Once upon a time, there was a Hollywood actress who yearned to play against type. She had creative energy and vision to spare, and she knew she could do more than just smile for the camera. Oh, why must I only be the subject of photo shoots? she lamented. How I wish I could contribute to their artistic direction as well.
The actress was 31-year-old British beauty Emily Blunt, whose cornflower-blue eyes, toned dancer’s body and flawless complexion could turn even Snow White green with envy. She was a formidable onscreen talent who routinely surprised her audience with a range of dissimilar roles in such films as The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and boasted impressive industry accolades (a BAFTA award and two Golden Globe nominations at last count). Yet she also had a keen visual eye and a natural instinct for hair and makeup, which she longed to put to use.
Alas, though Blunt waited patiently, no fairy godmother materialized with a glossy magazine assignment to satisfy her creative appetite. After a while, the situation started to seem rather hopeless. But one dreary November day this year, something truly extraordinary happened: Blunt was given a high-concept photo shoot to conceive, direct and star in. Who granted her wish? VIOLET GREY, of course, who relinquished complete control and felt confident she could execute it seamlessly.
Blunt wasted no time in working her magic. She assembled a mythical team that included stylist Jessica Paster, makeup artist Jenn Streicher, hairstylist Ashley Streicher and photographer Norman Jean Roy. For the concept, she decided to revisit the moody, enchanted subject matter of her upcoming film, Into the Woods. Opening Christmas day and co-starring Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick and Johnny Depp, it is a remake of the famous Stephen Sondheim musical that intertwines several classic fairy tales and recasts them through a darker lens. “The message is very much ‘Be careful of what you wish for,’” explains Blunt of Sondheim’s twisted take on the Brother’s Grimm’s fabled tales.
The shoot took place at the historic Carlyle Hotel in New York and focused on three well-known heroines—Cinderella, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood — from the Grimm’s canon. However, Blunt’s versions aren’t exactly appropriate for bedtime stories. “These aren’t portraits of one-dimensional fairy tale characters,” explains Blunt, who developed looks for each character. “They are modern women who are powerful and complicated.”
After the shoot wrapped, Blunt bid adieu to her team and returned home to her handsome Prince Charming (husband actor John Krasinski) and their 10-month-old daughter, Hazel. And though VIOLET GREY is reluctant to speculate on such matters, there’s a strong possibility that they will indeed live happily ever after.
* Of course, judging by Blunt’s gorgeous handiwork and comfort behind the camera, one senses this is just the beginning. Below, the actress delves into the details of each look.
Emily’s Character Study
Blunt took charge of her VIOLET GREY photo shoot to conjure a series of darkly glamorous portraits with photographer Norman Jean Roy. “It was hugely appealing to me to have that much input,” she says. “Usually, as an actress, you show up and they say, ‘This is what the look is, and this is the character that we want you to be.’ And that’s always fun, but the fact that I got to have a say in the story was really exciting.”
Here, Blunt divulges some of her favorite behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the day of the shoot.
On LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD…
How Blunt turned the tables: “I wanted to play with the idea that maybe Little Red Riding Hood’s got a little of the wolf in her. Maybe she’s not such a damsel in distress, but rather just the opposite: There’s something predatory and even kind of masculine about her.”
Why a costume change was in order: “Jessica had an incredible red cape made, but when Norman and I saw it, we thought it was a little too literal. So she went back out and found this vintage Pucci crimson-velvet suit. It was quite loose and worked perfectly with the androgynous look we were going for.”
Why appearances can be deceiving: “This Rapunzel isn’t in the tower singing beautifully. She’s in agony up there and is desperate to escape. She feels caged in. (Hence, Jessica put me in one of those cages that women used to wear under their ball gowns.)”
How they devised a “pretty recluse” look: “Jenn did a deep, plummy red lip and a chocolate smoky eye that has a melancholic, hollowed-out effect. She also added these very long lashes, and Ashley did a very long messy braid to make me look kind of neglected and ungroomed.”
Who risked life and limb: “Norman staged the shoot on the balcony of the Carlyle where there’s a 20-story drop. When he got up and straddled the railing, I almost had a heart attack. His assistant said, ‘Oh, that’s nothing. Norman’s been known to climb to the top of a mast on a ship and just hang there, swaying around in the storm to get the perfect shot.’ He has this great courage and tenacity and really goes the extra mile.”
How they staged a very glamorous walk of shame: “I told Jessica to find the biggest dress she could because I had this vision of running down the street in New York wearing an absurdly large ball gown. Essentially, the story line here is that Cinderella had danced all night at the ball but the prince had come on too strong. Now she’s totally over it and just wants to flee the scene.”
Why Blunt harbored a princess fantasy: “Anna Kendrick plays the Cinderella character in Into the Woods, and I play the humble Baker’s Wife. When I first saw her in that incredible gown and I was there in an apron, I was like, ‘Oh, man.’ So this shoot may have been my way of living that out a little bit.”
How Blunt plans to read Cinderella to Hazel: “The Brothers Grimm version has some grisly moments, like the part where the stepsister cuts off her heel to fit in the glass slipper. But maybe if I read it in a happy voice, she’ll just be like, ‘Everything’s fine!’”