How Julianne Hough's Mormon upbringing influenced 'Paradise'

When Julianne Hough arrived in Los Angeles at 18 after leaving her devout Mormon family behind in Utah, she quickly realized she was a novelty in Hollywood.

“People were really curious about why I didn’t drink,” she recalled, standing on a red carpet Tuesday evening promoting her new film, “Paradise.” “They were always asking if I was sober. I was like, ‘No, I’m just Mormon.’ It was kind of a shock for them, and they treated me like a little toy.”

Hough, now 25, found herself reflecting on her upbringing as she prepared for “Paradise,” screenwriter Diablo Cody’s directorial debut, which premieres on DirecTV on Friday.

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In the film, Hough plays Lamb, a conservative evangelist who renounces her faith after being badly burned in a plane crash. With her settlement money from the accident, she heads to Las Vegas, where new friends (Russell Brand and Octavia Spencer) help her explore her devious side.

Though Hough’s move wasn’t quite that scandalous, the dancer-turned-actress says she struggled with how to juggle her faith and her career. Before she moved to L.A. with $2,000 to her name, her father -- twice chairman of the Utah Republican Party -- gave her one piece of advice: “Just don’t do Maxim.”


Indeed, finding her way in the industry proved challenging. During an interview with The Times earlier this year, she remembered attending her first party in town -- Us Weekly’s annual “Hot Hollywood” party. Without any trendy clothes, she asked her roommate (a model) to borrow a dress and some Ugg boots and then curled her hair into spiral ringlets.

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“I was walking around with this guy who wanted to be my manager, and then he just left me standing alone,” she said. “So I’m standing there, and Kristen Bell -- who was named hot Young Hollywood that year -- taps me on the shoulder and is like, ‘Are you OK? Come sit me with me!’ I’ll always remember how nice she was to some random chick with Ugg boots on.”

After a years-long stint on "Dancing With the Stars," Hough is slowly carving out an acting career for herself. She seems to have cornered the market on the doe-eyed ingenue seeking a fresh start in a new place -- see: "Rock of Ages," "Safe Haven" and now "Paradise."

“I’m not sure what I’m running from, but apparently there’s a theme,” she said with a laugh at the premiere in Hollywood this week. “What I love about this movie is that it doesn’t diss religion -- she finds herself and her relationship with God in the end. I did the same thing. I had to figure out on my own where I belong and what makes me who I am.”


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