Safe Haven - Julianne Hough
Safe Haven – Katie Feldman (Julianne Hough) ©2012 Safe Haven Productions, photo by James Bridges

After being recognized as a consummate dancer and singer (Footloose, Rock of Ages), Julianne Hough has taken the leap into a dramatic thriller, Nicholas Sparks’ Safe Haven, directed by Lasse Hallstrom.

In the movie she portrays Katie Feldman, a newcomer to the tiny coastal town of Southport, North Carolina, where she hopes to make a new life. There she meets the town’s grocery store owner, Alex (Josh Duhamel), and his two young children. Just when their relationship seems to be getting serious, her past catches up with her with terrifying results.

This is a romance/thriller. What did you do to prepare for it?

Safe Haven - Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel
Katie Feldman (Julianne Hough) and Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel) ©2012 Safe Haven Productions

I left the dancing and the singing outside. I was really blown away and blessed that I got this opportunity, because my whole life I’ve wanted to entertain, sing, dance and act, and the fact that I got this was huge.

I went to an acting coach and got more training. Lasse is such an actor’s director, so I got to put my trust in him. But it was definitely a lot more heartfelt and personal.

Once you signed on to the project and you knew you were doing Nicholas Sparks’ work, was there any pressure?

I am the demographic of Nicholas Sparks’ books. I loved The Notebook, but this was our version of what this story is. There is pressure to have these big movie moments, and at some point it was like, ‘Oh, this should be more dramatic,’ and it wasn’t, and it didn’t need to be.

The audience is intelligent, and knows what a real love story is without having to overdo it.

Lasse had you doing a lot of improv on set, was that new you?

Safe Haven - Julianne Hough
Katie Feldman (Julianne Hough) ©2012 Safe Haven Productions

It keeps you on the tip of your toes, making sure that you’re listening and you’re being as real as possible, especially with the kids.

It started out very on script and it moved on. We would do 10 minutes scenes, and then just find the best of what was there. It was really fun because with kids you don’t know what they’re going to say anyway in real life, so you just have to go along with it.

It was scary at first, but I’ve never felt so trusted in anything that I’ve done.

Can you talk about playing a domestic violence victim in this?

Safe Haven - Noah Lomax, Julianne Hough, Mimi Kirkland and Josh Duhamel
Josh (Noah Lomax), Katie Feldman (Julianne Hough), Lexi (Mimi Kirkland) and Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel) ©2012 Safe Haven Productions

It’s a big responsibility to do it right, to where if somebody has gone through that it feels real and honest to them. So I went and talked to women in shelters. But, at the same time, this was such a safe environment to do it in.

Did you have stuntwoman for any of the physical scenes?

We had a stuntwoman, but there was no way I was going to let her do that. That’s fun to me. It’s like dancing, it’s choreography and I loved that active feeling. I did get hurt a little bit, but I didn’t tell anybody.

Where is your safe haven?

Safe Haven - Julianne Hough
Katie Feldman (Julianne Hough) ©2012 Safe Haven Productions

My dogs, I like having them with me. They’re Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. They’re the mascot of every film that I do, because at the end of a long, maybe emotional, maybe exciting day, they are always there to love me.

For me to love them and to get a shower by Lexi, who kisses my face off. They are my safe place. And home.

I asked Julianne what it was like filming in Southport, where the real story took place. Click here for her answer.

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Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.