Emily Blunt’s life had taken a Kafkaesque turn. Back in August, the acclaimed star of films like The Devil Wears Prada and Looper was ready to be sworn in as a naturalized citizen of the United States. The stunning Brit had, by that point, been studying U.S. history and the Constitution for months, knowing it better than most Americans not named Will Hunting. With her husband John Krasinski in tow, she visited the United States Court House in downtown Los Angeles, only to discover she’d be joined in the festivities by Camila Alves, who was also being granted her citizenship.To Blunt’s surprise, Alves’s very famous husband Matthew McConaughey tagged along and was, as Blunt puts it, “dressed like he was on safari” in a trucker hat and crumpled khakis. Even more surreal was what happened later, when the actress ingested her first slice of our political process as an American.
“I watched the Republican debate the night I became a citizen,” she tells The Daily Beast at the Toronto International Film Festival. “I thought, ‘This is a terrible mistake!’ It was completely crazy.”
The bad taste was washed out of her mouth, however, when Krasinski threw his wife a rowdy “American Party,” replete with tall boys of Bud Light and artery-busting snacks.
“I had an ‘American Party’ thrown for me by my sweet husband,” says Blunt. “We had Bud Light, mac and cheese, apple pie, and Springsteen was playing. There was all this Americana music playing—a lot of rock bands.”
And her latest film role in the impressive cartel thriller Sicario is about as American as they come. Blunt plays Kate Macer, an FBI agent and leader of a kidnap-response team on the border of the U.S. and Mexico. After discovering a cartel slaughter house filled with dozens of mutilated corpses, she’s roped in by a shadowy government agent (Josh Brolin) and his even shadowier righthand man (Benicio del Toro) to partake in an interagency task force mission into Juarez to extract the relative of a Mexican drug lord.
Directed by the talented Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners), the film provides a more nuanced perspective than that of noted xenophobe Donald Trump, who’s somehow convinced himself against all available evidence that the majority of Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and “bringing drugs.” As Kate falls deeper and deeper into the void, witnessing the U.S. government’s extralegal activities along the border, she feels that there has to be a better way.
“We haven’t seen this enough,” Blunt says of the cartels. “There’s all this panic about ISIS, but we’re dealing with a lot bigger numbers with this right at our borders, and it’s almost like we pretend it’s not there.”
“And it’s because we’re complicit,” she adds, alluding to U.S. government projects like Operation Fast and Furious, wherein the ATF allowed guns to get into the hands of the Mexican drug cartels. “There’s a massive role we’ve played in it, and the film explores the gray matter in that. It’s not ‘them’ and ‘us,’ it’s all of us.”
Blunt’s riveting performance, which has drawn comparisons to Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs and Jessica Chastain’s Maya in Zero Dark Thirty, is a deft combination of strength and vulnerable; she is the surrogate for the audience, through whose eyes we bear witness to a string of morally dubious killings.
In order to prepare for the role, Blunt trained with a handful of ex-Navy SEALs, as well as SWAT teams from Albuquerque and Phoenix, who taught her how expertly choreographed SWAT team missions are. “They do not spray bullets, these guys,” she says. “They’re held accountable for every shot they fire.”
Since the filmmaking crew couldn’t possibly risk shooting in Juarez, one of the murder capitals of the world, they used Mexico City as a substitute—which Blunt says was “a little dicey at times.” And, during an early sequence where a caravan of SUVs crammed with agents drives across the border into Juarez, Blunt found herself struck by a nasty case of Montezuma’s revenge.
“To be honest, I did [get Montezuma’s revenge]. I got very sick in Mexico. Those driving scenes of me looking sweaty and pasty? Those are for real. No makeup needed,” she says, then laughs. “I think it was the lettuce, and the next day, I remember being in the heat—because there was no AC in the car—and leaning my head against the seat in front, and Benicio went, “Yo, Blunt—you do not look good, man.”
After starting her career off brilliantly embodying manipulative mean girls in My Summer of Love and Prada, Blunt has, due to her performances in films like Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, and now Sicario, proved to be very adept at playing kickass action heroines.
“It wasn’t my intention!” she says, chuckling. “I’m not quite as shredded as Tom Hardy. Edge of Tomorrow was a big one, and that was a very hardened warrior and action heroine. When Denis cast me in this, he hadn’t seen Edge of Tomorrow. He cast me in this off of The Young Victoria, which is kind of hilarious. He said he liked the strength and the vulnerability, and that’s what he wanted for the role.”
As far as a sequel to Edge goes, which floundered a bit in theaters but has become a fan favorite in ancillary, there have been discussions. “There have been whispers of it. There’s definitely been talk about it,” says Blunt. “But so far they’ve just been the ‘Will everyone be up for it?’ types of conversations.”
Edge 2 aside, Blunt has a pair of intriguing upcoming projects out next year. The first is The Hunstman, a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, opposite Charlize Theron and Jessica Chastain, who Blunt calls “my new girl-crushes.” During filming, Blunt’s pal Anne Hathaway tried to recruit her and Chastain for a book club, but things didn’t go so swimmingly.
“Jessica and I were useless because Annie called us up and said, ‘You guys, let’s read this book,’ Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and I only just finished it,” she says. “I had to finish the movie to be able to have time to read, and Annie finished it in like two weeks. I don’t think Jessica had even started it by the time Annie finished it, so we weren’t a very united book club! We need to try again.”
The other high-profile film is Tate Taylor’s The Girl on the Train, based on the bestselling novel by Paula Hawkins. She’ll play Rachel Watson, an alcoholic who becomes convinced she may have harmed her ex-husband’s lover in a drunken blackout.
“I guess they see me as a sociopathic alcoholic!” jokes Blunt, laughing hysterically. “I’m playing the creepy girl on the train! My sister is a literary agent and she was like, ‘You have to do this movie. It’s, like, the best-selling book ever.’”
She’s also keen to land a role in Villeneuve’s upcoming Blade Runner sequel, exclaiming, “He fucking better!” when I ask her about appearing in the film, before giggling. “I said to Denis, ‘Let me be your Jake Gyllenhaal.’”
But any role in that Blade Runner sequel would fit the Hollywood paradigm of casting women as action heroes in mostly sci-fi films, and not ones set in the present day. It’s a puzzling trend that’s been happening since the days of Sigourney Weaver in Alien all the way up to The Hunger Games. Even all of Blunt’s gun-toting roles have been in sci-fi flicks—with the notable exception of Sicario, where she turns in a career-best performance.
“It is a little bit of an anomaly to have a female protagonist set in modern times. Because it’s not the reality that we have awesome, tough women, right? Ugh,” she says, shaking her head. “It’s sad, and this felt original in that way—and actually a better representation of the world. There are a lot of female cops who are working in very frightening, very difficult situations every day, we just don’t make movies about them.”