In The Devil Wears Prada, Brit actress Emily Blunt was the sizeist fashionista. But in real life, she eschews the gym and dieting for carbohydrates and cooking.
Emily Blunt, who’s arrived on what’s meant to be a glam Hollywood fashion shoot in jeans, an old hoody and fairly dirty Converse (“Actually, I’d go so far as to say ‘smelly’,” she pronounces unselfconsciously), chooses to fly under the red-carpet radar most of the time. But, in an odd antidote to her quotidian normality in the fashion department, an LA hairdresser is weaving shocks of electric blue, fuchsia and violet hair into her dark-auburn, shoulder-length, normal-girl-doesn’t-want-to-bother locks.
“I was playing an eccentric character in Sunshine Cleaning with Amy Adams and Alan Arkin,” she explains of the electric-hued peacock extensions, some of which she arrived with. “Now, I wouldn’t know anything about that, though, would I?” she snickers. “If I open up a script, and the description reads, ‘Nice normal girl’, I slam it shut. This hair will give me – and the photos – some drama. I don’t want to be just that clichéd rebellious English rose.”
It’s hard to imagine Blunt being stuck in that nondescript box. But after a Golden Globe win (for TV’s Gideon’s Daughter), and grabbing Evening Standard and London Film Critics Awards – among other nominations, for The Devil Wears Prada and My Summer of Love – that’s exactly what could have happened. “When you’ve done a lot of period pieces and you’re British, you can get seriously pigeonholed. ‘English rose’ is a character description I see a lot,” she says, making a face, “and it makes me cringe. I’m far more drawn to playing off-the-wall people. I’m fascinated by people, and all you have to do is scratch the surface, and you get to off-the-wall. I’m not talking about ‘mysterious’ – not even ‘complex’ – just real.”
Looks like the “real” thing doesn’t apply to hair, however. “I’m afraid I do dye my hair a lot,” she sighs. “It was my idea to go red for Prada. The producers were scared of it. But I kept saying, ‘No, it has to be a real statement. We all know that no one in the fashion industry, no matter how flamboyant, actually dresses that way, but it was heightened reality. My own hair colour is lighter than this – or duller than this. Anyway, who knows? I can’t keep up.”
For an actress who made her name as a fashion-obsessed magazine assistant, the 24-year-old star has more interest in playing out the radical aspects of her inner life than the runway fantasies some peers seem to be enacting.
“I get it that it’s someone else’s reality to go out every night and get dressed up,” she says, eyeing several rows of black dresses that probably add up to the price of a new Mercedes – or at least a Mini Cooper. “But Michael [Bublé, her boyfriend of three years] and I don’t live that sort of life. We try to maintain a life that’s true to us. You might catch me in heels and a nice top on the rare night out. We live in Vancouver, but I spend a lot of my life in hotels, so when I get home I crave nothing more than to cook.
“I do like fashion,” she goes on. “I do like getting dressed up. But for events only. On a day-to-day basis, I’m not obsessed. I’m more likely to go for soft things like cotton and cashmere. Cashmere sweaters are my weakness. When it comes to dresses, I like fitted and chic – like the Hervé Léger I wore to the Globes, or the blue metallic Calvin Klein I wore to the Oscars. I don’t like flowery or poufy things. I like Chanel, Elie Saab, Prada, Calvin Klein. Some of Marc Jacobs. And there are some Australian designers I like, too: Willow, and Sass and Bide.”
No wonder she likes fitted. The actress, though 5ft 8in, is naturally waif-like, and that major “diet” she referred to in The Devil Wears Prada was a big myth. “I did lose a few pounds for it,” she admits.
“But I have a hard time gaining weight, actually. So on Prada I just didn’t eat as much. I actually wish I was curvier. I want Jessica Biel’s butt! That girl has the most gorgeous bottom in the world. I can eat carb upon carb, but I will still only have a boney butt. I’m sure there are girls who crave a tiny bottom, but I am not one of them. We always want the body we don’t have, don’t we?” she sighs. And it actually seems that she’s being sincere on this topic.
As for the “size zero” body-consciousness crisis – it’s not really a crisis for Ms Blunt now, is it? “If as an actress all you are doing is running to the gym and dieting, you are not going to give a very focused performance,” she sniffs. “Sure, actresses have to look good, but if you keel over on set, you’re not going to get hired very often.
