Emily Blunt’s young queen is a woman in love – and trouble...
Curled up in a fireside lounge at a London boutique hotel, Emily Blunt looks so serene I almost feel guilty for interrupting her. But she couldn’t be more welcoming as she rises from the sofa to greet me, flashing an effusive smile.
The 26-year-old actress reveals that she hasn’t had lunch. She orders food and a few minutes later is tucking into a big helping of Thai green curry. In her breakthrough film The Devil Wears Prada her character is brittle and weight-obsessed, but Blunt is an actress with an appetite. She polishes off the entire curry and looks like she might actually lick the bowl. It makes a nice change from the rake-thin mannequins who sip hot water with lemon.
“I do eat like a truck driver,” she says. “Fortunately, I have a very good metabolism.”
Blunt’s natural voice recalls the well-educated “posh” accent she deployed to withering effect in Prada, minus the haughtiness. Still, you don’t get to the position Blunt finds herself in by being a softie. The Surrey-born actress confesses that she lived up to her name when it came to her latest film The Young Victoria, a biopic of Britain’s longest-serving monarch. Blunt marched into a meeting with the producers and insisted that she was their perfect leading woman. Brave stuff, especially as she was up against some much bigger names.
“I walked out thinking, ‘God, that was so presumptuous of you’, but it seemed to work,” she laughs. “Maybe there was something royal in demanding the role that won them over.”
The film focuses on Victoria’s secluded and oppressive adolescence, when she lived shut off from the world with her overbearing mother and her mother’s scheming adviser Sir John Conroy. We also see the feisty side of Victoria, who loved staying up into the wee small hours dancing; adored horseback riding, painting and singing; and, of course, fell madly in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
Blunt claims The Young Victoria will shake up our contemporary notions of the queen as “an old, sour-faced, repressed mourner”.
“At the end of the day, she’s in love, she doesn’t have a good relationship with her mother, she’s in a job where she’s in way over her head and she’s a teenager. Most people can identify with at least two of those things.”
“The love story with Albert is the greatest in royal history,” she adds. “She needed him to rein in all that fire and emotion – she had a screaming temper – so that she could rule in a more moderate, fair way. He was dignified and selfless in wanting her to be the best version of herself possible: my definition of a real man.”
Blunt, daughter of a barrister father and a teacher mother, had a relatively carefree life until the age of nine, when she developed a stammer. “I didn’t have a traumatic childhood, so I don’t know why it happened,” she says. “They’re still not sure if it’s hereditary or if it’s an emotional experience that brings it on.”
Unfortunately for Blunt, her stutter became progressively worse into her early teens, making her the object of cruel taunting by her peers at school. It took a kindly drama teacher to suggest that she should try mimicking other accents on stage before she finally began to get a handle on it.
“I would advise any child suffering from a stammer to mimic someone else, because then you don’t identify speaking with yourself,” she declares. “If you can hear yourself talking fluidly, you’ll grow in confidence and it will get better. But it’s a disability and it’s frightening. It still comes back if I’m tired or nervous.”
Although the acting helped her overcome her affliction, Blunt says she never had a burning ambition to be an actress. She stumbled into it almost by accident at 17, when an agent approached her following an Edinburgh Festival performance of her school play Bliss.
Blessed with both abundant talent and svelte, gamine looks, it didn’t take long for her to make her mark. Her first professional job was acting on stage opposite Dame Judi Dench in Sir Peter Hall’s 2001 play The Royal Family, before she progressed to TV (Boudica, Henry VIII and BBC drama Gideon’s Daughter, for which she won a Golden Globe). Manipulative rich girl Tamsin in British film My Summer Of Love was the attention-grabbing role that took Blunt to Hollywood, where, apart from The Devil Wears Prada, she’s played a few sexy eccentrics such as Prudie in The Jane Austen Book Club and small parts opposite Tom Hanks in Charlie Wilson’s War and Steve Carell in Dan In Real Life.
The role that looks likely to launch her to the next level of stardom is The Wolf Man, a big-budget werewolf film in which she’ll play damsel-in-distress Gwen Conliffe to Benicio Del Toro’s man-monster. “I’ve been better known for the baddies, but I’m the picture of purity in The Wolf Man. I had to find the best version of myself to play that character… and I had to do a lot of running and screaming.”
One bonus of working on a lucrative blockbuster is that Blunt no longer needs to stay with family or friends when she’s in the UK. “I have my own flat now,” she says with delight. “It’s awesome!” Best of all, she says, is that she’s still able to pop out in her pyjamas for a pint of milk without being hassled. “I get recognised in the States more,” she admits. “People are too cool to admit to knowing you here, which is fine with me.”
She calls her family – including siblings Felicity, Sebastian and Susannah – “my greatest protectors”. “I don’t like to just go from job to job without seeing them, because if being on film sets becomes your reality then you’re in trouble. I have wonderful friends, a wonderful family, I like to travel and I love to read, so I have refuges all over the world.”
In fact, her mother appears to have decided on her immediate goal. Blunt arrived back at her flat recently to discover that she had sent over her old cello. As a teenager, Blunt was a talented musician.
“It was a pointed move on her part,” laughs Blunt. “She wants me to start again. I’m going to have to pick it up, although it will be a knock to my pride. After not playing for years, I’m going to really suck.”