Julianne Hough discusses Safe Haven

Actress Julianne Hough discusses her role in the Nicholas Sparks adaptation Safe Haven, opening in theaters February 14

Julianne Hough's wide-ranging talents were first put on display as a dancer in shows like Show Me the Money and the ABC reality juggernaut Dancing with the Stars. It wasn't long before the silver screen came calling, as she landed roles in music-themed projects Burlesque, Footloose, and Rock of Ages. Julianne Hough's new drama Safe Haven gives fans both a glimpse at her dramatic acting chops, and a Nicholas Sparks adaptation that isn't just a straight-up romance.

The actress portrays Katie, a troubled young woman who flees from Boston to start fresh in a peaceful North Carolina town. When she finally starts to let her guard down, and gets closer with a local shopkeeper (Josh Duhamel), her dangerous past comes back to haunt her. I recently had the chance to speak with this radiant actress over the phone about her role in this romance/thriller hybrid, arriving in theaters February 14.

Here's what she had to say.

Were you always actively looking for more dramatic roles like this? Or did this just come along at the right time for you?

Julianne Hough: I was actively pursuing things that weren't musical, even before I shot Footloose and Rock of Ages. It's timing, I think. It's what people want to see you in. I think it's stepping outside of the box of who you are and who your fans know you as. it all came together that way. But also, you can never tell what your next project is going to be, how you're going to feel about something. This one came along, and I didn't even know it was a Nicholas Sparks book until after I read the script. You can kind of feel the elements of what he brings to it, but there was such a sense of danger, and a bit more of a mature and dark side to the story. I was just really drawn to the story and the character and I was excited that (director) Lasse Hallström was attached. I knew that whatever project I would do next, I just wanted to work with a really amazing director and grow as an actress, regardless of how well a movie does or not. This is just kind of like icing on the cake, for all of the other reasons.

It's interesting that you didn't know this was a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. When I saw it, I didn't expect a Nicholas Sparks adaptation to open like that. It was a very pleasant surprise, but it kind of threw me. It was great to see those other levels, aside from the romance that you expect. It was great to watch.

Julianne Hough: Well, thank you. Yeah, I think that's what we're looking for. That sort of familiarity is great to have in this movie of romance and love and being swept up, but it's fun to have a different take on it, and experiment with different things and push the audience's intelligence, to have this thriller element but still have the same emotion and draw to the love story.

I was talking with Lasse and Nicholas before about how realistic Katie and Alex's relationship was. It didn't hit these certain beats you see in movies, and I almost thought, for a bit, that it was dragging out, but then I realized it was just a more realistic take. Was that one of the draws as well, how this relationship unfolds?

Julianne Hough: Yeah. You know what I loved so much about this movie? It feels like an old-fashioned movie. We're not shoving the romance down somebody's throat, waiting for the next thing to happen. It's a very patient movie. It's all about the realness. It's not about first love, and the romance that comes with it. It's about figuring out if this is the right thing for Katie to open up to Alex and jeopardize him and his family's safety. Is this going to be weird for his children, to have another woman in his life? These are things that happen in real life, and it takes years, sometimes, for people to move past that. In the final cut of the movie, they actually moved the love scene up, after the second date. I'm like, 'Oh, she's a little hussy.' But it works. It definitely has a slow, real pace to the movie, rather than an in-your-face movie moment.

I was really impressed with the child actors, Mimi (Kirkland) and Noah (Lomax) as Lexie and Josh. These kids really knocked it out of the park. I also heard you all had a couple of weeks together in the actual town to get to know each other. Can you talk about the process of meeting these kids and working with them?

Julianne Hough: I'm just born to be a mom. That's what I've wanted my whole life. Being around kids is super easy for me. I have 17 nieces and nephews. I love being around kids. It helps when they're as nice, and fun, and unbelievably charming as these two were. We were having so much fun, going to the beach, playing games on set. The joy that happens to me when Mimi runs up to me after I haven't seen her for one night, she runs up and straddles me and says 'I missed you,' nothing is better than that. They were amazing, and Lasse is so good with kids. He brings out those magical, behavioral moments. They were so cute. That scene where we first meet and she asks, 'You're going to paint the floor?' that was one of her first days and she had everything mapped out, how she was going to say her lines. We get in there and Lasse goes, 'OK, forget about the script. Say whatever you want.' She was like, 'Really?' It makes you realize that acting is play time, make believe, and you just get to do it for fun. As kids, that was just so liberating for them. For us, it was like, 'Oh, crap. This is scary' (Laughs).

