Julianne Hough says she was happy to tackle her first lead role in a non-musical movie in "Safe Haven."

Based on Nicholas Sparks' novel, the romantic drama is the top-selling DVD and Blu-ray in the United States.

"I left the dancing and the singing outside," said Hough, who competed for years on "Dancing with the Stars" and had roles in the big-screen musicals "Burlesque," "Rock of Ages" and "Footloose," before signing on to star in "Safe Haven."

"I was really just blown away and blessed that I got this opportunity because my whole life I wanted to just entertain -- sing, dance and act -- and the fact that I got the opportunity to do that was huge," the 24-year-old Utah native explained at a recent Los Angeles press conference, noting she studied hard to make sure she was up to the task at hand.

"For me, it was going to an acting coach and getting, I guess, more training."

She went on to praise Lasse Halstrom as "an actors' director."

"So I got to put my trust in him," Hough said, adding the role "was definitely a lot more heartfelt and personal" than other movies in which she has acted.

"Safe Haven" is about Erin, a woman who leaves her abusive cop husband Kevin and adopts the fake identity of Katie to start a new life in the small town of Southport, N.C., where she meets and falls in love with Alex, a handsome widower and father of two young children. Hough plays Erin/Katie, while Dave Lyons plays her husband and Josh Duhamel plays her new love interest.

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"I think both Katie and I are fighters," Hough observed. "People say it's easy to walk away, but sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's harder to walk away in situations. But with this, it was her own journey of setting herself free. Obviously, she had the love of Alex and the security of now knowing there are two people in this together. Not to give away the end, but I really liked that Katie was the one who ended the situation between her and Kevin. She didn't need saving from him. She did it on her own and she became that strong fighter, but having Alex there just gave her more strength. ... You have to be able to be on your own and secure with who you are and confident in who you are to move forward. It always helps having great friends and family around, but at the end of the day, it has to come from you."

Asked how she prepared to play a domestic-violence victim, Hough replied: "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. I know people -- friends, family -- my own experiences. But at the same time, it was such a safe environment to do it in. Dave is one of my closest friends now and, with Lasse, he can put you in a really vulnerable position and [you do] not feel exposed. It was interesting and hard, but it also was comforting."