THE FALL-OUT FROM THAT TRUMP REMARK
As soon as you have children, you are in a perpetual state of slight distraction
The London actress who took Hollywood by storm and is now starring in two of the year’s biggest cinema releases talks to Tiffanie Darke
Iwasn’t sure I was going to be able to watch Emily Blunt’s new movie. It’s horror, and no matter how ‘hot’ horror is right now, I can’t watch it. It started when I accidentally watched Wolf Creek in the middle of the night while breastfeeding. It traumatised me, and for months my experience of new motherhood was tormented by the idea that a psychotic torturer might be out to murder my new family, which, strangely, is exactly the axis Blunt’s new movie follows: terror, parenting and the terror of parenting.
“I don’t watch horror films either,” Blunt cries in her cut-glass vowels when I confess. Bright-eyed and game, she is dressed in classic Brooklyn hipster mum gear as she leans across the sofa at her husband’s Tribeca production company. “I would never be able to go and see It. I’ve not watched most of Get Out because I was too scared, which I apologised to Daniel for, because he’s my friend.”
Get Out was this year’s surprise Oscar hit, Jordan Peele’s horror film starring Daniel Kaluuya lifting the genre to new acclaim. Of course Kaluuya is her friend — she and her husband, John Krasinski (‘Jim’ in the American version of The Office), are one of the most popular couples in Hollywood, while managing to mostly slip under the paparazzi radar. James Corden, Amy Adams, Jennifer and Justin, George and Amal — all are close personal friends, and if pictures of the insanely gorgeous house in the Hollywood Hills they sold to Kendall Jenner in 2016 are anything to go by, their life there was pretty damn fabulous.
Blunt met Krasinski through a friend — “I never talk about it because it was such a special thing, just for us,” she blushes — but says she knew right away he was The One. “I really did, actually. I really did.” Not long after they were married, along came Hazel, now four, and Violet, almost two. Now decamped to New York, this week sees the birth of baby number three: the premiere of their first film together, A Quiet Place.
So, with such blissful friends and family… why horror? Blunt shakes her head and laughs. “One of the only horror films I have actually seen is Jaws,” she says, gesturing to the wall opposite on which Krasinski has hung a gallery’s worth of movie posters. “Jaws is one of his favourite films, and it’s one of my favourite films. I’m obsessed because it’s not essentially about this shark creating bloodfilled gore in the ocean. It’s really about the deeper dynamics between three men who are all having to overcome something.”
This is how the couple tackled A Quiet Place. Set in a post-apocalyptic world in which creatures prey on humans, it’s about one family’s attempt to survive. The creatures hunt down their prey with sound, which sets up the rather unlikely proposition that the family has to survive by walking everywhere barefoot, signing, eating off leaves and — big one for the kids, this — no playing with noisy toys. “It’s a sort of deeper metaphor of parenthood,” Blunt explains. “Our reluctance and fear of sending our kids out into a brutal, fragile world, and here it is in heightened reality.” Which is something Krasinski and Blunt can draw on in spades.
“The idea of not being able to protect your kids from something, that is so real to me,” she says. “This was more personal than anything else I’d done and I was absolutely wiped out by it. I actually never approach emotional scenes like that. My process has never been to go, ‘Well, I’m gonna think about Hazel and Violet’. But I think any mother would empathise so deeply because it would be your worst nightmare.”
Scrubbed of make-up and in downtown winter uniform of Moncler wedge boots and jeans by Frame (“My favourite denim line”), Blunt has managed to remain refreshingly English, forthright and down to earth. She’s definitely fun, cracking jokes and bursting into regular peals of laughter when talking about Brooklyn being just like north London, shopping for sweatpants for her husband in Lululemon or her four-year-old teaching her about the Harlem renaissance (“I was crying with laughter with John about it. It was like she was patronising me”). A night round the kitchen table at the Krasinski townhouse would, one suspects, involve plenty of wine, stubbing your toe on a pile of toys and an Uber home much later than intended.
But make no mistake, Blunt is serious business at the box office. Ever since she wowed the world with her turn in The Devil Wears Prada, she has picked up a string of interesting roles, shifting between genres from action (Sicario) to romance (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) to sci-fi (Looper, Edge of Tomorrow opposite Tom Cruise), to musical (Into the Woods) to last year’s break-out lead in The Girl on the Train. Next Christmas, megastardom beckons when she steps up as the new Mary Poppins, but in between she and her husband elected to do what most married couples would stay well away from — work on their first joint project. Krasinski directs and takes the lead, Blunt plays his wife. “We’ve always wanted to work together and when this came along I realised the concept was so much bigger than, ‘They’re a married couple’. We were nervous because we’ve always been the second-hand audience to the rehashing of what we might have gone through that day on set. And ultimately we really understand each other’s worlds because it’s the same world.” They shot the whole film in six weeks, cast and crew camped out in the bucolic upstate New York countryside. “We drank a lot of whiskey. It was just such an intense world to be in, all day, and such an intimate world because we’re shooting on this glorious farm, but everything’s happening in that moment.” There are very few on-screen moments between the two, and yet their relationship is utterly convincing. “The film was actually going to benefit from the fact that we were a married couple, because we had this secret language we could bring.” Which leaves plenty of room for the kids, who become the focus — as one suspects they are in real life. “As soon as you have children, you are
in a sort of perpetual state of slight distraction,” says Blunt. “Thinking about your children, your own life becomes secondary.” It was children that prompted her and her husband to leave behind Tinseltown and head back to the gritty reality of urban life.