This may sound odd to ask if it was 'fun' to act so terrified in those darker scenes, but did you relish that chance to show that other side of this tormented housewife?

Julianne Hough: Absolutely. Taking away the actual emotional side, the physical side was fun for me. They had people there to do some of the more physical work, but I'm like, 'No, I'm a dancer. I know how to fall. I know how to do choreography. Let me do it. This is fun for me.' I did do all my own stunt work. The emotional side wasn't about how hard it was, it was more about the pressure of responsibility I had to make sure it was as believable and as honest as I could make it. Unfortunately, this is a big issue that happens today, and, for people who are watching it, how bad their situation may be or how not so bad it may be, to be able to relate to it and know at the end of the day that everyone deserves to be happy and have a second chance, that was the goal for me. The hardest part for me on this movie was playing a character who is guarded, who doesn't allow anybody in, and is very mysterious. How do you play that, but still be interesting and make the guy fall in love with you? That's a hard thing to play. It was finding those little moments where she breaks a little bit, and you can see her heart and her soul.

Can you talk a bit about shooting in Southport? I know this was a city Nicholas was always familiar with and he always wanted to set a novel in. There are so many movies that are shot for something else, it's shot in New Orleans but set in Los Angeles. It's cool to see a movie actually going to the town that the author envisioned it in.

Julianne Hough: Exactly. For us, when you're auditioning for things, it's the worst. It sucks. You go in, and you're in this little room with carpet on the floor and you're having to do things that are just so uncomfortable that aren't in that setting. When you go to shoot this movie, and you're in Southport, they literally built the general store where the general store was years ago. It's kind of magical, because you feel like you're from the town and you get to experience it with the people there. It was wonderful.

I was wondering if there's anything you can say about the Untitled Diablo Cody Project. Was there a title they were kicking around when they were shooting that? Is there anything you can say about the character you play?

Julianne Hough: Yeah. I haven't seen the movie yet, but it was a really hard balance for me. It was nothing like this movie. This movie, she's a lot more mature. Lamb, who I play, she's 21 and kind of a know-it-all, but, at the same time, she's very, very naive. She's almost like a 15-year-old child, experiencing things for the first time. It was a tough thing to do, playing a burn survivor who was burned over two-thirds of her body from a plane accident. That changes your outside appearance, and it changes your soul. That affects how people treat you, and how you treat yourself, and finding out who you are is forced upon you because of that. It's definitely a different directing and writing style as well. Diablo (Cody)'s writing style is very particular. Then to come to this movie and have it pretty much be whatever we wanted (Laughs), it was very different, but they were both challenging in different ways.

Was there a lot of makeup work you had to go through for the burns?

Julianne Hough: I did, yeah. My character is a Christian evangelist, so I had the long skirt and a lot of clothing, but I also had compression garments on, which burn survivors wear. You could see a little bit on my face and my neck, that I went through every single day, but certain shots had more. It was pretty crazy.

Is there anything you're working on now you can talk about?

Julianne Hough: Yeah. I'm attached to a movie called Time and a Half. Ol Parker, who directed Now Is Good and he wrote The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, he's directing and doing rewrites on the script. We're just trying to figure out the cast right now. I'm working on a couple of other things, on the production side of things. Just keeping busy.

Finally, what would you say to guys to get them to check it out? For myself, this was completely not what I expected, so what would you say to the guys out there who might be on the fence to get them to go see it?

Julianne Hough: For guys, I would just say it's not your typical sappy and heartfelt movie. It has a suspense and thriller element that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It's not about first love, it's about second chances.

Excellent. That's my time. Thanks so much, Julianne. It was great talking to you again.

Julianne Hough: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Julianne Hough's Safe Haven debuts in theaters nationwide on Valentine's Day, February 14.