She might be wearing corsets in The Wolf Man and The Young Victoria but she’s Blighty’s most exciting new export. Meet Emily Blunt, now a Hollywood hottie...
Blunt by name, blunt by nature? Total Film is getting a ticking off for being late. “How rude!” the 25-year-old London-born actress shrieks. And then, later: “I love that you’re going, ‘Did they give you huge breasts?’”
Now, it must be said that we never uttered those words – merely mimed the added boost of cleavage that typically comes from being trussed up in a corset by moving our arms slightly forward and squeezing them in towards our (very flat) chest. This was by way of inquiring if the studio behind The Wolf Man demanded – as studios are wont to do – that Blunt enhance her bust for her role as damsel-in-distress Gwen Conliffe. It must also be stressed that Blunt’s shock is firmly of the mock variety.
Sporting a black ensemble (loose-fitting top, tights, snug shorts) set off by a single splash of colour (red, spiky, boot-cut heels), she flashes her slightly hooded, almondy eyes, cracks a grin and then bursts into laughter. “The corset certainly helps,” she grins. “It gives you a wishful-thinking body.”
Ensconced in Blunt’s cosy sanctum-for-the-day – a plush firelit lounge in the Covent Garden Hotel – she issues a friendly greeting before settling back into an overstuffed sofa. Her natural voice recalls the educated, “posh” accent she deployed to lacerating effect in The Devil Wears Prada, minus that character’s haughty, frost-coated demeanour. In fact, her throaty giggles and easygoing warmth give Blunt the air of being one of our transatlantic cousins. Maybe spending so much time with her ex (crooner Michael Buble) in Vancouver, Canada, rubbed off. Or, more likely, she’s just one of life’s jammy gits: a smarter, prettier, more poised version of Happy-Go-Lucky’s beaming sprite.
She loves to laugh, is fond of the quip. Svelte of frame and waifish in stature, Blunt insists tales of inflicting culinary deprivation onto herself to thin up for The Devil Wears Prada are “completely overblown… I was sneaking doughnuts whenever I could”. Claiming she eats “like a truck driver”, an afternoon snack of Thai green curry is delivered to her lap. “Thanks Rupey, I’m starving!” the actress chirrups to Rupert, her publicist. It’s not quite wolfed down but she does polish off the plateful in due course.
Come November 2009, Benicio Del Toro’s horrendous, hirsute man-beast will attempt to wolf down Blunt in Joe Johnston’s reboot of the enduringly mythic universal howler… “I think I’ve been better known for the baddies,” she muses, “but I’m the picture of purity in The Wolf Man. I had to find my deepest honesty and the best version of myself to play that character.” She also had to “do a lot of running and screaming. And I’m a really bad screamer. They’ll probably have to dub me.”
The Wolf Man gave Blunt her second corset part in succession, coming after The Young Victoria – the actress’ first proper lead, in which she plays Britain’s longest-reigning monarch during her vibrant, passionate, gorgeous youth. Well, scratch that last one – Queen Victoria wasn’t much of a looker even before she became the dumpy, sour-faced mourner lodged in most people’s brains, which Blunt admitted when we met for the first time on The Young Victoria set last year.
In between observing the robed-and-crowned actress re-enact Victoria’s lavish coronation, Total Film wandered over to say hello and was promptly regaled with droll tales of corset agony (“I hate it – so over it,” she moaned), swishing-gown peril (“If one more person steps on my train, I might swing some punches”) and screeching herself senseless while chasing Prince Albert round the palace (“She was tasty in a fight… She had an appalling temper on her”). She also expressed unqualified delight at being cast in the first place.
A year later, while tucking into her pungent curry, Blunt repeats the story: “I was quite pushy in wanting this part and I definitely sought it out. I basically said to the producers, ‘I am well-aware that people are going to be bartering for this but I want you to give me a chance – because I can do it.’ and then I walked out of there thinking, ‘God. That was so presumptuous of you.’ but it seemed to work. Maybe there was something royal in demanding the role.”
