THE GIRL WHO IS SEEING
Emily Blunt says she was terrified by the unlikeable role of Rachel Watson in The Girl on the Train – but she decided to take it anyway
IF Emily Blunt thought that playing an emotionally shattered, self-loathing alcoholic in the thriller The Girl on the Train might be a difficult skin to shed at the end of each day, her two-year-old daughter, Hazel, swiftly brought things back into focus.
“I remember it had been a really long day and the scenes had been quite draining,” says the 33-year-old British actor while sitting in a hotel room overlooking New York’s Central Park. “And I got home and Hazel had a horrible stomach bug. She got into bed with me because she was so ill and I just remember waking up to her projectile vomiting into my face. So, that immediately brings you back to reality.”
In the film adaptation of exjournalist Paula Hawkins’ phenomenally successful thriller, The Girl on the Train (think this year’s Gone Girl), Blunt plays Rachel, a recently divorced woman teetering on the edge of an emotional abyss. Taking the train from her suburban New York home (the setting has moved from the novel’s London location) each day to a city job we never see her in, Rachel watches out the window, peering into the home and life of what she perceives as a perfect couple.
But the suburbs have secrets and Rachel, who is prone to alcohol-induced blackouts, thinks she might have done something terrible when the woman whose life she covets goes missing.
“I was just terrified of playing her. That’s usually a good indicator of why I want to do something, if it seems so out of reach to me,” Blunt says. “And I loved that your female protagonist is a raging alcoholic in a mainstream film. It’s a very unusual thing to see on screen.”
Blunt says the fact that Rachel is not overly “likeable” is something of a breakthrough for women in film.
“Women are held to this ideal of being likeable and pretty and witty and supportive. It drives me crazy,” she says, adding that it’s good to see a woman painted in a “more truthful, flawed and human light”.
Still, some things never change, and much of the commentary surrounding the film, annoyingly, has centred on the fact Blunt is apparently “too pretty” to play the troubled Rachel, a narrative that also drives Blunt to distraction.
“I think it’s easy to talk about it in a superficial way. And I understand why people are mentioning it, but I think it’s an easy thing to say,” she says. “I mean, it’s pretty apparent I look like s**t in the movie. But it’s not about me having some sort of makeunder. This character is very sad. I had a lot of empathy for her.”
And as Rachel yearns for a more picture-perfect life, Blunt gets why society seems to grow ever more celebrity-obsessed with each passing gossip story.
“We do idealise people’s lives,” she says. “We do have that desire to see behind closed doors. And I think, specifically, if you are in the public eye nowadays, the public is only presented with images of perfection, and the red carpet, and your perfect life. Nobody ever posts a picture of their toddler having a tantrum, or themselves looking like s**t, or fighting with their husband.”
For Blunt, it’s all about the work. In a varied career she’s played a scene-stealing, acerbic fashion magazine assistant in The Devil Wears Prada, an FBI agent fighting Mexican drug cartels in the excellent Sicario, and a kick-butt special forces warrior up against an alien invasion in Edge of Tomorrow.
These days, she says, she’s “more specific” about what she’s putting out into the world.
“But I’m very fortunate that I’m in a position where I’ve been afforded the opportunity to be choosy,” she says. “And that’s not something I take lightly.”
As for favourite co-stars, one famous name abounds.
“I love Meryl Streep,” she grins. “Completely.”
Blunt says she understands why Streep, with whom she starred in The Devil Wears Prada and Into the Woods, is so universally adored. Streep apparently not so much.
“Meryl is so beloved,” she says. “She’s like: ‘Oh, please.’ She’s sick of being beloved. I think she wants some haters. But if I ever needed advice on how to navigate something in this business, I would go to her.
“I would also go to her to navigate something about being a mother. She’s just one of those people that’s done it right.” opens today
Emily Blunt in a scene from The Girl on the Train, which is directed by Tate Taylor.