Emily Blunt Looks Back On A Decade Of Career-Defining Roles
From The Devil Wears Prada to Into the Woods, the five-time Golden Globe nominee shares behind-the-scenes secrets from eight of her most beloved film roles with BuzzFeed News.
My Summer of Love (2004)
Emily Blunt made her film debut in director Pawel Pawlikowski's powerful tale, co-starring Natalie Press, about two young women who find love and acceptance in one another's arms.
"That was not only my first film, but the process was so different than anything I'd experienced before, which was theater or television, where you're given your script and you show up and you hit your mark and you say your lines," Blunt told BuzzFeed News about the entirely improvised film.
"This was a great deal of responsibility on our shoulders to find these characters and find the scene. It was demanding and exhilarating, and I learned more on that film and from Pawel Pawlikowski about acting than I've learned from anybody else. He taught me so much about ambiguity and nuance and the power of suggestion and being courageous and having responsibility as an actor for creating your character. Just to sum it up in two words: It was terrifying and thrilling."
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Blunt received worldwide recognition and acclaim following her biting turn alongside Meryl Streep in the immensely popular adaptation of Lauren Weisberger's 2003 novel of the same name, in which she played Emily Charlton, the brusque assistant to Streep's terrorizing magazine editor Miranda Priestly.
"One of the producers on set kept saying, 'This is going to be big,' but I had no idea it would hit in the way that it did," Blunt said. "And that men would be dragged along by their wives, unwillingly, and then love it and go see it again and tell their friends. It was a movie that everybody loved and everybody saw, and so when that happens, your life — if you've previously been unknown — is going to change. And my life turned on a dime. I remember I used to go to this bakery in L.A. every day, and one day I went in and everything had changed because the movie came out."
And Devil viewers have a certain soft spot for Emily. "That character still gets quoted to me every single week," she said with appreciation. "Every week. 'Cube of cheese.' I know my demographic, it's very clear to me. I see them coming and I go, 'I'm going to get recognized.'"
After the film's release — and Blunt's Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture — offers flooded in, but the bulk of them revealed how narrow-minded Hollywood can be when it comes to emerging talent.
"I got offered every bitch on the planet," she said, with a laugh. "I really was trying to turn down every acerbic British person that I got offered after that movie came out. I just had to be careful. What I tried to do, really, was stand by the choices that I had made beforehand. I wanted to do different work, I want to do character work, I don't want to be an ingenue, I don't just want to do one thing."
Sunshine Cleaning (2008)
Blunt followed up Devil with this film centering on two sisters who start a crime scene cleanup service; Blunt played the perpetually unreliable Norah opposite Amy Adams. It was an overt decision on her part to do something entirely different than her last movie.
"I went and did Sunshine Cleaning, where I played a sweet pothead," she said. "It was just trying to be really specific about what to do after that, because it hit so big and people loved that character so much."
Blunt has one regret about the comedy. "I think if I did Sunshine Cleaning again my accent would be a little bit better now," she said, laughing. "I've had more practice."
The Young Victoria (2009)
Blunt received a third Golden Globe nomination for her composed, thoughtful, dynamic performance as Queen Victoria in director Jean-Marc Vallée's biopic. It was the first time the weight of a film rested entirely on her shoulders.
"You are relentless for 12 weeks," Blunt said of being No. 1 on the call sheet. "You feel the weight. You're in every frame of the movie and you need to really be careful. Because you shoot out of sequence, you have to track her — maintain this girl and what she's feeling and how the influences have changed her. And with a period drama, you have to be so careful not to distance your audience by making it arch and too much of a spectacle, because that's how we see the royals anyway; they're sort of a fairy tale."
Aside from the obvious attraction of playing a beloved and iconic British monarch, Blunt found herself enchanted by the truths she discovered about a figure this well-known. "This was a really intimate story about a girl who does not get along with her mother, is in a job where she's way over her head, and she's in love for the first time," Blunt said. "She just happens to be wearing incredible dresses and a crown on her head. That's just who she is. We see the photographs of her looking ancient, sexually deprived, and completely sullen with a hankie on her head, but this is a girl who was full of tenacity and love for life and she used to party all night, but no one knew that about Queen Victoria."
