Emily Blunt explores animalistic love with ‘The Wolfman’

Emily Blunt is torn between two brothers. At least her Gwen Conliffe character is in “The Wolfman,” the 2010 remake of the 1941 horror film “The Wolf Man.” Gwen is living in Great Britain in the late 1800s and is engaged to nobleman Ben Talbot, who mysteriously vanishes. Ben’s brother Lawrence (played by Benicio Del Toro) returns from the United States after he gets news of his brother’s disappearance.

After Ben’s mutilated body is found and more people are found murdered in a similar manner, Gwen starts to get closer to Lawrence and falls in love with him, even as Lawrence becomes a prime suspect in the murders. British actress Blunt recently sat down to talk about her role in “The Wolfman” at the film’s Los Angeles press junket. She also shared her thoughts on what horror films scared her the most, as well as the experience of playing a ballerina in the 2010 sci-fi thriller “The Adjustment Bureau,” starring Matt Damon.

How was it to working with Benicio Del Toro?
It was intense! No. He’s awesome to work with. He’s such a rare actor, in that he has a real unique approach to a scene. He’s exciting to work with, because he’s quite raw and instinctual, so you don’t really know what he will do in the scene. The scene can really take shape and it can dance and shape shift, in some ways. I love working like that because there’s a real openness, and you need a co-star who’s going to play with you in that way. He’s a great guy. We had a laugh on the movie. He’s a lot of fun. He’s a big teddy bear. People don’t know that. [She laughs.]

Has it gotten any easier for you to work in corsets and Victorian costumes?
I don’t know why I managed to go from one corset to another. I don’t know quite how that happened. It was not my intention. But I actually love the physical elements of creating a part and once you’ve got the costumes on, they’re so ethereal and alien and they feel so strange, when you first put them on, that you almost don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to worry about moving differently or standing differently, because it does everything for you.

So I find the costumes quite transporting, particularly if they’re as beautiful as the ones that I’ve gotten to wear. Milena Canonero designed beautiful, exquisite costumes for this film. They were very creative in that she incorporated a lot of animal materials into them, like furs and feathers. It was really cool working with her. Sometimes it can be a bit restraining, but I think it’s good because, particularly with the Victorian era, you want to create those constraints for the implications of what goes on within the world to be relevant. I appreciate doing the dress-up part of it, but I also like to wear jeans and a T-shirt, because then you’re really free.

How was it to work with Anthony Hopkins? Do you have to call him Sir Tony?
No. You call him Tony, and he’s very, very cool. I was riveted by him. I would sit around talking to him between takes, and he’d tell us wonderful stories. He’s a great mimic. I think “riveting” is the right word [to describe him]. When you’re acting with him, he’s got such a simplicity to what he does. He’s quite an economical actor, in a way, but then he puts layer upon layer upon layer upon layer, and he’s simmering beneath the surface. It’s masterful to watch. It’s distracting. I’d watch him in the scene and be like, “Oh, sh*t! I forgot my line!”

Can you talk about working in the horror genre and your familiarity with it? Are you a fan?
It’s funny because I had never really done the horror genre, and certainly not the monster movie genre, and I love doing something I’ve never done before so that was cool. Benicio is the freak about the horror movies. He is so well-researched. He’s seen every one of them 20 times. But I was a really nervous child, so I never wanted to go watch horror movies. I remember the first one that stands out for me that I watched was “The Exorcist” and I didn’t sleep for weeks.

And then “Jaws” as well, which is kind of a horror movie, in some ways. I’m still a victim of Spielberg. I have a real problem with the ocean and with the depths of the unknown. Maybe that’s what’s so fascinating about monster movies. You’re dealing with a supernatural element and the unknown forces. Maybe that’s why people are so fascinated by the Ouija board, whether ghosts exist and where we go when we die. I think that’s why these movies will always be so relevant and of interest to people. We just don’t know.

