The first time most of us noticed Emily Blunt she was “’on-the-edge of sickness thin.” To play the role of Emily Chalton, the prickly first assistant to the editor in The Devil Wears Prada, Blunt had to drop pounds from her already slight frame. “It wasn’t like doughnuts were snatched out of my hand,” says the 5′ 7½” actress, but she was encouraged to slim down. So much so she would occasionally cry from hunger during the shoot. Luckily, though rake thin, she still had the energy to steal the movie from her more seasoned co-stars, Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci.
Although the character fell directly into the love-to-hate-her category, audiences found Blunt irresistible. Her mix of vulnerability and fork-tongued charm—crowned by crystal clear blue eyes and a face anchored with a cleft chin that would make Kirk Douglas envious—earned the title Best Female Scene-Stealer from Entertainment Weekly and nominations for everything from a Teen Choice Award to a Golden Globe.
The kudos and notoriety that followed her Prada performance on this side of the Atlantic were simply an echo of her much-admired, though lesser seen work, in the UK.
After dabbling in drama at age 12 to help conquer a stutter she made her professional stage debut while still in school. From there it was a short leap to the small screen and praised performances in British television period pieces. It was, however, only when she left the lace-bonnets behind and took on a role in the critically-acclaimed My Summer of Love that she really made a splash. The story of a teenage infatuation between Mona (Nathalie Press) and the manipulative and cynical Tamsin (Blunt) earned both Press and Blunt equal shares in an Evening Standard British Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer.
When asked why she is so often cast as bad girls like Tasmin she says, “I have sly eyes. When I was in school they always said, ‘Emily can never be elected Head Girl because you never know what she’s thinking.’” Just don‘t ask her to further explain her acting method. “I think it’s embarrassing to hear people talk about their process because you always sound wanky,” she says bluntly.
We can say that she has an enigmatic quality which has served her well in supporting parts as diverse as a gawky, uptight French teacher in The Jane Austen Book Club, an oversexed young women opposite Tom Hanks in Charlie Wilson’s War and as a babysitter in Dan in Real Life, all movies she says, that share “a very human heartbeat.”
Even when she appears in something less than Oscar worthy, take the 2005 miniseries Empire, for instance, a project she dismisses as “the sad little brother of Rome,” she still stands out, giving her characters both subtlety and complexity. She’s not a flashy actor; often she expresses an idea with a simple lift of an eyebrow or an understated movement, a trait she shares with her acting idol Cate Blanchett.
While she says “I want to do my own thing and not emulate anyone else,” she calls Blanchett’s chameleon-like ability to disappear into a variety of roles very brave.
The disappearing act is a trick Blunt seems to have picked up from Blanchett. Following a bravura turn in the offbeat comedy Sunshine Cleaning, and the now obligatory for stars-on-the-rise Simpson’s cameo, she took on, and disappeared into, the most challenging role of her career to date. In The Young Victoria Blunt returned to the period roles that defined the early part of her career, playing Queen Victoria from headstrong teen to Queen of the Realm to love sick widow.
“I definitely made a real play for the part because I knew it would be one of those roles that people would hound because it was so rare and so well written,” she says. “It’s hard to find a film that is shouldered by a woman about a girl like that who is so remarkable and so complex. I went in and met them and said, ‘I love it. I’m very aware that a lot of other people do as well but I’d like you to give me a chance.”
Since then she’s worked nonstop, in movies both big—like this month’s mega budget Gulliver’s Travels—and small—a 10 minute short named Curiosity, shot on a budget of £2,000. Mixed into that eclectic stew is The Wolfman, a reimagining of the 1941 Lon Chaney classic which airs on TMN and Movie Central this month. Blunt says she took the role for two reasons. First to work with co-stars Anthony Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro and secondly because her character Gwen is “the girl in a werewolf film, and that’s cool.”
One more very cool job in Emily Blunt’s white-hot career.