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Published: Saturday, 10/8/2011

Julianne Hough puts her best foot forward for ‘Footloose’

NEW YORK TIMES
Cast members Kenny Wormald, left, and Julianne Hough pose together at the premiere of "Footloose" in Los Angeles, Monday. Cast members Kenny Wormald, left, and Julianne Hough pose together at the premiere of "Footloose" in Los Angeles, Monday.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

There may be bigger fans of Footloose (1984) than Julianne Hough, but not too many.

"I was born four years after the original film came out," says Hough, who stars in the remake that will open nationwide on Friday. "I watched it numerous times because it was filmed in Utah, where I grew up. It was our local cult classic. You had to love this film if you were from Utah.

"Later on we walked around school humming, 'Let's Hear It for the Boy.'"

If the new remake of the Kevin Bacon classic pans out, maybe the next generation of film buffs will be playing "Six Degrees of Julianne Hough." The 23-year-old actress/dancer, previously best known as one of the professional dancers on Dancing with the Stars (2007-2009), already has a couple of major credits to get the game started: In addition to the new Footloose, Hough also will star opposite Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages, the adaptation of the hit Broadway musical due in 2012.

Since it was first announced, the new Footloose has drawn a considerable amount of flak from fans of the original, but Hough insists that her feelings aren't hurt.

"People want to hate this film a little bit, which I completely understand," she says during a telephone interview from her Los Angeles home. "Luckily I have been surprised at the early screenings. I've found that the audience goes in with some skepticism. It's a classic film, people have their doubts. But they leave humming the songs and, during the film, they are tapping their feet.

"That's why I'm so excited for people to see the film," Hough says. "There is so much in it from the original, plus so much more to it."

The remake casts Kenny Wormald in the Bacon role as high-school student Ren McCormack, a city slicker who moves to a small town like many others, with one big exception: In the wake of a horrific accident that killed several teens on their way home from a dance, all public dancing has been banned at the urging of the moralistic Rev. Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid). Hough plays Ariel, the minister's daughter, a rebel who immediately takes to Ren and seconds his desire to shake things up and get things shaking.

So what of the old movie makes it into the new one? Hough says that fans can expect to see Ren's burgundy jacket, Ariel being torn between her "bad boy" boyfriend and her unyielding father and, of course, the final prom scene.

Other things have changed, she says, including the portrayal of the townspeople.

"You can actually sympathize with the parents more in this remake," the actress says. "It's not that they want to ban dancing to save your soul. A terrible accident happened in town because of a dance. These parents believe that they are keeping these kids from harm's way."

The two movies are alike, she says, in the themes that are the core of the original Footloose's enduring appeal.

"It's not a typical dance movie," Hough says. "It has a story line and a heart line. I think this is a movie of message and teaches about morals. I think teens really appreciate a movie that gives them something to think about when it's over.

"I don't think we give teens enough credit," she continues. "Teens know about the issues and don't mind a discussion. This movie frankly discusses getting in trouble as a teen, drinking too much, and it even features a girl who is hit by her boyfriend. We're also frank about sexuality."

One of her toughest scenes, Hough says, was with Quaid in Rev. Moore's church.

"We still have that scene in the church where I tell my father that I'm not a virgin and he slaps me," she says. "It's tough to watch, and it was tough to film. Dennis Quaid felt really bad about slapping me.

"Although he didn't actually slap me," she adds with a laugh. "It's movie magic. At first I wasn't so sure, but Dennis pulled me aside and said, 'It's OK. I'm not really going to slap you, so don't look so afraid.'"

The dancer in Hough couldn't help but look forward to the classic finale in which Ariel goes to the prom.

"When we were getting ready for our prom," she says, "I had tears in my eyes -- and I wasn't the only one. It hit me that we were about to film this iconic scene. We were about to go Footloose."

The Salt Lake City native has never been shy about dancing. She grew up as the fifth and youngest child -- she also had nine stepsiblings from her parents' second marriages -- in a family of performers who used to jokingly call themselves "the Blond Osmonds." Singing, dancing, and acting classes was a matter of course.

"I've been dancing since I was 6 at a local studio," Hough says.

Her talent showed early, and at 10 she was in London attending a performing-arts school.

"I lived with my dance coaches," Hough recalls, "which was tough but also exciting. I took dance very seriously, even at that age. I knew it was my future."

She was a dancer on the television series Show Me the Money (2006) and also appeared on the series Disney 365 (2008). Then she became one of the featured professional dancers on Dancing with the Stars, winning the competition in 2007 with partner Apolo Ohno and again with Helio Castroneves in 2009.

By that time Hough was already looking for greener fields. She left the show in 2009 and moved to the big screen to play Georgia in Burlesque (2010), working with the likes of Christina Aguilera and Cher.

She makes clear, however, that, whatever happens in her acting career, she isn't about to abandon dancing.

"Dance was something that put me on the block," Hough says. "I've had these opportunities because of dance. It's how people discovered me. Dance isn't work to me, it's actually second nature. It's what I keep in my back pocket."

As for singing, in 2008 Hough released a self-titled CD of country music. She hopes to return to music eventually, but right now is focusing on acting, which she calls "the most challenging thing I've done, but it's also the most rewarding.

"I've learned that it's so hard to watch yourself on screen," she says. "I'm such a perfectionist that I just see what I could have done better.

"I try to do everything to the best of my ability. Right now my focus is on acting, but I'm not opposed to dancing and acting on the big screen."

She does both, and also sings, in Rock of Ages, which she recently finished filming.

"It's technically not a musical," Hough says, "but it's in that realm. I also sing in the film.

"I almost said no to the film before I found out that Tom Cruise was in it," she adds. "I did Burlesque and then Footloose, so I was looking to do something different. But this was just too good. It was an incredible shoot. It was also one of the most exciting sets I've ever been on in my life."

Her next film will be Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody's as-yet-untitled directorial debut, which casts Hough as a sheltered woman who loses her faith after a plane crash. She decides to dig deep into the decadence of Las Vegas, where she meets an unlikely match who helps her find herself.

No singing or dancing will be involved in that one. Both, however, are likely to be required for a still-under-wraps project that would team Hough with her equally talented brother Derek, whose fancy footwork is seen weekly on Dancing with the Stars.

"Of course Derek and I have a lot of plans for the future and we would love to work together," she says. "My brother is the most talented person. He dances, plays drums and the piano. He's a great actor and photographer.

"We have some fun things in the works, but it will take time."

Offscreen she spends as much time as possible with her boyfriend, Survivor announcer and multimedia star Ryan Seacrest.

"It helps to be with someone in the business, but we're not just about the business," Hough says. "For me and my personality, I do well when my significant other has the same drive and ambition. I love that he understands my world. Ryan and I are both in the entertainment world, which is great because we get the commitment and hours and responsibility.

"We really understand each other."



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