Do you feel you had enough time to explore the acting in this film, with all the effects that were going on around you?
Yeah, I did because it was a very collaborative process with Joe [Johnston, the director of “The Wolfman”] and with Benicio and Anthony. If I’d simply been there to run and scream, I wouldn’t have done the movie. I thought the relationships were really tensely written, and we actually collaboratively cut a lot of the dialogue, particularly in the scenes between Benicio and [me], to try to capture that essence of forbidden love in a more subtle way, so it’s not so on the nose. I never wanted it to be that she callously lept from one brother to the other with the greatest of ease. That would be bad. People would be like, “She’s a slut.”

I feel like when you’re doing a monster movie, there’s an element that you take second place to and you react to that. It’s not acting. You’re reacting, the whole way through a movie like this. But, I was lucky enough to work with people who were willing to make changes that were beneficial. To speak personally about my character, I wanted to make her more pro-active and less passive, and Joe was very cool, in that way, and allowed for that to happen. It was a really atmospheric set as well. The sets were incredible and we had plenty of time. I never felt overwhelmed by the werewolf.

How much do you think Gwen is attracted to Lawrence as a man, and how much of it is that primal beast that’s inside of him?
I don’t think she recognizes the primal beast. I think that she’s quite a scientific girl. So when village gossip ruled the world as it did in Victorian times, she was probably the one studying Darwin. That’s when all of Darwin’s theories were coming out. She always saw the man. You can’t help who you’re attracted to. I don’t know if chemistry or attraction is something you can ever crunch numbers on. It’s a rather ethereal thing. You’re either attracted to someone or you’re not.

And because she was so helpless in being able to save her fiancé, and she could do nothing, it became her mission to do something for this man who was in hell. She could see that he was in hell. He was in torment. He was actually quite a soft man and a quiet man, and I think she was more attracted to how enigmatic he was rather than this darkness dwelling within him. I don’t think she really chose to recognize that side of him while everyone else was raving about it.

What have the last couple of years been like for you, with all of the high-profile projects you’ve been doing?
I don’t know if it’s felt like that. It’s been really fun. I’m a huge fan of doing indie movies. I think they’re some of the best scripts out there. But there are also some great scripts for more high-profile films. “Gulliver’s Travels” was attractive to me because it was really smart and witty. Anything that’s high profile and is of a bigger budget that’s good, I’d be willing to look at.

But this last couple of years has been a real ride, and I think I’m ready for a break. It’s a surreal life, on a film set, whether it’s a high-profile movie or not. I’ve gotten to work with some of the best actors around and I feel like [“The Wolfman”] was no exception. I’ve admired these two guys [Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins] for so long.

And then, working with Matt Damon [on “The Adjustment Bureau”] was a real experience. The magic of the job is the camaraderie that you have on those film sets and the accelerated friendships. You’re like a dysfunctional family for a while, and then you say goodbye. But, I’ve really enjoyed all the movies I’ve been a part of. They’ve still been very different from each other. So as long as I can keep doing roles that are different. I love the shape-shifting part of the job. I don’t want to lose that, no matter if it’s big budget projects or not.

What was it like to play a ballet dancer in “The Adjustment Bureau”?
It was tough! It was real tough. I was in boot camp for a long time. It was the hardest and scariest thing I’ve ever had to do. It’s an incredibly exposing experience to go through because it’s all about physical perfection and accuracy, and I don’t know if I’m a very meticulous person. With my job, I’m used to turning up on a film set and being like, “Oh, I think I’m OK. I get what I’m doing, but I don’t really know what I’m going to do until I do it.”

It’s a far more open, emotional experience, whereas dancing is all about physical perfection and striving for that. I found that really frightening and I felt like an idiot some days, when they were trying to teach me these new moves. I was like, “I can’t do that.. I can’t do that. There’s no way I can spin three times and not fall on my ass.”

But I think it’s a wonderful thing to go through, when you challenge yourself to do something that frightens you, every day, and there’s some kind of end result. It was contemporary ballet. Thank God it wasn’t traditional because I would have been screwed. It sort of reminded me of acting, in a way. I remember one of the dancers said to me, “What I love about this kind of dance is that everything you go through in life can come out in the way that you dance, and this is the kind of dance that allows for that.” And it reminded me of what I feel about the job I do. It was a wonderful experience, but it was the hardest thing I’ve had to do, for sure.”

