Apart from her country music career, Julianne Hough has built a reputation for showing up in musical films lately, including “Burlesque” with Christina Aguilera and the “Footloose” remake. Of course, the convincing powers of co-starring in a flick with Tom Cruise didn’t hurt to say “yes” to one more, now with cinematic adaptation of Broadway show “Rock of Ages.”
Hough will hit the stage, the Sunset Strip and the stripper pole for her role as Sherrie in the film, due in theaters June 15, with other co-stars like Paul Giamatti, Diego Boneta, Alec Baldwin and Catherine Zeta-Jones. But then again, not all of them will get a lap dance from the rising star…
Check out what Hough had to say about ‘80s-rock-centric “Rock of Ages” during our visit to the set, which shot in Florida last year. Our chat was right after she finished a scene during which Sherrie arrives in Los Angeles with dreams in her head, lace on her dress and dudes getting thrown against cop cars.
Is it kind of a rite of passage to do films like “Burlesque” and this where you are playing a character who is working her way to becoming a star while at the same time you are doing the same?
Yeah. My role in “Burlesque” was a little role, but it was such a way for me to just learn the logistics without feeling like the weight of the movie was on my shoulders. So it was a kind of easy one to do. “Footloose” is obviously something that I am definitely excited about. I can’t wait for that to come out. That one is a little bit more real than this one. But this one is pretty crazy. I am pretty similar to Sherrie in the fact that everybody has a dream, they go for it, they are ambitious, they are wide-eyed, excited, naïve at the beginning, then they make a few mistakes along the way like becoming a stripper, and then they learn from those mistakes. So, yeah, it is crazy.
Did you have to go to stripper camp for the role?
I did not, but I was very interested. Did you see some of the stuff? I guess Adam [Shankman] showed you some of Shadows in the Night? Those chicks up there - that is some serious athleticism. I mean, they were insane and they did it take after take after take. Their bodies were amazing! I was like, “Oh, I am jealous!” I would like to take stripper classes just for that, but I did not. The choreography is amazing so maybe she did. I don’t know.
Did you look back on your first experiences of being in L.A. while doing these scenes of just walking down the street with your suitcase in hand?
Are you kidding? I was skipping down the Sunset Strip singing at the top of my lungs when I first came to L.A. It is obviously a definite heightened reality. I think when I got to L.A. I wanted to go see the Hollywood sign. I wanted to go see Rodeo Drive. I wanted to do all of that. I think everybody…you see those iconic places in L.A. and it is like, “Oh, my gosh. I am here.” But, yeah, it is fun.
Had you already seen the musical before you got the role? Did that inform your performance in any way?
Yeah. I actually had met Adam when he did my music video “Is that So Wrong?” which we apparently can’t find online. So he kind of mentioned that he was doing this film and then I did “Footloose” and I got the script. At first I was like, “You know, I did “Burlesque”, which is a musical. I did “Footloose”, which isn’t a musical, but it has great music.” So I did “Footloose” and I thought, “Oh, man. I can’t do another musical after this. I want to expand as an actress and do more dramas or comedies strictly.” Then I heard that Adam was doing it and that maybe a guy named Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin. I was like, “Alright. Maybe I can do one more!”
In the original musical there is a lap dance scene. Do you give a Tom Cruise a lap dance in this? Is that still part of this?
Sort of. To kind of go back, I was learning that I might get this role, but the play was coming into town into L.A.. So I went and saw it before I technically had the role, but we were in talks already. So when I saw the play I did see that part and I was like. “Oh….yeah! Alright. That is fun and it is Tom Cruise.” So, yeah, I saw that part and there is a sort of lap dance thing that happens. It is a little bit different. There are some differences in the play that there is in the movie. I like the fact that Stacie doesn’t sleep with Stacee and it is just a misunderstanding. I think it is more likable for her in the end. You kind of want her and Drew to get together.
As a singer, people are used to hearing you sing in a different style than this film. Has this film been a real challenge for you and how did you learn how to become a rock star?
