Emily Blunt kept an eye on an artichoke boiling in a pot in her borrowed London flat while we spoke by phone. The busy actress had just driven in from Shepperton Studios in Middlesex where she’s filming “The Young Victoria.” Although Blunt has a hefty resume for a 24-year-old – “The Devil Wears Prada” was her breakthrough role and she currently can be seen in “The Jane Austen Book Club” – she’s never had to carry an entire movie until now.
Playing Queen Victoria during her turbulent youth, Blunt is in practically every scene. The shoot is exhausting and, on a rare evening to herself, she’s relaxing by cooking a splendid meal. The artichoke will be followed by pizza fritters from a cookbook by English celebrity chef Jamie Oliver that her grandmother gave to her.
“I’m trying to have some quiet time,” Blunt said. “When you’re on a set you’re surrounded by people all the time, and you have a responsibility to be a good person and to be jovial all day because it only takes one person to blacken the mood, and I never want to be that person. So now that I get to come home I just want to not talk to anyone for a while.”
“The Young Victoria” will show a very different queen than the solemn, plump monarch most often pictured. “She always looks like she’s in mourning and miserable. The younger version of her was just such a contradiction. She was feisty and emotional. She laughed and danced and loved her opera and ballet,” Blunt related.
“People don’t know that side of her at all. I felt the weight of responsibility on this one because she was a remarkable girl, and I wanted to do her justice.”
Also going against the common perception, Queen Victoria is portrayed as svelte – not yet having labored through nine preg nancies. “Thank God I don’t have to do any of that huffing and puffing giving birth,” said Blunt, who planned to spend part of her free weekend at the gym “working off my pizza fritters. I love eating anything that’s bad for me.”
You couldn’t tell from the skintight sapphire blue metallic strapless gown she wore to the Academy Awards to present the best costume design award. Oscar prognosticators thought she might be a best supporting actress nominee for her condescending office assistant in “Prada.”
“Well it’s such a meat market – isn’t it? – that whole thing,” Blunt said of the competition. “God knows what happened. Maybe I didn’t shake enough hands. But they don’t normally reward comedy. It’s one of those things people think is easy to do. I disagree. I think it is one of the hardest things to pull off because it’s so intricate and all about timing.”
Her character in “The Jane Austen Book Club,” which opened last week, is unintentionally funny. She’s a French teacher who’s never been to France but sprinkles French phrases into her conversation and dresses from a distorted perspective of how smart Parisian women look.
“Something about her was very engaging,” said Blunt, explaining why she accepted the relatively small part. “I hadn’t played anyone like her who is such a wallflower and so secretive and unhappy. I found her very funny, actually, in her social ineptness.
“And an ensemble piece takes the pressure off. Certainly the hours are less brutal than what I am doing now. It was the right ensemble because those girls were so much fun,” she said of co-stars Maria Bello, Kathy Baker and Amy Brenneman, all of whom have become friends. “We drove the men in the cast crazy with our clacking away and laughing stupidly in the background all the time.”
Although American audiences first became aware of Blunt in an overtly sexual role in the 2004 lesbian drama “My Summer of Love,” sexy is not something she feels particularly comfortable playing.
“No one wants to play sexy onscreen. It’s always so awkward because everyone is watching you and going, ‘Oh is that what she thinks sexy is?’ ”
Evidently, Grammy-nominated Canadian big-band singer Michael Bublé was bowled over by Blunt’s natural sexiness. They met backstage after his appearance on an Australian TV award show in 2005 – he thought she was a BBC producer – and have been together since. She did background vocals on his album “Call Me Irresponsible.” Although Bublé’s albums have sold more than 14 million copies, he jokingly mentioned his concern to a TV interviewer that his steady is rapidly becoming the more famous of the two.
Blunt left her tight-knit family in London and moved to Vancouver to live with Bublé. She won’t outright say that he’s the one but gets giggly talking about him. They just do “normal things” when they’re together, which hasn’t been often lately.
Blunt no longer has time to read Austen, or anything else except scripts, let alone belong to a book club like the one in the movie.
“I would probably let everyone down by not reading the book and be banished from the club anyway,” she said with a laugh.
Her formal education stopped at 18 when an agent came to see her in a school play at the urging of her teacher. Without any formal theatrical training, Blunt was voted best newcomer for the 2001 production of “The Royal Family” on the London stage and went on to appear in several high-tone British TV dramas.
“My mum used to be an actress, so I probably got it from her,” Blunt said. She never got to see the former Joanna Mackie onstage because once she married criminal lawyer Adrian Rawlins, “she had far too many children (four), and we got in the way of her continuing to act. But she is really thrilled for me.”
Her father tries to get her to be less of a worrier. “He’s always saying. ‘You must let it roll off like water off a duck’s back.’ ”
Her worrying when applied to choosing the right roles has paid off. In December, Blunt will be seen in “Charlie Wilson’s War” opposite Tom Hanks and directed by Mike Nichols. She plays a congressman’s daughter who’s “rather a raunchy thing” and angles to seduce the title character played by Hanks. Next, she and Amy Adams co-star in “Sunshine Cleaning” as sisters who start a cleaning company mopping up after crime scenes. Alan Arkin plays their dad.
“We were shooting when he won the Oscar for ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ ” she recalls. “We made a little red carpet for his return and presented him with homemade trophies. Alan shrugged it all off and pretended not to be pleased, but I think he was.”
Blunt’s voice suddenly registered slight alarm. “Oh, no, my artichoke is overboiling.” The time had come to let her sit down and enjoy her feast.