Gulliver's Travels (2010)
Scheduling conflicts with this loose retelling of Jonathan Swift's novel prevented Blunt from playing the Black Widow in Iron Man 2 (the part went to Scarlett Johansson) and, subsequently, a half-dozen other Marvel movies. While Blunt has no regrets about this sequence of events, the experience did teach her a valuable lesson about working in Hollywood.
"This business has so many political moves going on all the time, you just have to try and disconnect from it and put a helmet on," she said. "Everybody says you can't take anything personally, but it's the most personal job in the world. It's you out there and you're being looked at for your personal take on a part [and] for how you look. It couldn't be more personal, so you just have to accept that and put a helmet on."
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)
Alongside Ewan McGregor, Blunt starred in Lasse Hallström's unconventionally charming drama about two people fighting to make it possible for people in Yemen to go fly-fishing.
"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was so amazing," she said. "I love Ewan McGregor so much. He is my friend and we got to shoot this really beautifully written, unique story. Really the weirdest, clunkiest title in the world, and yet it's beautiful and people love it. To be in Scotland and Morocco was magic. We wept at the end. The whole crew cried when it ended. That was really something. Just a blessed experience."
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Director Doug Liman delivered one of the year's most unusual films in Edge of Tomorrow, a time-tripping, futuristic war-torn adventure starring Tom Cruise as a soldier repeating the same day and Blunt as the world's favorite freedom fighter, a bloodthirsty soldier with a killer nickname.
"I read the script and the first line said, 'This is Sergeant Rita Vrataski, aka the Full-Metal Bitch,' and I was like, 'I'm in,'" Blunt said of her initial attraction to the project. "People keep saying that the movie is [underrated], but it is finding its audience now. I think it was initially misunderstood in the trailers for what it actually is: a funny, really entertaining popcorn movie that is super smart."
Although a $369 million global haul is nothing to scoff at, there's a perception that the film was a box office bomb. Despite that, Blunt will be forever grateful for what she learned throughout the production process. "That part was physically and emotionally so demanding to play that it just drained Tom and I, yet I learned so much about collaboration," she said. "I felt very valued on that film and learned a lot about how the best idea wins, always. And it doesn't matter if you have it or the grip has it, the best idea wins."
She had a chuckle at the studio's decision to kinda sorta change the movie's title for home video release. "Maybe it needed a title change," she laughed. "But I also think that 'live, die, repeat' theme became what people remembered from the film and cottoned on to. I'm not in charge of that stuff though. As long as people like the movie, I'm thrilled."
Into the Woods (2014)
On Dec. 25, Disney's Into the Woods opens in theaters and audiences can finally lay their eyes on Blunt's Golden Globe–nominated role as the Baker's Wife in this adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's musical fairy tale mashup.
"I honestly think — and I've been lucky enough to play some amazing roles — but I think this is one of the best parts, if not the best part, I've ever been given, because of its humor and complexity and conflict and warmth and the fact I have to sing, which was so daunting but ultimately so thrilling and joyous for all of us," Blunt said. "And Sondheim's music, you can't compare it. It's unparalleled. He's the greatest living composer we have. That's honestly what I feel about him. He thinks like an actor, he writes like an actor. So it was kind of a run-to-work deal."
Adding to Blunt's excitement every day was the feeling that she instantly understood this character. "I just got this woman," she added. "She did the most morally questionable things to these poor fairy tale characters because she is desperate for a child — I've met women like this. They are blinded by desperation. It's sad and hard to be around, but I understood that. I've seen that."
It's also interesting to note that Hollywood is often criticized for offering women thinly drawn, two-dimensional "wife" roles — but here, the character is quite literally named "the wife," yet is Into the Woods' most complex character. Although that fact didn't stop Blunt and James Corden, who plays her on-screen husband, from bestowing names upon their characters. "One day in the bakery, James and I gave them names," she said. "I was Marjorie and he was Jeff or Bill ... something pretty run-of-the-mill like that."