Julianne Hough is America’s new sweetheart, a 24-year-old blonde ballroom dancing champion who has become one of Hollywood’s favourite starlets.
Hough stars with Josh Duhamel in the new romantic thriller Safe Haven, the latest love story penned by prolific author Nicholas Sparks.
Hough plays Katie, a mysterious woman who flees Boston, lands in the picturesque North Carolina coastal village of Southport, and falls in love with Alex, a widower raising his two young children.
‘‘Katie has this past that’s pretty mysterious,’’ Hough explains.
‘‘She meets a friend, Jo, and Alex and the two kids, and she’s guarded, but these people help her open up a little bit more.
‘‘When she starts opening up, there’s a connection with Alex, but they are both really frightened and broken from what’s happened to them in the past.’’
Hough was first introduced to the American public as a professional dancer on the US version of reality TV show Dancing with the Stars in 2007, with almost 30 million people tuning in to each episode. In her first season she won with Olympic gold medal speedster Apolo Ohno.
Hough used the fame generated from the show to score a record deal and her self-titled album debuted at No1 on the Billboard Country Album charts and No3 on the Billboard 200.
She left Dancing with the Stars in 2008 to pursue a music career, but soon Hollywood spotted her marketability, with roles opposite Cher in Burlesque, starring in the re-make of Footloose and last year’s adaptation of the Broadway musical Rock of Ages.
Adding to her profile, she has been in a two-year relationship with American Idol host Ryan Seacrest.
‘‘I wouldn’t say easily,’’ Hough smiles when it is suggested she moved from dancing to music to film seamlessly.
‘‘It might look that way from the outside and we’ll keep it that way, but it has definitely been a challenge. A lot of proving and definitely a lot to live up to.’’
Just like Katie, Hough has a dark past.
When she was 10, her parents, who were divorcing, sent her to London with her brother, Derek, to live with ballroom coaches.
It was not until recently she revealed she had been abused mentally and physically in the UK. Hough refused to let the experience break her.
‘‘That’s the dancer mentality I do have,’’ she says.
‘‘I’m a fighter.’’
It is something Lasse Hallstrom, director of Safe Haven, discovered.
‘‘I called after my first audition and said ‘I need to go back in. I didn’t feel great about it’.
‘‘Lasse was in New York on Skype and I’m like ‘I need to be in the room with him. He needs to feel what we felt in there’.
‘‘Again, I wouldn’t take no for an answer and finally I got in there and got that second audition.’’
Safe Haven opens in Australian cinemas on February 14.