She may be a Hollywood darling now, but Emily Blunt will always be an English rose. Discussing her role in ‘The Girl on the Train’, along with family, feminism and Mary Poppins, this witty and articulate star shows why she’s at the very top of her game.
Words: Karen Anne Overton
It’s been a decade since Emily Blunt stole the show as a devoted, but mildly deluded, fashion assistant in The Devil Wears Prada. And while it was immediately evident that she was a superstar in the making, few could have predicted the breadth and durability of her talent. From comedic roles like frustrated fiancée Violet in The Five-Year Engagement to playing an all-out action hero in Edge of Tomorrow and the critically acclaimed thriller Sicario, the 33-year-old Londoner never fails to light up the screen – and has proved beyond doubt that she can hold her own in the male-dominated world of Hollywood.
“I’m very happy with the work I’ve been getting to do lately,” declares Blunt, in her clipped British accent. “I loved being able to play in a film like Sicario which shows a woman who’s an equal to the men around her, and I was also very pleased to work with such a strong female cast in Huntsman [Winter’s War] and getting to hang out and have so much fun with Charlize [Theron].”
Having married US Office star John Krasinksi in 2010, Blunt spends much of her time in Los Angeles these days with their two daughters – Hazel, two, and Violet, born in June this year. But she still considers herself to be English at heart, which is just as well, as it was announced recently that she would star as one of the most iconic Brits of all time: Mary Poppins. It’s an opportunity that she’s delighted to sieze. In fact, she told TIME Magazine that the chance to play the beloved magical nanny was “the greatest gift” that had come her way since she began acting. Mary Poppins Returns is set a few years after the original. Slated for release in 2018, it’s not clear if it will have the same musical format as the 1964 Disney classic starring Julie Andrews, but Blunt’s portrayal will be closer to the original books by P. L. Travers – more ‘eccentric’ and ‘acerbic’.
Much like in the original film when Winifred Banks was marching in the Suffragette movement, women’s rights remain a hot topic in Hollywood, specifically the gender pay gap and the dearth of decent female roles. The subject comes up in almost every conversation among actresses and, like her peers, Blunt is delighted that change is happening.
“I’ve been avoiding films where women are simply there to support the male character and don’t really move the story forward,” she explains firmly. “There are too many films geared to teenage boys, and it’s great that we have been seeing many more films centred on female characters that prove women’s stories can be just as interesting and can also find an audience.”
Certainly her toughest, and possibly most fascinating, role to date is in the highly anticipated adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ best-seller, The Girl on The Train, due for general release in early October. It is a harrowing drama/thriller that follows Rachel (Blunt), a troubled alcoholic and lost soul who lives in a strange fantasy world where she spends much of her time obsessively speculating about a couple she sees every day on her morning train commute. When the wife disappears, Rachel becomes embroiled in the ensuing police investigation, but due to her inebriation is unable to piece together the truth.
“Rachel is a messy, broken character whose alcoholism has ruined her life,” says Blunt. “Although the book and the film has a thriller element to it, I was more fascinated how the story explores alcoholism, addiction, and voyeurism and the life of this very damaged woman. I think a lot of people are going to relate to those themes.”
The role is the latest in a series of dark and harrowing roles that Blunt has taken on – Sicario, for example, directed by Denis Villeneuve saw her play an FBI agent who is tasked with bringing down the leader of a violent and dangerous Mexican drug cartel. She admits that at first she was reluctant to take such a violent role, having recently given birth to her eldest daughter, and that she was feeling very ‘emotional and vulnerable’, but in the end it proved to be a valuable experience. “It was a dream role for me to play such a terrific woman who was strong enough to hold her own with the guys and who could also be feminine and vulnerable too,” she says. “I’ve discovered that being a mother has given me a lot of strength and added determination.”
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. Next year Blunt will lend her vocal talents to two animated adventures: Animal Crackers and My Little Pony: The Movie, providing a welcome break from her more arduous roles and a treat for her fans (and her daughters) – proof that whether fierce or fun, Emily Blunt will never fail to delight.