Julianne Hough is a quadruple threat: actor, singer, dancer, and…thief? As an 11-year-old extra in the first Harry Potter, “I tried to steal a Gryffindor scarf, so I could prove I was in the movie,” she recalls. “Then they started searching bags. I had to give it back!” Now 23—and cured, we think, of kleptomania—Hough is starring in the ’80s jam-fest Rock of Ages, out June 15.
TIME: You were actually born a year before the movie takes place—
Julianne Hough: A year after, actually! Just to make everybody feel that much worse.
Ha, sorry, I mean a year after. So how did you prep for the role?
I looked at pictures of my mom and my sister back in the ’80s, and I pretty much just emulated them. I got a bunch of documentaries about the Sunset Strip. And I kind of knew the words to all the ’80s songs, even though I thought I might not.
Then you walked around wearing knee-pads, listening to Wham!?
(READ: Richard Corliss’ review of Rock of Ages)
Everyone always talks about how they love ’80s clothes, ’80s music, ’80s hair. What was your least favorite thing about doing an 80s movie?
Um, the high-waisted bikini bottoms that didn’t cover a thing.
Those were rough?
Yeah, especially when I had to wear them the first day of shooting, and we were on set with 150 extras and probably, like, 50 paparazzi. And I had to make out with somebody who wasn’t my boyfriend [American Idol host Ryan Seacrest]. It was a little uncomfortable. But I got over it pretty quickly.
And your favorite part?
I think I’m gonna say the hair. And the music, of course.
You’ve become the go-to girl for song and dance movies, first with Burlesque, then Footlose, then Rock of Ages. Are you gonna pull a Zac Efron and start doing dramas now?
No, I’m gonna pull a Julianne, and start doing dramas now!
Nah, I’m just kidding. I think a lot of people discovered me as a dancer, and if I had gone straight into doing something dramatic, it might’ve taken them by surprise a bit too much. So to do something that’s a good transition, like these musicals, was, to me, kind of smart.
But you’re doing dramas next?
Yeah, the last movie I just shot was a Diablo Cody movie, which was her directorial debut. And I didn’t dance in that! And I’m just about to start doing a [Nicholas Sparks] movie with Lasse Hallström, an amazing director. So I guess you could say I’m a pulling a Zac Efron.
You’ve worked with Tom Cruise, in Rock of Ages, and Cher, in Burlesque—both huge on-screen personalities. Who’s the better co-star?
That’s like asking who’s a better sibling: your oldest sister, or your younger brother? Ugh, so hard. Tom—I’ve never met anybody that works as hard as Tom, so it pushed me harder. I loved that. But Cher, she’s an icon, she’s a living legend, and she’s just fantastic. Every word that comes out of her mouth is brilliant. I don’t know. And my dog Lexi is barking right now! [To dog:] Lexi, shhh!
She’s clearly voting for Cher.
Tom really looked out for you on set, though, right?
Yeah, he’s a gentleman. [Early on during filming], I hurt myself dancing. And I was literally on the verge of crying, because I have the mentality of a dancer—I’m fine, everything’s fine, the show must go on, I don’t care if I’ve got a broken foot or whiplash in my neck and ribs out. And Tom was like, No, Julianne, you can’t keep going. You’ve got a long career ahead of you, and you’ve got a long rest of shoot, and you need to take a break and take care of yourself. When he said that to me, it was the first time I’ve felt like somebody actually cares. And the fact that Tom Cruise actually cares was kind of, like, a big deal.
I bet. Once you recovered, did you do all your stunts yourself?
Yeah, absolutely. One of the coolest parts about being an actor is that you get to learn all these new skills. So I would be really bummed if somebody else got to do something I could learn how to do.
Even the pole-dancing? ‘Cause that looked really hard.
Extremely hard. I was wearing fishnets, so going up and down the pole was kind of slippery. And literally, when I would take off the tights, I would have the fishnet marks in my legs, like, engraved, because of how hard I was pushing my legs together on the pole.
Ha, that came out really wrong!
Don’t worry, we can edit this part out.