Emily Blunt arrived proper for most audiences as Meryl Streep’s sarcastic, binge-dieting assistant in The Devil Wears Prada — in which she stole many a scene from the Oscar legend — and since then has proved a versatile star across all kinds of genres, be they comedy, drama, sci-fi and most things in between. She’ll soon be headlining The Five-Year Engagement, Nicholas Stoller’s comedy reunion with Jason Segel (for whom she appeared in The Muppets), trading quips with Colin Firth in Arthur Newman, Golf Pro, and starring in Rian Johnson’s (Brick) much-anticipated time-travel thriller, Looper.
This week, Blunt co-stars opposite Ewan McGregor in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, director Lasse Hallström’s picturesque comedy-drama about a fisheries expert enlisted by an eccentric sheik to bring a river to the Arabian desert. We had the chance to speak with the actress recently about the movie, her friendship with McGregor, and some of her forthcoming projects. Read on for that, but first — here are her five favorite films.
Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975; 100% Tomatometer)
Jaws is my favorite film of all time. I’ve seen it about 30 times. Even though it has a ludicrous backdrop of them trying to find this Great White shark, I think it’s a film about people and relationships — and I just think the performances are fantastic. It has amazing characters and it has this very commercial, suspenseful backdrop, so I do think it’s a perfect movie.
All that, and the shark didn’t even work.
All that for a shark that didn’t work. And you know what — thank god it didn’t, because not seeing the shark is just… I know so many people worldwide who became victims of Steven Spielberg and will not go in the water, so it’s probably a good thing that the shark didn’t work.
Were you one of those victims?
Yeah. For a long time, and I’m still terrified of them. I just started diving and I really love it, and that’s helped me become friends with the sharks again — ’cause I went diving with the Grey Reef sharks and Blacktip sharks, and that was extraordinary. And I realized they’re not actually out to just tear my guts out, they’re just wanting to be left alone.
Not all of them — just that one.
[Laughs] Yeah, just that one enormous one.
Kramer vs. Kramer makes me weep. I love that offset of the dynamic, of the father being the main caretaker and his life being put into uproar in trying adapt and take care of this little boy. I love the perseverance of that film, and it makes me bawl my eyes out. I think that little boy is extraordinary in it; obviously he’s not a little boy any more, but he’ll always be that little boy to me.
Princess Bride is obviously a given; everyone loves that and can quote it. [Laughs] I’ve seen that many times as a child and it swept me away every time. I loved it.
I’m picturing an odd childhood with you oscillating between that and Jaws.
Yeah that’s it. My dad would always come home with inappropriate movies like The Terminator and Jaws and my mum would insist on me watching The Princess Bride and all the Disney films. [Laughs]
I just really got swept away by it. I think that final moment when he gets the book — remember that scene? I’ll never forget the expression on his face when he gets that book. You realize there’re these moments in movies that just stay with you forever; it’s wonderful. You get these imprinted moments: a line or a word, or a look, and they stay with you forever.
Next, Emily Blunt on working with Ewan McGregor for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, her collaborations with Jason Segel, and reprising her Devil Wears Prada character.
Well, speaking of fish — you just chose Jaws to promote Salmon Fishing, right?
Emily Blunt: [Laughs] Exactly. Anything to do with sea life.
So did you find yourself at that point in your career where you’re thinking, “I really want to do a fishing movie”?
[Laughs] No. I don’t really like eating fish, apart from sushi, and I wouldn’t count myself a very good fisherwoman, but I loved how unique the story was, and how it just seemed to step out from the crowd of generic scripts that you read. It was just so hopeful and lovely and I loved the characters — I thought they were all kind of flawed and they were all going through something, these and life transitions. So I thought it would be fun to play.
Your character’s name — Harriet Chetwode-Talbot — is somehow very amusing; especially every time Ewan says it in his accent.
[Laughs] Yeah. I like the way he says it in his accent as well. I really loved her name and I thought it said a lot about her as well. I knew where she came from and what she was about. It’s a very revealing name in a way.
You said you felt like you and Ewan were “separated at birth.” What was it that clicked so well between you?
I don’t know, I mean we just seemed to have this very accelerated friendship and we got along like a house on fire. We laughed — we laughed so much together, and so it did sort of feel like I’d known him forever. I have found that whenever I have had a chemistry with someone on screen it’s usually benefited from having a really warm rapport with them off screen. I think I was really lucky with Ewan. I mean everyone has chemistry with Ewan — it’s impossible not to have chemistry with him. He’s one of the most well-loved people in this industry. Everyone loves Ewan.
Part of the chemistry must come from having a good director, and Lasse Hallström seems to do this kind of movie so effortlessly. What’s he like?
