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Julianne Hough on Paradise, Lap Dances, and Stealing As a Kid

Julianne Hough. Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty

Diablo Cody originally wanted to call her directorial debut, Paradise, by another name: Lamb of God, because the main character, Lamb, rebels against her ultra-religious community in Montana after a horrific plane accident burns most of her body. Her mission: to experience “worldly pleasures” for the first time. Julianne Hough, who plays Lamb, chatted with Vulture about growing up in a bubble, learning about strip clubs, and getting caught stealing — twice.

Part of what Diablo wanted to do with this movie was show how a girl who was sheltered — by her family, her community, her religion — decides she needs to break free. Could you relate?
Well, I didn’t really know what else there was [growing up], because I was in my own bubble in Utah. What I knew was what was there. And because it was a very LDS-heavy state that I lived in, there wasn’t … I didn’t know what other options there were, so when I did leave, I was like, “Wait! You can do all this? I’m not going to get in trouble?”

Such as?
Like when I went to London [she lived there with her brother, Dancing with the Stars’ Derek Hough, from ages 10 to 15], there were people smoking everywhere, and I was like, “This isn’t against the law?” I thought it was against the law. So smoking, I had never even touched a cigarette, or touched a pack of cigarettes. And the woman we lived with, she smoked, so it was very interesting for me. And there were different kinds of alcohol. I thought alcohol was just one thing, which is kind of naive. “Wait, what? I didn’t even know this existed!” [Laughs] I didn’t know there was such a thing as lingerie and sex stores and stuff like that. Not that I ever went into them, but in London, they’re everywhere. Of course, I knew strip clubs probably existed because of movies and stuff, but I never thought they were accessible. I thought they were against the law.

It’s almost like a necessary rite of passage, to test the boundaries.
You almost have to test your faith before you can really find it, whether it’s a religious faith or your own faith in who you are, who you want to be. To me, not to say that I’ll try anything once, but I’m open to new experiences so I can figure out, “Is this me? Is this not me?” Sometimes I don’t have to do that, and I just know it’s not. But sometimes it’s like, “Oh! Am I a vodka person? Or am I a tequila person?”

Well, which are you?

Lamb has her list of sins she wants to commit while she’s in Vegas, as inscribed on her “napkin of sin.” What would be on your napkin of sin, if you were going to start doing all the things you’d never done before?
Um, get a tattoo. Oh my gosh. What have I not done? [Laughs] I’ve pretty much done everything!

Okay, let’s see if you’ve done the ones on Lamb’s napkin. Go commando?

Smoke a fattie?
Uh, yep. [Laughs]

Marry outside your race? I don’t think you’ve done that.
No, I have not done that. [Laughs]

Lap dance?
Uh, I’ve done that!

Giving or receiving?
Um, both!

Burn the flag?
No, I have not done that. And I don’t intend to do that.

Kill a bug?
Kill a bug?

Yeah, I guess Lamb had never killed anything, not even a bug.
[Laughs] That’s awesome. Yeah, I’ve definitely done that.

Rob a store?
Well, I’ve never robbed a store, but as a kid, I have definitely stolen from a store. My mother made me go back and return it, but I did steal. I stole a Sprite, because we were not allowed carbonation, [laughs] and I remember, we got in the car, and I was in the back, and I opened it, and my mom heard the [imitates sound of soda-pop can opening] and she was like, “What was that?!” “Nothing?” “Let me see your hands!” And she saw that I had the Sprite, and she was like, “You take that back right now and you apologize!” And so I had to go in, sobbing.

Did that make you learn your lesson?
I never stole another Sprite after that, but I did steal my sister’s money. I think she had like $70 that she earned from being an extra on Touched by an Angel from when she was in Utah. I stole her money, and me and my friend went to the mall. I remember we went to Hot Topic and bought all the fake piercings, those magnetic piercings, and crop tops and, for some reason, silky underwear, because we saw that my older sister had those, and so that’s what we thought big kids wore. And as I’m coming up the escalator, my brother Derek saw me, and he ran after me, and grabbed me, and took me to my mom and my dad. My sister was crying, because I stole her money, and they made me take everything back, and say, “I stole my sister’s money, and I have to return this.” That was me, at 7.

Julianne Hough on Paradise and Stealing As a Kid