I doubt Meryl Streep or Julianne Moore – or even Anne Hathaway for that matter – think about it too much. I live in Vancouver and come from England: I’m not playing the glamour game. Sure, a nice fitted frock is a nice frock – but at the end of the day, it’s still a frock.”
But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t appreciate those who are deeply embedded in the glamour game. “Poor Jessica Biel, she’s just so beautiful,” she sighs, changing her tune. “That’s how I felt about Gisele [the supermodel] on Prada. Poor Gisele. Bit of a disappointment when these girls turn out to be really nice. You want to hate them, don’t you? But I have girl crushes on all of them. I had one on Juliette Binoche on Dan in Real Life, this movie I did with Juliette and Steve Carell. Then I got one on Amy Adams making Sunshine Cleaning.”
How appropriate from the girl who played a deceptive lesbian in the ultimate girl-crush movie, My Summer of Love, the indie film that helped (along with her massive, blue, almond-shaped eyes) to put her on the map. (“Michael calls me ‘Garfield’,” she says about those eyes.) “I do seem to keep getting girl crushes,” she laughs. “But I don’t want to keep playing girls with girl crushes the rest of my life.”
That won’t be happening. There are movies already in the can, and a few more she’s cast in, including The Young Victoria, which Martin Scorsese will co-produce. “I know,” she remarks, rather blithely. “People are going to be saying, ‘Enough of her already’.”
But the characters – and the films – are nothing if not completely diverse. In The Jane Austen Book Club, Blunt plays a married wallflower with a chic little bob. The Great Buck Howard is a movie in which she’s opposite John Malkovich, whom she admits scared her more than a little, and Tom Hanks. And then there is Charlie Wilson’s War, directed by Mike Nichols, with Julia Roberts and Hanks again. “I have a very raunchy scene in it with Tom,” she says. “Of course, he was a perfect gentleman and an amazing actor. But I think in the middle of licking his body, I stopped and said, ‘You know, I grew up with you in Splash.’ It kind of broke the mood. But he was great about it.”
Then there’s Wind Chill, a horror movie in which she sports the excellent American accent that keeps getting her all this work. “It’s debatable how good it is,” she smiles. “It’s probably gone downhill since working with the voice coach on Wind Chill. I’d say it’s OK. I’m with a Canadian all the time, so it rubs off. My mum probably hates it.”
Blunt met Bublé at a concert – his – and it wasn’t long after that they started living together. “Everyone seems so intrigued by it,” she muses. “But we’re just us. We really love each other a huge amount. And we both have to work so hard to see each other often. I flew to Australia to spend time with him on tour; he’ll fly to sets to be with me. But it’s all totally worth it. I loved having him at my side at the Golden Globes last year, my first big American awards show outing. He just makes fun of it, and we had a laugh on the way there. He’s probably better at dealing with those situations than I am. He appears highly sophisticated on stage, but I’m telling you, he’s not that person. We take a lot with a pinch of salt.”
She’s got a Canadian boyfriend, a home in Vancouver, a Hollywood movie career – is Emily Blunt worried about being labelled a turncoat by her friends back here? “It’s just not an issue,” she says. “I’m just trying to work in the best films possible, and living my life the way it plays out.”
And anyway, she is about to play Queen Victoria. “I’m reading up a lot on queens,” she says. “The Other Boleyn Girl, The Queen’s Fool… The film really emphasises her human qualities. Mrs Brown is the only other film about Victoria. It’s really just about a family – who happen to be royalty.”
It’s a lot of progress for a girl who stumbled upon acting, and who had a disabling stutter in her teenage years. She handles it with a modicum of modest disbelief and a dose of gratitude. Earlier this year, she was named MaxMara “Face of the Future” – an accolade given to actresses whose careers are at a turning point – at the Los Angeles Women in Film Awards.
“It makes me feel very humble and appreciative,” she says, suddenly serious. “And I guess that’s a statement you hear a lot – but I do feel humbled. I have been working a long time. I’m sure most people don’t think I did a day’s work before Prada, but I did. And it’s happened at a rate I’m OK with. I was given the space to mess up before this point. It’s just too precarious to think I will do well every time. So I don’t have any giant mud on my face at this moment – that’s probably still to come.” Maybe not. But she’s still got peacock extensions in her hair.