Cinema star interview: Emily Blunt


Together chats to Emily Blunt about taking on a Mexican hitman.

Emily Blunt has always had a relaxed attitude towards her cinema acting career. She doesn’t take herself that seriously and she doesn’t live or die with every role. That has made her time as a top Hollywood actress all the more enjoyable and that is why she seems to be smiling all the time. She is comfortable in all sorts of film genres and roles, and films like Edge of Tomorrow, Looper, and The Adjustment Bureau have shown that she can play very determined and strong women.

In her new film Sicario, (Mexican slang for hitman) which enjoyed its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this past week, Blunt plays FBI agent Kate Macer who is transferred from the hostage rescue division into a covert CIA paramilitary unit assigned to wage war against the Mexican drug cartels. Is this confirmation that Blunt thrives on tough female roles?

“I get told that a lot,” Blunt observed. “But I don’t really see them as tough. I think there are plenty of strong women out there and I don’t think they can be compartmentalized as being one thing. ‘You’re tough.’ What, because I have a gun? I found (my Sicario) character strangely quite damaged and vulnerable and she is struggling with this role of being a female cop. Certainly, the morally questionable things that she is having to experience with these guys. It’s not safe. And you see this girl going through pretty much the worst three days of her life and trying to maintain face through most of it. After doing one scene I couldn’t sleep for three or four days afterwards. It was a tough story to tell.”

The 32-year-old Emily Blunt initially hesitated about taking on the role because as a new mother her “head wasn’t in that space” but ultimately Quebec film director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Incendies) convinced her to take on the difficult role when they met four weeks after she had given birth to her daughter, Hazel, now 16 months old. “I was feeling the opposite of the character (and) it seemed like a bad fit for me to be doing at that point in my life. I thought: This is a really good to put (this character) out there for my daughter for her to see. It’s not only a really fantastic role for a woman, it’s an intelligent argument.”

Josh Brolin co-stars as Matt Graver, her FBI boss determined to unleash hell on the Juarez cartel leaders, while Benicio Del Toro plays a ruthless agent and master torture/assassin.

Emily Blunt lives in Los Angeles with her husband John Krasinski (The Office) and their baby daughter Hazel. They were married four years ago at their friend George Clooney’s villa on Lake Como after Krasinski has starred in Clooney’s football comedy, Leatherheads.

Together: Emily, what were your impressions of your FBI agent character in Sicario?
Emily Blunt:
She’s a very complex woman. She has many different sides to her. One aspect to her personality is this steely exterior and this strong sense of justice and approaches her work with great integrity and serious sense of purpose. But she also has a shy, lonely side and she has to find the strength to deal with suddenly being thrown into this totally new assignment. She finds herself dealing with this incoherent and very violent world (of the Mexican drug cartels) and she feels very vulnerable. She was never trained for this kind of a job and she finds that unsettling.

What were your impressions when you were offered the role?
When I read the script I saw immediately that it had an uncompromising and dark tone. It’s an interesting movie where you have complex female character like Kate and it’s wonderful to play someone with a moral quandary. It’s also unusual to see a film present this kind of a female character. Even though there are a lot of women working in law enforcement, you rarely get to see their lives explored the way this film does.

The part was originally written for a man. Were you aware of that?
Yes, I knew about that, but it didn’t affect the way I played the part. This woman experiences the three worst days of her life and tries to hold up under the pressure. She is very vulnerable and struggles as a woman in a very masculine environment.

I never thought that I needed to make her appear tougher to suit the film. Of course, in her job, there are more men than women, and she has to adapt to that environment.

Did you speak to other female FBI agents in preparing for the film?
Yes. I had a friend who had a connection with the FBI, and I spoke to three or four female FBI agents to see what that life as a woman in a male-dominated organization would be like. They helped me understand how your marriage suffers, how much sleep you get, and what your emotions are when you prepare for a SWAT team assault. What was also interesting is that I discovered that these women are like me: they go home at night and watch Godford Park and Downton Abbey! (Smiles) They are great women. You want to have a beer with them and those discussions helped me identify with this agent.

