One of those ideal summer days. The kind where you’re lying in a lawn chair after a refreshing dip in the pool; rays wrap you up with their warmth as you sip an ice cold mint leaf lemonade; chic sunglasses protect your eyes and the patio table beside you is stacked with your unread favorite magazines. Hanging out with Julianne Hough, star of this summer’s bigger-than-life musical Rock of Ages, has that exact vibe. She just feels like a perfect laid back sunny summer afternoon.
After joining Dancing with the Stars in 2005 and snatching up two consecutive wins, the dancing darling left to pursue music. By 2008 her first album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Country Album Chart and was awarded two Country Music Awards. Her sights were then set on film. First came Burlesque , then Footloose  and now for her third musical she is leading the all-star cast in Rock of Ages. This in no way means she is simply film’s go-to musical actress. Hough will soon get to show off her dark-comedic flair as a burn victim in Oscar winner Diablo Cody’s anticipated directorial debut Lamb of God (slated for early 2013). It’s evident her talent and ambition are in perfect harmony, but what is perhaps most impressive is her ability to set aside that competitive, driven and hard-working spirit and refrain from permanently living inside the hectic mindset of the entertainment industry. Wherever Hough is, she’s serenely present.
Thick blond waves, cobalt eyes that almost seem to reflect the images of whatever memory she’s sharing, and toned bronzed limbs from all the water sports she partakes in when sunny days are just hers to enjoy. She looks like summer just as much as she feels like it. Delicately draped in a silky cream eyelet ensemble, Hough sits across from me with an authentic willingness to share. Whether I bring up the subject of her soaring career, her relationship with American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, the role Mormonism plays in her present life or how her unconventional childhood as a dance prodigy has shaped who she is today, Hough offers thoughtful answers. All I have to do is sit back and listen as she exposes her multihued layers in that voice that radiates warmth but what she refers to as her “confusing western/British/southern accent.”
What are you most excited for this summer?
Every summer the whole family goes to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. My grandparents have a houseboat on the lake and when we all get together it’s a shit show because we’re all trying to get attention from everyone else. We’re all very competitive and love to entertain. Who can do a better swan dive from the houseboat into the lake? Who can win that ping pong game ‘Around the World?’ Who can do a better this or that? Oh, and there’s a big talent show. We have this video from when I was little of my Dad and my Uncle Terry singing “Hold me! Squeeze me! Never leave me! Got to, got to, got to try a little tenderness.” Watching them in their bathing suits singing and holding each other is pretty epic.
How nervous were you when you left your obviously close family at 10-years-old to move to London for dance training?
I wasn’t at all! I was just disappointed that there weren’t horse drawn carriages and men with little eyeglasses.
Bummed you wouldn’t be living on the set of A Christmas Carol?
Yeah! I was really upset that they had cell phones. I didn’t know what was going on!
How challenging was it to live with your dance coach for five years?
The woman I lived with in London [Latin Ballroom champion Shirley Ballas] made me strong and not necessarily in the best way. She made me very guarded and she made me a fighter. I had to fight to hold onto myself. She was very tough on me. Honestly I went through things that I don’t think anyone should have to go through but if they hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have the character and the strength I have today.
Did you have anywhere to escape?
There was a bagel shop that was right across the street from where I lived. I didn’t get allowance very often but when I did that was the first place I would go. I would get a cup of tea and a sausage or bacon bagel depending upon what I was in the mood for and I would put HP sauce on it.
That’s a very grown up choice to spend your allowance on.
What was the reaction when you decided to leave London to be an actress?
Everyone in London told me I was crazy and needed to stay. That I was going to amount to nothing and was going to work at “Whatever Burger.” I had my whole life set up in London and I knew it would just be me continuing to dance and I would eventually become professional, win world championships, and then I would be a teacher or I would tour around Europe and Asia and do shows and get titles. I knew all this and it’s not what I wanted. I wanted to act, but living with my dance coaches made dance my only option. It was a really hard decision for a 15 year old girl to make, but I needed to do something for me.