Hough. Totally. I tend to sing in the country accent. I don’t ever really realize that I am doing it. It is not even necessarily words because I can finagle my vowels to sound a certain way. But it is certain flips that I would do on certain notes. I’m like, “I don’t hear what I am doing!” and they are like, “You are flipping it!” So I definitely had to work hard on that. But luckily enough I am in my cowgirl outfit now. I just came from Oklahoma so it is not too farfetched. But the songs are great. If you think about it, a lot of the country songs today are like the same kind of melodies as 80s rock songs.
But there are certain ways that you treat Broadway music and sing it. Were you specifically instructed to not sound “Broadway”?
Yes, by Adam Shankman. Even though this is a musical, we wanted it to sound as original to the original songs and not the Broadway version. Hopefully we did it justice. I think we did, I think it is pretty cool.
You mentioned that “Footloose” is more realistic than this. Can you talk about the tone of this? How realistic are you making the performances or are they caricatures of ideas?
They are definitely caricatures. But at the same time, it is definitely a heightened reality. We didn’t want to go so far to make fun of the 80s era because that was a time and people were literally wearing their hair that way and dressing that way while being very free and open. So we didn’t want to make fun of it because it was such a time for people. You bring up memories from the 80s and their whole bodies light up because it was a great time. So we definitely didn’t want to make fun of it and go too over the top, but sometimes we do. Honestly, it is really fun, beyond entertaining, hilarious at some parts, emotional at other parts, and really funny at others.
What has been your favorite song to perform in the movie?
Honestly, it is the very last number when we are up on stage singing “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It is with Stacee, Sherrie, and Drew. We are on the stage and at the time when we were shooting it literally felt like we were the biggest rock stars in the entire world. There was the whole arena that was filled and just the aspect that we were literally singing to. It was so fun. I had the time of my life on that.
Are there a lot of dialogue scenes because it seems like you are going to be covering all of these songs?
There are. But what is cool about this musical is that there is so much storytelling within the songs and the numbers that some of the scenes are literally two lines and that is it. I thought the same thing, though. I saw the screenplay and I was like, “Wow.” I have a lot of scenes, but they are short because you do all of the storytelling during the songs.
Are there a lot of montages?
There are a lot of montages. Yeah. Like I said, there is so much it and I feel like it is seven different movies. There is the Sherrie and Drew portion, the Mayor portion, the Bourbon Room portion, the strip club portion, and everything else. It is insane. I feel bad for the editor because there is so much.
What preparation did you do for the role?
I wish I would’ve learned the guitar. I should have done that. I actually changed my diet and exercise routine a little bit because in the 80s the women were not twig thin. They looked like they were 18 years old and they had curves. It was all real, you know? So I definitely beefed up some of my exercises and lifted weights. Yes, I am going to be in underwear on a pole and I definitely had to focus on that. Then it was just my vocals and dance rehearsals. Then it was hanging out at the beach because we haven’t done that at all since we started shooting.
Who are some of your musical icons when it comes to female singers and has that changed at all after coming into this movie?
I grew up my whole life listening to country music. So it was Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Reba [McEntire] and Dolly Parton. It was all of the females in country music. I don’t know. I don’t think it hasn’t changed that much. They are still my heroes. But I think I have a better appreciation for the women in rock music after doing this just by researching and looking up things online. Just how hard they had it because they were girls and the fact that they really were balls out these awesome girls rocking it out. That totally changed my perspective for these women. It was awesome.
You obviously had some background in singing and dancing and before this film you had done “Burlesque”. What was the most challenging thing about taking on this role after having so much experience before?
I didn’t ever want to seem like I was overacting because it is a musical and there is a fine line of being in a heightened reality or being in reality. Being in reality and going up against all of this – you are just going to look dull. So I think the hardest thing for me was that I was so scared that I was going to overact. I didn’t want to be super corny, you know? But I still wanted to obviously match everything that was happening. So I think that was the hardest thing for me – I didn’t want to overact.