“It’s rather snooty in here, isn’t it?” Emily Blunt asks with a laugh as she works her way down the dimly lit hallway of a private club in Los Angeles. It’s not exactly the kind of observation you’d expect from a British actress best known for playing chicks who are—to put it frankly—stuck up (an assistant to the editor of a fashion magazine in The Devil Wears Prada, Queen Victoria in The Young Victoria). Refreshingly, in real life the charming 27-year-old—who’s dressed down in dark J Brand skinny jeans, a plaid flannel shirt, and black-framed glasses—doesn’t have much patience for pretension.
More evidence of that: When the fish tacos and burrata-and-heirloom-tomato salad she’s ordered for lunch arrive, she inhales them. “I was about to faint,” she says dramatically, eyeing her clean plate. Hunger not yet abated, she gestures to a bowl of chili-flaked bread and crackers and asks politely, “Do you want these before I completely demolish them?” Now, this is a girl who’d be fun to hang with.
But squeezing in a lunch interview with such a busy actress isn’t an easy feat—no matter how quickly she chows! Though she’s been acting since age 12, when a teacher suggested that taking a role in the school play might help correct her stutter, Emily has been on a hot streak for the past few years. In fall 2010, she wrapped filming the drama Salmon Fishing in the Yemen with Ewan McGregor, and then finished a yet-untitled movie from the much-buzzed-about indie director Lynn Shelton in the winter. In theaters right now is the adventure-comedy Gulliver’s Travels, with Jack Black. Her upcoming releases are the animated film Gnomeo & Juliet and the romantic thriller The Adjustment Bureau. In the latter, Emily portrays a ballerina who falls for a brashly charismatic politician (played by Matt Damon).
The part was intended for a professional dancer—or at least an actress with a background in dance. Emily was neither. But the ballsy star convinced writer/ director George Nolfi to give her a shot.
“I told him, ‘I’ll work my ass off for you,'” says Emily. “‘I’ve never had a pair of ballet pumps on my feet before, but I will seem like I have.'” Nolfi was sold—especially after seeing her screen test with Matt Damon. “It’s an ineffable thing. She had incredible chemistry with Matt,” he says.
Their connection was evident on the day of the Women’s Health cover shoot—the costars seemed more like giddy siblings than Hollywood heavy hitters. When asked what it was like to work with Emily, Matt simply says, “There are a lot of great actresses her age right now, but Emily is just f—ing unbelievable.”
Dancing with the Star
Getting the role in The Adjustment Bureau turned out to be the easy part. Once she was on board, she had to make good on her promise to Nolfi and transform herself into a ballerina—in just six weeks! For moral support, she turned to her close friend, actress Amy Adams, a trained dancer. “Amy is gung ho—a crack-the-whip kind of girl. Her advice is always ‘Just do it! You can do it!'” To get into the spirit, they had an impromptu dance party that included blaring Lionel Richie tunes and busting out what Emily jokingly refers to as “white-girl body rolls.”
Her real preparation wasn’t quite as much fun. Six days a week she worked with a trainer at New York City’s Tracy Anderson Studio, going through grueling two-hour sessions of “boot-camp training” that included cardio, sculpting exercises, and resistance work—all designed to elongate her frame, define her muscles, and give her a dancer’s body. “It was exhausting, an endurance test,” she recalls. “But you start to feed off of it, you sort of feel like a junkie.”
After that, Emily would head over to the Manhattan headquarters of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, a dance troupe that’s featured in the film, and spend two more hours getting schooled in dance by artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer. Working out among professional dancers, Emily admits, was a humbling experience. “There is something incredibly embarrassing and soul crushing about doing something that you’re terrible at every day whilst being watched by people who are amazing at it,” she says. According to Pouffer, Emily doesn’t give herself enough credit: “She’s probably going to deny this,” he says, “but she has a sense of rhythm and coordination that’s very organic.”
Emily wasn’t prepared for some parts of the process though—like how much she’d miss eating bowls of pasta (she subsisted on things such as poached chicken and fish, salads, “tons of fruit,” and “sustaining” foods like almonds, brown rice, and granola with soy milk). She was also felled by every possible injury—throwing out her hip, wrecking her shoulders—and required therapeutic massages three times a week. But in the end, the aches and pains offered a way to worm into the psyche of a dedicated ballerina. “It was the first time I physically undertook what that character’s life was,” she says, “to physically go there.”
An Impressive Body of Work
All the sweat and sacrifice paid off. By the time the cameras were rolling, Emily’s body was in peak shape. “I looked like an aerobics teacher,” she says. “My shoulders puffed out. My back looked like there was a barrel of snakes in it. I had an eight-pack!” As much as she marveled at her new form, she gave up the intense training once the film wrapped. On a trip to Paris with her husband (in case you missed it, she married The Office’s John Krasinski seven months ago), Emily did nothing but “eat cheese and bread.” Then she went back to her usual routine of working out four days a week with AJ Johnson, an L.A. wellness coach who specializes in programs that include everything from canyon hikes to free weights to sprinting.
Then there are the brisk walks she takes with the latest addition to the Blunt-Krasinski family: a red Labrador named Finn. Emily fishes around in her handbag, retrieves her iPhone, and thumbs around on it until she finds a shot of the pooch, the size of a small pony, sitting on her lap. “He’s a goofy, heavenly, sensitive, sweet boy,” she says in a swooning voice.
No doubt she’ll carry the adorable shots of Finn with her on her next project, Looper, a postapocalyptic sci-fi flick costarring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, which Emily starts filming this spring. The role is about as far from her graceful Adjustment Bureau ballerina as one could possibly imagine. “It’s set 50 years from now, when the world has gone to shit,” she explains excitedly. “I play a Midwest toughie who wields a big rifle.” Compared with ballet boot camp, that should be a piece of cake.