With her seductively aloof gaze and warm onscreen presence, Emily Blunt has captivated audiences and critics alike. After earning several awards on the indie circuit, as well as the praise of her The Devil Wears Prada co-star Meryl Streep (who called her one of the best young actresses she’s ever worked with), 28-year-old Blunt has finally reached Hollywood leading lady status. However, on the heels of two huge box office bombs, the star of this weekend's The Adjustment Bureau has reached a critical juncture in her career.
Growing up with a childhood stutter, Blunt says she wasn’t the type of photogenic ingénue who waltzed into Hollywood. “I was bullied,” the Brit tells The Daily Beast, fidgeting in her chair at Manhattan’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel. “I remember those popular girls at school. There was a light around them and you’re wanting to be a part of that light. You’re wanting to be with them.” The actress channeled those “mean girls” for her film debut as a manipulative teen in the 2004 independent film, My Summer of Love, which earned her critical raves.
Blunt then went on to play a resentful daughter in the BBC television drama Gideon’s Daughter, which earned her a coveted Golden Globe. She followed that performance with two Golden Globe nominations—one for playing the snobby assistant to Meryl Streep’s dragon lady magazine editor in the 2006 hit The Devil Wears Prada and another for her regal title role in 2009’s The Young Victoria. All of a sudden, Blunt was one of the popular girls in Hollywood, being offered the female lead in superhero films like Iron Man 2 and Captain America: The First Avenger.
“A lot of people have this idea that I’m defiantly not trying to do a superhero movie,” says Blunt. “I’m not standing at the sidelines, cheering to do one. It’s not really my speed. But at the same time, it depends on the role. If it’s just the girlfriend part in a superhero movie, I don’t want to do it. That’s of no interest to me.”
"If you do something that’s not an independent movie and you’re known to be the indie girl, that’s seen as a snub, but really it’s important to mix it up and I think I’ve tried so hard to do that."
Instead, she opted to star opposite Benicio Del Toro in 2010’s The Wolfman and alongside Jack Black in the children’s film, Gulliver’s Travels. But Blunt’s first two leading roles turned out to be critical and commercial disasters. “It allowed me to buy a flat in London,” she said optimistically of The Wolfman. “It allowed me to invest in property.”
And yet, Blunt laments that these career missteps have harmed her reputation as an actress who values artistic integrity over commerciality. “I think it’s easy to fall into the ‘tall poppy’ syndrome,” she says. “It’s a phrase we say in England where if poppies grow too tall, you have to slice them down and harvest them. If you’re British and living in America, there’s a tendency that they don’t like that. If you do something that’s not an independent movie and you’re known to be the indie girl, that’s seen as a snub. But really, it’s important to mix it up and I think I’ve tried so hard to do that.” She pauses, then adds, “It really doesn’t matter to me what people think because I know, for myself, that I’m doing one for them and one for me.”
Blunt’s latest film, she says, was for her. The Adjustment Bureau, which hits theaters this Friday, is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick and marks the directorial debut of The Bourne Supremacy’s co-writer George Nolfi. The film centers on a charismatic politician David Norris (Matt Damon), who must choose between the love of his life (Blunt) and his path set by a group of mysterious Mad Men-types in hats and trench coats known as the Adjustment Bureau. A little Dark City mixed with Stranger Than Fiction, the film balances sci-fi and good, old-fashioned romance. But Nolfi wasn’t in love with Blunt from the start—she had to fight for the part when he told her he wanted a dancer. Blunt told her agent, “Fuck that! I really want to meet on it.” Eventually, she won the filmmaker over, saying, “I think you need an actor for the part because it’s a love story, and if you don’t invest in that, you don’t have a movie.”
But this isn’t your typical love story. “Matt Damon is pretty much a stalker in this movie,” jokes Blunt. Although there is a very thin line between being sweet and being cause for restraining order in the Internet age, Norris is a textbook romantic. Damon's politician is a bit of an oxymoron in an arena that champions pragmatism over idealism—that is, with one glaring exception. “Obama’s a romantic!” gushes Blunt, who has grown wary of the political landscape stateside. “My problem with politics is everything seems so strategized these days, so I really like to hear about Obama doing something nice for Michelle, sneaking a cigarette… I think when something seems too manufactured, when it seems too pragmatic, that’s when I lose interest because I feel like I’m being played.”
Blunt, who married The Office’s resident heartthrob John Krasinski in July, has seemingly managed to find a happy medium in her romantic life—“that endless understanding of what each other does, and celebrating being a couple.” When asked how closely her husband mirrors his lovably goofy sitcom character, she says, “All that and more,” grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Krasinski’s onscreen persona on The Office recently wed and became a father. But will he be carrying his dad skills off-screen soon? “[John’s] well-practiced!” exclaims Blunt of starting a family. “I grew up with a younger brother and sister who are quite a bit younger than me. So, at 8 years old, I was sitting there with a baby, probably really pissed off [because] he was puking on me.” Blunt pauses. “I don’t know when, but at some point, definitely,” she says of having children of her own.
As far as her professional future, Blunt will next star in a pair of intriguing, smaller-scale films—she appears alongside Ewan McGregor in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, directed by Lasse Hallström ( The Cider House Rules), and in another sci-fi entry called Looper, featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis.
But film stardom was never part of Blunt’s plan. At 16, she wanted nothing more than to follow her older sister to Westminster, one of England’s top schools. “I wanted to be just like her because we’re only a year-and-a-half apart and very close,” says Blunt. Unfortunately, she only made it through the first round of cuts. “I remember thinking at the time, ‘My life is over!’” Blunt recounts. But she went on to attend her second choice school, Hurtwood House, which is known for its performing arts program. And it was at Hurtwood that an agent discovered her. “If I had gone [to Westminster], I would never be here,” says Blunt with a glowing smile. “That’s pretty trippy to me.”
Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and is a masters degree recipient from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial dept. of Blender Magazine, as an editor at Amplifier Magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.