way, nothing’s ever just landed on my plate,” jokes Hough. “I’ve had to work my little tooshie off, even for the musicals. It’s like people got to know me and discover me as a dancer on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ so to move forward and do things where you’re taken a little bit more seriously, it’s been hard. I love musicals. I will do musicals in the future for sure. But I’ve wanted to do comedy, action, drama. I just like the feeling of learning and growing in each thing that I do.”
And with three musicals under her belt, it was time to expand her education, stepping into the role of Katie for the romantic-thriller Safe Haven, adapted from best-selling author Nicholas Sparks’ book of the same name.
“I had read most of his books,” says Hough. “And when I read the script, I actually didn’t know that is was Nicholas Sparks. I read the script and I was like, ‘Oh, this is a really cool love story, thriller, suspense movie.’ And I love the characters in it. I think that’s what drew me most to Katie is that she’s a fighter, that this was also a story about second chances and not just about a first time love. So, I read the script and I loved it and I found out that is was Nicholas Sparks and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s icing on the cake.'”
Known for his romantic stories over the years like the hugely successful The Notebook, adapted into the 2004 film starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, Sparks’ Safe Haven is directed by Lasse Hallström, who directed another Sparks’ movie, 2010’s Dear John with Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried. For this one, Hallström brings to the screen Sparks’ signature classic romantic tale, uniquely blended with a darker backstory that slowly reveals itself as the movie plays out. It was quite the role for Hough to play Katie, a young woman who arrives in the small coastal town of Southport, North Carolina looking to make a new life for herself after escaping an abusive situation.
“Obviously, it’s a hard thing to play someone who has gone through the past that Katie has. There’s a lot of responsibility,” says Hough. “You want to be able to do it in a way that’s real and relatable to people that go through certain things like that. And not even necessarily as hard core as domestic abuse, but situations where they feel like they can’t get out. There’s obviously that responsibility to do it justice. But then also, this was the first time I’ve done a film where I haven’t had my music, singing, and dancing to rely on, so I was like, ‘Alright, this is gonna be tough, but I know in my heart that I can do it.'”
It also benefits actors to share the screen with someone as giving as Josh Duhamel, Hough says. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of pressure when playing a romantic couple in a Nicholas Sparks movie.
“I think with this kind of movie, you know there has to be real chemistry, otherwise it’s just phoned in and it’s not going to move anybody. You have to be available,” she explains. “And I definitely was available for him. At least I tried to be. I hope he feels the same way. But he definitely was available. You go in and do you job and make it as real and as authentic as possible. I mean, I’m the demographic of people who come to watch these movies and if I didn’t feel like Josh and Julianne had chemistry, I’d be pissed.”
With Safe Haven opening for Valentine’s Day, the movie seems like the obvious choice for date night. But, as Hough points out, there’s something here for both the women and men in the audience.
“I think that women will be pleasantly surprised by how different it is, but still has the elements of the Nicholas Sparks through-pattern that he has in all of his others,” she says. “But I think the guys are definitely – you know it’s just not one sappy thing after another – there’s some changes. It’s more patient, this movie, I think. It’s more about the real, raw relationship rather than the making of a relationship.”
And it’s likely men and women alike will get caught up in the thriller aspect of Safe Haven as well, watching the mystery of Katie’s dark past unfold by the end of the movie. Rated PG-13, the movie runs 115 minutes and also stars Cobie Smulders and David Lyons (NBC’s “Revolution”).