Emily Blunt only took up acting as part of a therapeutic programme for her debilitating stutter, but film fans can be glad that it stuck – the acting, that is. She talks gnomes, superheroes and hamburgers with TARA BRADY
‘WE’RE GOING to have to strike that one from the record, I think,” says Emily Blunt, as she pulls her feet on to the couch to aid further contemplation and catlike curling. “In fact, please put some sort of qualifying marks around everything I’ve just said. ‘Emily Blunt says, rolling her eyes.’ That sort of thing.”
At 27, the divine, eminently sensible Blunt is not one for talking guff about her profession without a roll of the eyes. Indeed, not talking guff is very much her thing.
“I don’t really get it,” she continues. “Maybe sometimes I get a bit overexcited about a part, but I never think about it as craft. It’s an extraordinary job and I’m lucky to have it, but I have no reverence for it whatsoever. All that talk about acting as a process or a method makes me queasy. It’s not that I’m not grateful to get opportunities to explore the human experience. It’s just that that kind of terminology looks and sounds just awful. It is guff. I usually say ‘wank’ myself, but ‘guff’ is much better.”
She stops herself suddenly: “Ew. I said ‘human experience’, didn’t I? That’ll look pretentious in print.”
You’d never guess from the slacks and casual demeanour, but in less enlightened times Emily Blunt is precisely the sort of girl popular news-sheets used to call posh totty. She was born and raised in London’s leafy Roehampton, and her father is a criminal barrister and her Uncle Crispin a Tory MP.
There was, notwithstanding her fine pedigree, comparatively little sense of privilege or entitlement around Blunt the Younger. “A complete geek” by her own reckoning, she only agreed to acting lessons as part of a therapeutic programme for her debilitating stutter.
“I wanted to do modern languages at university,” she recalls. “I had an idea that I was going to be a very impressive sort of person. I hoped to be a translator at the UN or something. And then I just fell in to all this self-involved nonsense instead. I don’t mean to sound cavalier about my complete lack of burning ambition as an actress. I wouldn’t want to do anything else now. But it snuck up on me and took me by surprise. And once I was busy being someone else the stutter disappeared.”
There are no remaining traces of hindrance in her delivery, nor in her impressive roll call of screen credits. By 20 she had already amassed a sizeable collection of awards and laudatory notices for her work on the TV dramas Boudicaand Henry VIII,and the sapphic indie crossover sensation, My Summer of Love.
There was more. In 2006 she appeared opposite Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in the box-office smash The Devil Wears Pradaand swiped the entire movie from under her celebrated co-stars’ noses.
“I was working for about four years before The Devil Wears Prada. It had Meryl Streep in it, so that was exciting, but I hadn’t really got as far as thinking that lots of people might go to see it or that lots of people might enjoy it. When it came out I got this phone call from my agent, literally crying with joy, telling me about the box-office figures. And I said ‘Oh, is that good?’ I had no idea. It was a huge springboard for me. To be part of a film like that is wonderful. I’m so grateful.”
She was grateful too, that the project allowed her a brief respite from the corset, a whalebone prison that has proved the undoing of a great many English roses.
“At one time I’d been stuck in so many corsets for so many roles, I used to fantasise about jeans at work. It really is a curse for British actresses. People like to stick us in corsets. I’m not saying ‘never’. When something like The Young Victoriacomes along, of course I’ll say ‘yes’. But the one thing I don’t want to happen is to end up doing one thing.”
She needn’t worry. Over the coming weeks, as part of an unofficial celebratory month of all things Blunt, film fans can look forward to seeing her dashing alongside Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureauand in a rather less flattering light as the romantic heroine of Gnomeo and Juliet,an animated garden-ornament adventure inspired by the songs of Elton John.
“It’s the most romantic story ever known, except with the most unromantic tacky objects ever known. It’s certainly a sturdier role for me. I feel and hope the film will bring about a resurgence for garden gnomes. They’ll be a must-have object among the fashionable classes.”
Away from her work as a chubby china action heroine, the Golden Globe-nominated performer has displayed little interest in the limelight. Last year she married John Krasinski (the star of the US version of The Officeand her fiancé of three years) in an Italian ceremony so secret that even the paparazzi missed it.
“There might be one tiny little blurry shot out there on the internet. But our day was always going to be for us. There’s a place for cameras. I don’t think you should always turn your nose up at red carpets and awards ceremonies. It’s true that once you step out of the car everyone hates your dress and makes vomiting noises about your hair. But once you stop caring it’s fun to get dressed up and then go home to jeans and an In-N-Out Burger.”
An In-N-Out Burger? “It’s my favourite food in the world. I particularly like the orange gelatinous secret sauce. It’s so disgusting and gloopy you just know it’ll be delicious.”
In common with many women working in the sector, Blunt is less than impressed with the state of contemporary cinema. She has, in this spirit, turned down high-profile gigs such as Iron Man 2to work on such heartfelt, rough-hewn gems as Sunshine Cleaning.
“Oh, I think that was because of scheduling conflicts,” she says with her tongue so far in her cheek it looks as though she’s slipped a boiled sweet in there.
What about Captain America? “Oh yes, I think I also had to turn that down due to scheduling conflicts,” she says. “I do worry it’s inevitable. It seems that superhero movies are the only kind of films we’re making any more. It makes me to sad to think about those ’70s Hollywood films. Where are they? You have to dig deep into the independent sector nowadays to find the kind of movies that women like Meryl Streep and Jane Fonda and Sissy Spacek were headlining 30 years ago.
“Films shouldn’t exist just to numb you and assault you with special effects and 3D. At any rate, I think I’d much rather hold out for the superhero part, not the girlfriend role.”