In a scene from the coming-of- age movie “Paradise,” out Friday, Julianne Hough’s normally buttoned-up evangelical Christian character, Lamb, knocks back a shot with a bunch of good-looking dudes who beckon her over to their table.
They fawn over her Barbie-doll looks as she sheds her inhibitions and gets down and dirty in Las Vegas, making out with strangers, getting a tattoo, smoking and gambling.
You could call it a case of art imitating life. Hough, the beautiful blonde who shot to fame in TV’s “Dancing With the Stars,” has spent the last couple of years letting go of her rigid, conservative past.
She was raised in a strict Mormon community in a dusty Utah suburb. As Hough describes it: “No sex before marriage, no drinking, no caffeine, no smoking, no swear words, no R-rated movies.”
But now the 25-year-old actress is making up for lost time, living the dream by posting bikini-clad selfies on Instagram, diving off yachts and drinking cocktails on the beach with sexy young things, including her BFF, “The Vampire Diaries” star Nina Dobrev.
“I didn’t drink when I first came to Hollywood,” Hough tells The Post. As time went on, she inevitably relaxed the rules — for starters, she moved in with her older (now ex) boyfriend Ryan Seacrest — and embraced a more adventurous lifestyle. “[Now] I don’t think it’s going to define who I am if I am at Chateau Marmont having a glass of wine.”
“It was difficult because [when I first arrived] people thought I was this unicorn,” recalls Hough. “People wanted to know about me and why I didn’t do the things they did. But now it’s all gone to hell!”
That said, Hough’s brand of free-spirited, girly fun is refreshing. She’ll play it up for the cameras, but she’s not grinding on Robin Thicke or anyone else. She’s a bit of a daredevil, but she’s probably not headed to rehab for “exhaustion” anytime soon.
As for religion: “I’m not practicing, but I’m so glad I was raised Mormon,” she says. And even if she’s no longer a churchgoer, there is still one holy father she keeps on speed dial.
One of Hough’s strongest influences is her politician father Bruce, a two-time chairman of the Utah Republican Party, who keeps a close eye on what his youngest child from his first marriage gets up to. Hough has three older sisters as well as her famous pro-dancer brother, Derek, 28.
In the past, Hough has revealed that her disciplinarian dad allowed her to move to LA when she was 18, stating one condition: “Don’t do Maxim.” Later, he wouldn’t stay at her home while she cohabited with the 38-year-old Seacrest.
“He’ll look at [my] Instagram and say, ‘I really do wish you wouldn’t post words like sh-t and b–ch. We don’t need to hear that, Julianne!'”
To this day, Bruce sends random messages reminding her of her moral responsibilities.
“Dad has this thing where he texts: ‘Are you in the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time with the right people?'” she says. “He has this intuition and will always text me when I’m in the wrong situation.”
“[When] I’m dancing around and I’m clubbing and maybe I need to slow down on my drinks,” she says. “Or I’m at Coachella and I’m in the moment and I’m not thinking, ‘OK, so if I do this, what will the consequences be tomorrow?’
“Then, out of nowhere, I’ll get a text. Daddy knows!”
Lamb, Hough’s character in “Paradise,” turns her back on religion after getting badly burned in a plane crash which, to the horror of her parents, makes her declare to the shocked congregation at her church that God doesn’t exist. She travels to Vegas with a checklist of “sins” — reading porn, showing off her legs and, the big one, losing her virginity — she is determined to experience.
The directorial debut of Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning script writer of “Juno” and “Young Adult,” the film explores Lamb’s re-evaluation of her beliefs after meeting two eccentric locals (Octavia Spencer and Russell Brand), who encourage her to be more open-minded.
Talking to The Post, Hough falls short of criticizing the organized religion she grew up with, but concedes that her childhood in Sandy, Utah, was like living in “a bubble” where “everyone knew everyone else’s business.”
“When I left and went to LA — and I even lived in London for a while — I was like, ‘Whoa, there’s a whole other world outside of what I’ve known my whole life,'” she says. “It’s not close-minded, it’s just one-track minded — ‘This is what the truth is and this is what you have to do to live a good life and be with the Heavenly Father again.'”
As for Hollywood’s excessive drinking and illegal drugs, Hough has a healthy take on the temptations which have been the downfall of young actors like “Glee” star Cory Monteith, who died in July from a mixture of heroin and alcohol.
“If I do go out and party, I want to remember and say afterward, ‘That was the best night,’ rather than have no memory of the whole thing. I don’t want to wake up feeling gross.”
Director Cody — herself a onetime Catholic schoolgirl who was a stripper before finding film success — was impressed by her sensitive performance as a burn survivor.
“Julianne was one of the first people to read [for the role], and I knew she was the one,” Cody tells The Post. “She had told me that the script resonated with her because she’d had a similarly religious upbringing.”
It’s the second non-musical movie role for Hough, who left “Dancing With the Stars” after five seasons to move onto the big screen. She appeared opposite Josh Duhamel in the Nicholas Sparks’ drama “Safe Haven” this past spring after showing off her singing and dancing chops in “Burlesque,” the remake of “Footloose,” and the film version of the Broadway hit “Rock of Ages”.
“It was great to be able to do something really different, especially having Diablo’s voice coming through,” says Hough. “It was a challenge, and a fun one.”
The other big change she’s getting used to is being single again after a three-year romance with Seacrest ended in March — although she’s repeatedly been seen with director Ari Sandel, her rumored new boyfriend.
“I’m enjoying being on my own two feet,” says Hough, who admits she has been in back-to-back relationships with guys since she was 18. “I love to be a relationship girl. But this is the first time I’ve been able to love myself and my situation and be my own person.”