“I feel a lot more supported in my quest to create an exciting environment for my girls in Brooklyn. LA, however lovely it was to live in the sunshine — and we have wonderful friends there — was completely alien to what I knew. The idea of creating a world where my daughters can be interesting and interested is giving me a sense of great calm that I don’t know I felt before.”
With her daughter lecturing her on Ella Fitzgerald and Josephine Baker, that must feel good. “Brooklyn’s kind of amazing, I’m not gonna lie,” she coos. “It’s a strange, utopian, fabulous world. John and I have become institutionalised; we just stay in Brooklyn now. The people are cool, we walk everywhere. The restaurants are fabulous and everyone has a stroller, so we fit right in.”
They don’t get bothered in the street, which is a bonus “because I really love the idea of still being able to blend in. There’s a lot of very, very famous people in Brooklyn and it’s just a wonderfully supportive community. They just let you be who you want to be”.
Blunt was raised near Richmond Park, so all this feels comfortably familiar. “There’s a tenacity and energy here. There’s a hardiness you need as well to live in New York, simply because of the conditions alone. You gotta have your wits about you. It’s similar to London and how I grew up.”
She must miss London — her mum (an actress), dad (a barrister) and three siblings still live there. Born in Wandsworth, Blunt was discovered and signed by an agent while she was a pupil at Hurtwood House in Dorking, Surrey. She made her professional debut in 2001 opposite Dame Judi Dench in Sir Peter Hall’s production of The Royal Family. More theatre work followed, along with film and — her big breakthrough — a role opposite Bill Nighy and Miranda Richardson in TV drama Gideon’s Daughter, written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff. Her turn as the daughter of the New Labour spin doctor Gideon Warner won her a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.
How did her family feel when she announced she was getting hitched to an American? “He’s from Boston. They’re quite British, the Bostonians, you know?” she grins. Maybe with her success they had already resigned themselves to her living abroad?
“You know, they hadn’t. I had bought a flat in Notting Hill, so I think they were hoping that I was going to just stay there.” Still, Blunt is back frequently, and all filming of Mary Poppins took place in the UK. Her mum must have been sad to say goodbye. “But, she’s got my three other siblings over there. She’s fine. She’s got ... other grandkids,” she laughs. Her uncle is Crispin Blunt, the Brexit-supporting Tory MP whose political viewpoint Blunt does not share. “I think it’s really sad,” she says. “I’m really bummed about it. I think that ‘Globalisation is here guys, come on!’ It is an interesting time in the world because it’s fragile, because it feels unsafe. It’s become this sort of ‘each to their own’ mentality. You feel people becoming more guarded, and more in the need to protect. It’s sad.”
Blunt won’t be drawn on the current Brexit leadership, recounting one of the only times she put a foot wrong. An offhand remark about Trump and regretting her US citizenship led to a media backlash. “It was a fairly innocuous joke because, you know, where I’m from we poke fun at our public figures.” But Americans did not see it that way and Blunt was forced to apologise. “I think I wasn’t quite American enough to be able to say that.” She cringes at the memory. “I have to be really careful now. Certain subjects, I just can’t. Because I’m also someone who loathes getting in trouble. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loathed getting in trouble.”
No doubt. Blunt is head girl material, likes to play by the rules and, in another world, with her nice, middle-class upbringing, would maybe have been a marketing executive at L’Oréal, or perhaps a school-gate mum with a solid charity sideline. She actually seems the most unlikely girl to have hit the high life , but her acting is very good. Quite what she draws on to get into character is a mystery. My guess is she’s a listener; she suffered from a stutter as a child and perhaps her nerves have made her an observer. The hour we sat on the sofa was highly entertaining, but all the time I could feel her watching me, trying to get a measure. In the end, I did make it through the film, digging my fingernails into my palms during the terrifying bits, but held in my seat as much by her acting as the deep fears of my own family life played out in front of me. The mother who Blunt plays is warm and loving, but at the same time tough and unyielding. That hardiness — that may be it. “I’m the will to live,” she says of her part. “To create that sort of life in their world, however frightening it is, she’s gonna f***ing do it. I will live against all odds.” And with that it’s time to exit back into the late winter blizzards and the mean streets of Park Slope, Brooklyn.
A Quiet Place is in cinemas from April 5 with nationwide previews on April 2
ENGLISH ROSE: Emily Blunt at the Oscars and (below) in new movies A Quiet Place and Mary Poppins. Right, in The Girl on the Train
POWER COUPLE: Emily Blunt with husband John Krasinski