It’s one of those perfect spring days — 70 degrees and nothing but blue skies — that New Yorkers don’t get enough of before the cold dreariness of winter melts into the sweltering humidity of summer. Julianne Hough’s blond hair and bright smile are glistening in Greenwich Village, just a short walk from the Washington Square Park area where she is living her New York dream. No doubt, she is soaking up the sun in this manifested moment.
Before she even made her Broadway debut in the new political farce “POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive,” the 33-year-old dancer, actress, singer and entrepreneur was already choreographing a Big Apple move.
“Back in October, I remember calling my manager. I was like, ‘OK, I want to immerse myself in what’s happening in Broadway, because they’ve obviously had the hardest time through the pandemic,’” says Hough over a salade niçoise and pommes frites at Petite Boucherie. “I was like, ‘Keep an eye out to see if anything’s happening. But I think I just need to put myself in proximity, so maybe I’ll just move there in March.’ Then, in February, I get this script out of nowhere, and it was an offer for the role. So I very much put it out there, manifested it, not really knowing what it was going to be — just that I wanted to be here.”
After her big break on “Dancing With the Stars” in 2007 led to movies such as “Footloose” and “Rock of Ages,” judging stints on both “DWTS” and “America’s Got Talent,” and even a country album, Hough is now exactly where she wants to be — just a few months after her divorce from former hockey star Brooks Laich was finalized in February. It’s not lost on Hough that she is embracing her new life as both part of the Broadway community and the queer community, just steps from the birthplace of LGBTQ rights at Stonewall. “It’s a new beginning,” she says.
In this next chapter, Hough shares the stage at the Shubert Theatre with an all-female cast, including Vanessa Williams, Lea DeLaria and “Saturday Night Live” alum Rachel Dratch in a play that, set in the White House, takes satirical aim at the patriarchy.
“I read the first page, and I thought it was the funniest thing I had read in a very long time,” says Hough. “The fact that Selina Fillinger, our playwright, is 28 years old … and our female director [Susan Stroman] is a legend and an icon — especially for me, because she started as a choreographer — before I even got to my character, I was like, ‘Yes!’”
As Dusty, the young and pregnant mistress of the president, Hough has learned well from the seasoned sisterhood in the cast. She made a special connection with Williams, who plays the first lady. “Our first conversation was about the fact that she was a ballroom dancer, and that was how I started my career,” she says. “I remember watching her in ‘Dance With Me’ and being like, ‘Wow — this woman can dance, be an actor and sing.’”
A triple threat herself, Hough’s skills have been honed in “POTUS.” “The great thing about being a part of an ensemble with this kind of cast is, I don’t have to carry the show and feel the pressure or feel the responsibility,” she says. “I get to be a student and soak in all of the incredible information and the teachings that I feel like they’re sharing, not even realizing that they’re giving me so much.”
Even among all of that formidable female talent, Hough gets to have perhaps the biggest moment of the show, when her character asserts: “Affordable, safe reproductive health care is a basic human right.”
It’s a hot topic in a time when abortion rights are once again being challenged. “Even before this specific time that has been happening with Roe v. Wade, it was such a powerful line because the rights to privacy and autonomy over our bodies is so important,” she says. “The fact that that’s being threatened again, it’s just outrageous … When I said that line for the first time, that was definitely Dusty, but [with] a little bit of Julianne in there for sure. And we all kind of looked at each other, and we weren’t sure if we were gonna start crying onstage because it was so powerful to hear everybody in the audience. We got a standing ovation.”
But Hough is careful to note that the cathartic powers of performing “POTUS” — both the consciousness and the comedy — have nothing to do with her divorce. In fact, she insists that there’s no bitterness in this breakup.
“Brooks and I — we had the most beautiful separation,” she says. “We went through things amicably. It was filled with love and respect. Like any relationship that means something, you learn and you grow, and you are blessed with those riches that you experienced from that relationship. We both feel beyond blessed for having each other in our lives during that period of life. I want nothing but the best for him. I wish him the best, whatever that looks like. And so that’s truly where we are.”
In 2019, Hough revealed that she told Laich “I’m not straight” in an interview with Women’s Health magazine. Looking back, she says that it wasn’t meant to be her big coming-out statement — even if it turned out that way.
“I didn’t really have a moment of like, ‘I’m going to do this.’ It just was,” says Hough, who now identifies as queer. “I just said something and, you know, it just came out that way. And it is my truth. Everybody’s [coming-out] experience is different, and I come from a Mormon background where … it hasn’t been looked at as something that’s accepted. But I know that my parents, my friends, my family love me, and they’re proud of me. And so I had a really good experience.”
Hough’s family support system has always included her big brother, Derek Hough, who joined “Dancing With the Stars” the season after she did. “Somehow we’re never on the same cycle,” she says. “So when he’s having a low moment, I’m having a high moment; and when I’m having a low moment, he’s having a high moment. We can help each other and balance each other out.”
These days, Hough’s own balancing act includes her fitness business Kinrgy and the Fresh Vine Wine company she co-owns with actress Nina Dobrev. She’s also co-hosting “The Tony Awards: Act One” with good friend Darren Criss before the main event on June 12. But she’s hoping to make time in her busy schedule for some trips out to the Hamptons and picnics in Central Park this summer.
And she’s open to hitting the dating scene again, too. “I am leading with love,” she says. “I’m trying to keep my heart open, but I just want to be the best version of myself. I really do believe in energy and … if I am in the best place for me, I’m going to attract people that are right for me in this moment.”
Photographer: Kurt Iswarienko; Editor: Serena French; Stylist: Anahita Moussavian; Fashion Assistants: Sean Rodriguez, Madeleine Shepherd; Hair: Leonardo Manetti at See Management; Makeup: Vincent Oquendo at The Wall Group using Chanel