Paradise - Octavia Spencer and Julianne Hough
Paradise - Loray (Octavia Spencer) and Lamb Mannerheim (Julianne Hough) ©2012 Lamb Productions

Julianne Hough became a household name as a dancer/choreographer on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, before making a seamless transition to the big screen in movies like Burlesque, Rock of Ages and Safe Haven.

In Diablo Cody’s (Juno) new comedy Paradise she plays Lamb, a religiously sheltered 21-year-old whose life drastically changes after a plane crash leaves her burned  and disfigured. Filled with doubts about her faith, Lamb decides to go to Las Vegas, ‘sin city,’ to finally have some fun. There she meets bartender William (Russell Brand) and nightclub singer Loray (Octavia Spencer, The Help), who inadvertently help her find her true self.

Currently available on VOD/iTunes, and in theaters on October 18th, Julianne and Octavia spoke about their experiences working on the movie at the press day for the film.

Julianne, being a dancer you express yourself through movement, and in this you are a burn victim who finds moving painful at times. How did that influence your performance?

Paradise - Julianne Hough
Paradise – Lamb Mannerheim (Julianne Hough) ©2012 Lamb Productions

Julianne: That was one of the most important things for me because, in general, I talk like this (uses her hands). I’m always very animated, and what was cool about this was that all of that energy that I usually use to be animated I had to completely contain, which I’m not used to.

When I went and did research with burn survivors, [they said] it literally feels like they had been barbecued and they can’t move or their skin will tear.

I got to walk around [in makeup] with Lamb’s burns to see how people reacted and responded. People don’t want to make eye contact, they get uncomfortable.

A lot of these burn survivors said, ‘I would rather somebody [say], ‘Hey, what happened?’ rather than make me feel like I’m scary or ugly.’ So this outward effect of what’s happened to them completely changes who they are on the inside.

Octavia, can you talk a little Loray?

Paradise - Octavia Spencer
Paradise – Loray (Octavia Spencer) ©2012 Lamb Productions

Octavia: She definitely has attitude, she’s very curmudgeonly, for sure. She’s different from anything that people know me as, thank god. Every character I get to play has some element of who I am, but there’s no fun in playing yourself (she laughs). At least for me there isn’t.

I’d like to think that I am a nurturer like Loray, [although] she is judgmental. I like the fact that Lamb thinks that she is not pretty, but what Loray sees is a cute blonde,  and it’s not until she actually starts having a conversation with Lamb [that she really gets to know her.]

That’s what we do, we make snap judgments about people’s appearances, and it’s usually very different than what’s going on inside.

What was it like working with Diablo, a director who also wrote the script? Was she protective of her dialogue?

Paradise - Russell Brand, Octavia Spencer and Julianne Hough
Paradise – William Carr (Russell Brand), Loray (Octavia Spencer) and Lamb Mannerheim (Julianne Hough) ©2012 Lamb Productions

Octavia: My bread and butter has been writer/directors. They’re the ones who gave me my shot. It’s wonderful for me, because half of my research is just sitting down having a conversation with them, because they know what their intentions are.

There’s not a mediator, in as far as the director, that you have to go through. This is the writer, it’s their vision that you see.

The beauty of getting to work with Diablo Cody is to say her words. I mean, come on, why would I want to get up there and try to make up something?

Julianne: Same thing for me. I wanted to do this movie so that I could work with Diablo and be able to have her words coming out of my mouth. I worked on another film where it was the complete opposite, say whatever you want to say.

To have this kind of structure and really transform yourself into a character, rather than being yourself, is what acting is all about.

Octavia, how has your life changed since winning all those awards, including the Oscar, for The Help?

Paradise - Julianne Hough and Octavia Spencer
Paradise – Lamb (Julianne Hough) and Loray (Octavia Spencer) ©2012 Lamb Productions

Octavia: (she sighs) I love those awards. I do. My life, thank god, is very much the same. It has to be small, because I can’t have it too big. But in my career I get to work with the best of the best, and I get to have an opinion about the things that I get to do.

And let me just tell you, that it is great to have your voice heard and to have an opinion and have choices. I wouldn’t trade any of it, and I won’t give them back!

In the movie, Octavia had to ride a Zipline, strapped in a harness, high above Fremont Street in Las Vegas. Click here to hear her memories of doing that stunt.

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Last week Julianne returned to Dancing with the Stars as one of the judges. When she criticized the choreography her good friend Mark Ballas, it became news, as he reportedly called her ‘hypocritical.’ She was asked about it at the press conference. Click here to listen to her reply

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Judy Sloane

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