You finished high school in Utah where you had been raised in the LDS church. Do you still consider yourself Mormon?
I was raised Mormon and then went to London where it wasn’t part of my life at all and then came back and was super Mormon again and then came to L.A. where I wasn’t around it. Now I’m older and I almost appreciate it more. I hold onto the everyday teachings, but as far as the religious teachings there might be parts I disagree with here and there. I’ve modified it to fit my lifestyle but it taught me great morals and principals. It gave me a sense of what it means to be a nice person, to be humble, what it means to be grateful and a desire to service people.
Does it bother you when it’s the subject of ridicule?
There’s always somebody that’s going to say this is ridiculous and somebody else saying that’s ridiculous. I went and saw The Book of Mormon [2011 Tony winning Broadway musical] and it was absolutely outstanding. Very crude and disturbing and out there, but it was hilarious. There are things that are very true that they made fun of but in the end there’s a good message that no matter what you believe in, as long as it gives you hope and makes you a better person, then it’s worth fighting for.
Growing up in the LDS church, what is the biggest misconception?
That everybody has ten wives. At one point that was the case, but…
It’s not “Big Love?”
[laughs] No. It is community based though. I think about when I have kids and how I want to raise them. I really love how their community is and how everyone looks out for each other. There’s a sense of family and I want that for my kids.
Despite only being 23, do you feel you’re ready to tie the knot and do the family thing?
I feel like I’m 43 – I’m so tired! But yes, I’m ready. This last film I just did with Diablo Cody made me very clear with where I’m at personally and professionally. I feel really grounded.
You’ve been with Ryan Seacrest for two years. What made you fall in-love?
You know, we gush and mush at each other all the time. At dinner we’ll always be sitting there explaining the reasons why we love each other. It’s corny and silly but it’s great. I love talking about Ryan. He’s so genuine and loyal. I didn’t realize…I had perceptions of who I thought he was. On our first date I thought, “This is so not what I expected.” He’s one of the most thoughtful–not just boyfriends or men–but people I’ve ever met. A lot of the romantic things he does for me are sometimes not even specifically for me. He’ll remember my Mom’s birthday or that it’s Mother’s Day and he’ll send something. I would so much rather him be like that with my family than have him do something for me.
When Ryan talked with Tom Cruise on KISS fm during the filming of Rock of Ages, Cruise praised your talent. How scary initially was it to be surrounded by such entertainment giants?
I was so scared for the table read that I just went in and said, “I’m fuckin’ nervous!”
Can’t blame you!
Everyone was out of their element and nervous, so I just addressed the big white elephant in the room. Tom is so inspiring though. I always admire people that are focused and work hard. He made me feel like I could play and have fun instead of feeling restricted or so nervous that I couldn’t really let go. Mary J [Blige] and I got really close on the movie too. All of our conversations were motivating and uplifting. She told me, “I’m there for you no matter what. As your friend, your sister, your aunt, your Mom. I’ll be whatever you want me to be.”
You have such a solid support system and a confidence that frankly seems unstoppable. Are there any insecurities lurking behind that cheerful exterior?
I could care less if tabloids say I look fat, but the thing I get the most insecure about is when I hear, “Oh, it must be nice dating Ryan so you can do movies.” I’m like, “Yo! I’ve been doing this a lot longer than I’ve been dating him.” I never want people to think I’ve gotten somewhere or gotten something I haven’t worked for. I’m here.
Full feature available on June 19th, 2012 on Issuu.com
Interviewed by Lecia Doss
Photographed by Derek Wood (Photography Director)
Styled by Kristina Van Dyk (Fashion Editor)
Hair: Campbell McAuley
Makeup: Spencer Barnes
Manicurist: Staci Nguyen
Photographer’s Assistants: Richard Luong and Brad Bucksky
Stylist’s Assistants: Jill McFadden and Reed Van Dyk
Production Assistant: Daria Kobayashi Ritch