He’s incredible. He’s so wonderfully odd as a person. He’s quirky in the most lovely way. He has really wacky ideas for stuff, but mainly he just creates a really lovely environment on set — it’s very atmospheric set, so you can establish chemistry, you can just work without stress and find new bits of sparkle, new bits of nuance. He creates that, so it’s very much all about the actors. He’s heaven to work with, really.
Were you bringing moments to the film that weren’t on the page?
Yeah, and he was very encouraging of it. He was very encouraging to keep making the moments more and more alive. It wasn’t that we needed to change the script that much, it’s just that when you get there on set, sometimes — if the scene doesn’t read as you’d imagined it — you have to find a different route to make it work. Lasse’s all about adapting and making it work; and adding. He’s a very layered director.
You shot in London and the Scottish Highlands and Morocco — it wasn’t just a holiday, I hope.
[Laughs] No. We were doing six day weeks in Morocco, which is quite tiring; but the environment was so fabulous. We were sitting in Bedouin tents in between takes drinking coffee, and I was like, “Oh my god, I’m in heaven.” I’ve never shot in Morocco before. The people were lovely. We shot in this city called Ouzarzate, where I think every desert scene in every movie you’re ever seen has been shot. It’s a city that has been cultivated around a movie industry. I think you recognize sets from other movies, and there are camels drifting around that have probably been in Lawrence of Arabia, you know. [Laughs]
Ever since your early roles it’s been apparent that you have a gift for comedy. Was it always that way, or did you work at it?
I’ve always really enjoyed doing it. I don’t know if it’s something I necessarily work at, but I do make a point of trying to be in comedies, and bring comedy to roles when it’s necessary. It’s definitely something I really, really enjoy — that’s for sure.
Would you like to be doing more comedy?
Yeah, but I did a lot of it last year. I did Five-Year Engagement, which was a really big comedy, and then the one I did with Colin Firth [Arthur Newman, Golf Pro], which was another kind of dark comedy. So I do tend to gravitate to those roles quite a lot.
You’re back with Jason Segel in Five-Year Engagement, after your cameo in The Muppets — what’s it like working together?
He’s awesome. He’s a friend of mine. He wrote it with me in mind — at least that’s what he told me; he’s probably told five other girls the same thing. [Laughs] But yes, it was very easy working with him because we’ve known each other a while and we’re friends. We had a trust of each other straight away, and that made it very easy to do those scenes. I think you’ll probably see that. Hopefully the friendship comes through onto the screen. He’s great fun.
Did that friendship lead to you reprising your Prada character in the The Muppets?
Yeah. I was actually shooting the Muppets cameo, which he had asked me to do, and then he came into my trailer and that’s when he pitched me Five-Year Engagement.
Just how many “highly-strung personal assistant” roles did you get offered after The Devil Wears Prada?
[Laughs] Hundreds. I still get offered highly-strung roles. [Laughs]
So you’ll only do one again for the Muppets.
Yeah. Because it was for Jason, you know, and it was the Muppets. You don’t say “no” to doing a cameo in The Muppets. Those guys are icons.
Was Miss Piggy difficult to work with?
No. Miss Piggy was… Miss Piggy was quite difficult to work with, actually.
Who was worse — Piggy or Streep?
Ah… I would say Piggy. She’s more abusive. More openly abusive. [Laughs] Working with Meryl’s character in Prada, she was more deathly… deathly quiet, which I think was more intimidating.
You have a couple of scenes with Kristen Scott-Thomas in this — who’s very funny, too. How was she?
She’s ludicrous — she’s brilliant. She’s quite intimating when you first meet her and then your realize that the best way to approach her is to take the piss out of her — she really likes that. She’s a real laugh, actually.
Looking at the roles you’ve taken so far, they’re pretty diverse. Is there a method? Are you attracted to certain kinds of characters?
There’s not necessarily a strategy, no. It’s more just I’ll have really a instinctive reaction to a script. I’ll say, “Oh, that script I love,” or “That character I love,” or it scares me or it challenges me or I find it funny — but it’ll be very instinctive. It’ll usually be that the movie I’ve just done is very different from the one that I’ll do next. So I do try and vary it up as much as I can. I don’t strategize movies on where I think they’ll take me, or what I think will happen to me if I do them.
What was it like working with Rian Johnson on Looper?
He’s phenomenal. Rian is spooky-good. I mean, I think Rian’s gonna be a huge, huge deal in the industry and I think he’s my favorite director that I’ve ever worked with. He’s made a very cool, original film.
Are you a time traveler from the future in the movie?
I can’t say! I can’t reveal any details. I do wield a big gun. And I live on a farm.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen opens in theaters this week.