Benicio Del Toro plays a very fierce kind of character. What was it like working with him?
I have known Benicio for eight years and we had already worked together (The Wolfman, 2010). I also knew Josh (Brolin, who plays her boss in Sicario) and it was a real pleasure working with them. It’s a dark story, but we had great fun on the set. Denis Villeneuve (the director) was like the head of a kindergarten and had to tell us to shut up all the time! (Laughs)

You’ve said in the past that acting is one part of your life and you keep your perspective as a woman and mother very separate. What drew you to acting as a profession?
It’s hard to say. I was originally set on going to university when I was 18 but then I got a call from an agent who had seen me in a school play and wanted to represent me. That’s how it all began.

But my interest in acting probably grew out of that fact that I once had a really bad speech impediment (she stuttered) as a child, so I used to do impressions all the time, mimicking family members or teachers. I found whenever I did a silly voice, I could speak more fluently. I had a teacher who saw that and encouraged me to take acting lessons and that helped even more. There was something quite liberating about being able to throw yourself into another character, not having to worry about whatever was going to come out of your mouth next…

I confess, though, that being on the phone can still be agony for me sometimes, but drama classes were an enormous help and I do recommend them. I’ve also been part of the American Institute for Stuttering for years, too, and I always point people in their direction; they have done some remarkable, revolutionary work, for children and adults.

You seem to have a very positive and gregarious attitude towards life. What’s your secret?
(Laughs) I don’t know. I suppose I get that from my family, I grew up in a house where we were always entertaining each other. But apart from that, I’m enjoying my life and the way my career seems to be evolving. I don’t find myself suffering very much anxiety now about waiting for the next job to come around.

When you’re starting out, you’re so determined to get the really good stuff, the best roles that are out there. So it’s very reassuring to find yourself in a position where you are able to be part of really good films and do interesting work. But it’s also important to have a life apart from your work and that’s the best kind of balance you can have to things.

What’s the downside of celebrity for you?
It’s not celebrity per se, but the fact that as an actress you’re always expected to look perfect, wear the latest design and always look your best. Sometimes you want to wear a T-shirt and jeans when you go to the grocery store or to a café and read a book or magazine.

You’ve described yourself in the past as having both a practical and a dreamer side?
I have this very practical, rational side which enables me to take stock of things and make good decisions without letting emotions get the better of you. I find it’s a good quality to have, especially when you’re making your way in a very unpredictable kind of business. But I also have a very hopeful and optimistic way of looking at the world. I like to dream big and I think as an actor you need to have a vivid imagination and throw yourself into your characters with complete abandon. So you need to dream big but also be able to organize things and work to realise those dreams.

In many of your films you come off as very sassy and energetic. Is that an apt description of you?
(Laughs) I’m quite a positive and energetic person although I’m also overly sensitive. I’m someone who will start sobbing at different moments in sad or especially romantic films at all the key sentimental moments. Even when I watch the news or an athletic competition I can get very wound up and emotionally involved in the moment. I also worry too much about all sorts of nonsense but I won’t tell you about what!

You’re someone who’s known for having a very ironic sense of humour and relaxed attitude about the film business. Is that your way of cutting through all the hype and superficiality of Hollywood?
Yeah, and even though it can creep up on you sometimes, I find it quite easy to disengage from it. The job is what I do, it’s not who I am. It never has been and so I feel like I do have somewhat of a jewelled existence in some way. I’ve always managed to see acting as a very magical job that I’m very lucky to do. Some of the bullshit you have to develop a thick skin for so that it bounces off you, you know?

As a young mother, what makes you happiest these days?
If I were to choose a perfect day, actually, it’d probably be something very quiet, having a barbecue with my little one and my husband and a few good friends. And a margarita. I do love a good margarita.