Actress Emily Blunt plays a troubled alcoholic in gripping ‘The Girl on the Train’
Before she landed the starring role in the adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ bestseller “The Girl on the Train,” Emily Blunt remembers seeing the book everywhere. But she was determined not to jump onboard.
“I saw everyone reading it,” says Blunt. “It was just a title you saw absolutely everywhere. But I was a bit contrary because I thought, ‘Well I’m not going to read the book everyone’s reading. I don’t want to be in the book club for ‘The Girl on the Train.’ ”
Blunt quickly changed her tune when she heard that a movie adaptation was in the works and that director Tate Taylor (“The Help”) wanted her for the role of Rachel Watson, a woman reeling from her recent divorce from husband Tom (Justin Theroux). After hitting the bottle a bit too hard, Rachel loses her job and begins stalking Tom and his new wife (Rebecca Ferguson).
Rachel also grows obsessed with one of Tom’s neighbors, a woman named Megan (Haley Bennett) whom she believes has the perfect marriage. Then one day Megan vanishes and Rachel begins to question her own role in Megan’s disappearance.
Once Blunt finally sat down to read “The Girl On the Train,” she became a believer.
“It’s easy to see why it became this runaway sensation,” says the actress. “It grips you in the most jarring way and it’s suspenseful and confusing, and has these interweaving narratives and an unreliable narrator.
“I think also these domestic thrillers are tantalizing audiences because they feel close to home. They feel relatable. The heightened realities you see in the superhero movies and big sci-fi movies sometimes anesthetize you to actually feeling anything because you don’t relate.
“But this book is so human. And it’s a depiction of the underbelly of domestic life, which a lot of people experience. It’s also [about] the strive for perfection, the [notion] that the grass is greener on the other side, and the voyeuristic tendencies in all of us. There were so many themes that felt so accessible to me.”
After breaking through with American audiences in “The Devil Wears Prada,” the British actress has been putting together a diverse career that ranges from action fare (“Sicario,” “Edge of Tomorrow”) to romantic comedies (“Five-Year Engagement,” “Your Sister’s Sister”) to musicals (“Into the Woods”).
Blunt knew that “The Girl on the Train” would rank as one of the toughest and potentially fulfilling assignments of her career
“It’s a thriller and it’s got to move like a thriller but [the main character] suffers from [alcoholism],” say Blunt, 33. “So the film is less about her being a sort of Nancy Drew character trying to work out whodunit than it is about her trying to make sure she didn’t do it.
“I thought, ‘How fantastic for a female lead and your female protagonist, your heroine, to be a black-out drunk?’ ”
Since alcoholism is one of Rachel’s defining traits, Blunt was determined to depict the disease accurately.
So, how did she prepare?
“Well, number one, that’s just me on a Friday night, usually,” she teases.
“No, here’s the thing. I think there’s a lot of pitfalls to playing an alcoholic . ... I just wanted it to be as authentic and raw and ugly as possible. It’s an ugly disease.
“Once it has its claws in you, the idea of a better life is impossible. Her infatuation with alcohol has become the only relationship that is ongoing in her life. How frightening that is!
“It’s an ugly thing when you’re around a drunk. It’s not funny, and I think one of the pitfalls is that it’s a bit comical to watch ... and I was nervous of it seeming funny. I watched a lot of documentaries on alcoholism because rather than watching actors playing alcoholics, I just needed to watch the reality of what it was.
“The TV show ‘Intervention’ was a fantastic source which I watched on a loop . ... I read books on depression and drinking. And I know some alcoholics and I spoke to some of them . ... So, all those sources were everything to me when it came to portraying this part.”
In an ironic twist, Blunt wound up discovering she was pregnant with her second child with actor/ husband John Krasinski after landing the role. In the movie, Rachel begins her downward spiral partially because she can’t have children.
Blunt believes her own condition made her even more in tune with Rachel.
“I had such empathy for this character,” says the actress who gave birth to Violet in June. Her other daughter, Hazel, is 2 years old. “I know a couple of friends who have tried desperately [to have kids] and all they think about is being a mother and being unable to be a mother.
“When you become a mother, certainly for me, my heart has been just completely cracked open and anything to do with being a mother or children, I weep instantly. So it was a strange thing to be pregnant while playing this part but I’m someone who tries not to torture myself with any part I’m playing, particularly.
“I couldn’t be in that mindset all the time so I’d just find ways to unwind, like the long car ride home, which was very helpful. But I also had a toddler at home who didn’t care whether I was really good in the scene.
“It’s an interesting thing: You don’t often hear about women being method, or mothers being method. We’re not given much of an opportunity, I think.”
For her next movie, Blunt steps into Julie Andrews’ shoes for “Mary Poppins Returns,” a musical reboot of the classic family film which will co-star “Hamilton’s’ LinManuel Miranda and Meryl Streep.
After “Girl on the Train,” Blunt is happy for the change of pace.
“You need both [dramas and comedies],” says the actress. “I need both. I love the extremes. I love to fluctuate between the extremes of what’s out there and what’s on offer.
“I do like to mix it up for my own enjoyment, and my own need for a challenge, I guess. I don’t have a preference, really, but I have done a couple of dark films recently so I think it will be nice to go towards the light for a little bit.”
In this image released by Universal Pictures, Emily Blunt appears in a scene from, “The Girl on the Train.”
In this image released by Universal Pictures, Allison Janney, left, and Emily Blunt appear in a scene from, “The Girl on the Train.”