This Young Vic zeroes in on Victoria’s oppressive childhood (suffocating mother; scheming stepfather) and the mistake-addled years of her early reign, although at its core is the diminutive royal’s love affair with Prince Albert. “It’s the greatest love story of monarch history,” states Blunt. “He was dignified and selfless in wanting her to be the best version of herself she could be. He’s my definition of a real man.”
Unlike her podgy regal counterpart, Blunt wasn’t groomed for anything apart from being a well-brought-up barrister’s daughter from Roehampton. She studied the cello and was educated in bohemian schools but, lest you think she’s lived a blessed existence, she was also struck by a severe stutter when she was nine that got progressively worse into her early teens.
“By then, you’re lead by fear with it,” she says. “But I had a great teacher who wanted me to be in the class play and had the know-all to say, ‘Can you do any accents?’ So I mimicked a northern accent and it did seem to help. I think it was a way of escaping it, if I were to pretend to be someone else. but it’s a disability and it is frightening and it shouldn’t be teased because it’s not an easy thing to live with. It comes back sometimes if I’m tired or nervous.”
Although acting helped her conquer the affliction, she still feels she stumbled into her profession by accident. “I don’t remember having a burning ambition to do it,” admits Blunt, who landed an agent by chance while performing a school play at the Edinburgh Festival. “He sort of casually said, ‘Would you like to try it?’ I don’t mean to sound casual because it’s demeaning to other people’s ambitions. I’m very lucky and I don’t forget that at all.”
Landing one of the two sapphic leads in Pawel Pawlikowski’s My Summer Of Love and garnering a best Supporting Actress Golden Globe for telly drama Gideon’s Daughter served as Blunt’s fortuitous, double-whammy launchpad, sparking the usual Hollywood meet-and-greets with gushing casting agents, execs and producers.
Blunt started as she means to go on, opting for intriguing and eccentric character parts that allowed her to show her range and ward off lazy typecasting: prudish Prudie in The Jane Austen Book Club; pothead skater-chick Norah in Sundance entrant Sunshine Cleaning; underwear-clad Jane in Charlie Wilson’s War… and, of course, neurotic, flint-edged Emily in Prada. Blunt based her imperious assistant to Meryl Streep’s fearsome editrix on “a couple of people I know who shall remain nameless. It wouldn’t be fair. No one ever knows themselves so you shouldn’t say, ‘this is who you are.’ It would be a brutal shock to most people!”
Blunt had her own shock in store acting opposite Benicio Del Toro in his Wolf Man guise. When her co-star was buried under the layers of Rick Baker’s phenomenal lupine make-up, Blunt found their scenes together “absolutely terrifying… He still looks very human, but very, very frightening. I’m not a fan of slasher movies but I was excited to be a part of this because it was gothic and mythological and ominous – it’s more like a classic ghost story.”
As for her illustrious co-stars, Blunt brands Del Toro “a goof with a massive, raucous laugh” and Anthony Hopkins “the best mimic you will ever meet. He does Olivier, Gielgud, Tommy Cooper… I followed him around like a bad smell. I’m sure I irritated him.” Having recently purchased a flat in London using her readies from The Wolf Man, the well-travelled, well-read actress is poised on that knife’s edge between street-level anonymity and daunting intrusion: “I don’t feel hounded by this business and I hopefully won’t ever. I can still go and get a pint of milk in my pyjamas.”
And yet – demonstrating wisdom beyond her years – Blunt is more than aware that to carve a career as distinguished as those of her wolfish co-stars, she’s going to need to swing a few punches herself. “You’ve gotta fight. And I am prepared to fight for the roles that I really want,” vows Britain’s latest star-burst. “But I don’t have an expectancy that I’m going to be able to get everything I want. and if you can live with that, then you’ll be alright.”