Do you ever keep any of the skills that you learn for a movie or do they fade away after you’re done with a movie?
I’ve now built a ballet bar in my house. No. I don’t know. Sometimes. I think it always stay with you a bit. When you’ve soaked up that much information, it definitely stays with you. I now know how to horse ride side saddle. I’ll always have that. I’ve heard of people who have learned piano for something and they’ve carried it on. I know that that happens a lot. But to be honest, it was so grueling, all of the dance, that I don’t know if I’d put myself through that. I really like to eat, and that’s part of the downside of learning how to dance and trying to look like these dancers who are like sculptures. They look incredible.

What was the most difficult aspect of making “The Wolfman”?
I really found the action scenes in those clothes really tricky. During the scene where the Wolfman jumps on me and Hugo [Weaving] and I have to get up, he actually yanked my skirts down, as I was trying to get up. That was probably the hardest stuff we had to do. It’s a combination of all the physical parts of the costumes and how restrictive they are, and trying to get that relationship and love story right without it appearing like she’s callous.

And how do you really react to a werewolf? What would you really do, if you came across a werewolf and were confronted by one? That was also something where you have to really use your imagination. I don’t have anything to draw from. I’ve never seen one and I don’t know anyone who’s ever seen one.

I would ask people that I knew had been in life-threatening situation, “What happened? What did you do?” And they all said the same thing. They either fainted or they said nothing — their vocal chords literally locked out because they were so frightened. A few people I’ve known have literally been so frightened that they don’t utter a word. Their brain melts and they hit the deck. I think that’s funny.

“The Wolfman” is full of metaphors for man’s relationship with nature, and the film unfolds in the Victorian era of Darwin, when science gave us a new understanding of human behavior. Did you talk about the philosophy of it at all or was it just a scary movie to you?
It’s a combination of both. Actors love to talk, so we did sit around and talk about certain things, like our feelings on the metaphorical sense of this film and the darkness in everyone, how much you allow that to thrive, how you control it and whether we all feel we’ve got a little beast inside of us. We did talk about that. And all of us read up about the period and everything that was going on.

There was also an element we discussed, which was that this was the Victorian era where sexual repression was very prominent. These ghost stories about werewolves and vampires were incredibly relevant to that time, when everyone was feeling that they had to repress the beast and repress the instincts. It was an interesting setting for the film to place it in Victorian times. I think it worked really well. But then we knew we were in a monster movie, and we had to create candy at the same time. It’s a combination.

Do you have a preference when it comes to working on sets and being immersed in the world, or working on location?
I love being on location. I think you form a really close bond with people on location. When I was doing “Sunshine Cleaning,” Amy Adams and I lived next door to each other and we had an amazing time. We cooked for each other every night. It is a very bonding experience to be somewhere, like Albuquerque, where I’d never been before. I like both. I like to change it up. If did the same thing all the time, I’d probably get bored. They both have different highs and lows.

Were there any your scenes in ‘The Wolfman” that were cut out of the film that could end up on the DVD?
There was, yeah. There’s only one scene that I miss, but that’s because I’m a real fuddy-duddy about seeing the characters and human behavioral stuff. I’m sure most people are like, “Let’s get to the bite,” but I love all the setting up of the relationships. So I think there was one scene with the three of us [Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and I] that was cool, but I don’t really think much was cut out of it.

Do you have an inner beast yourself?
I don’t know. I feel like it’s dwelling. It hasn’t come out yet. It’s lying dormant. I think someone’s got to really piss me off. It’s weird because I see people where I think they wolf out a bit. When you see people fighting in the street, their faces look weird. When you see guys fighting, their faces contort. That’s the beast coming out, when people’s faces look weird, and they’re so angry and raging, and all of those instincts are just flying out of you. But I’ve never been in that state yet. I’ve never been in a fight.

Do you get irritated when you have to drive in Los Angeles?
I do. I get mildly irritated driving here, but people are probably more irritated with me, because I’m still a little tentative because I’m on the other side of the road. So I’m sure I irritate everyone much more than they could irritate me.

How do you like living in Los Angeles?
I love it. I have lot of British friends here as well. I have wonderful friends. I always feel kind of peaceful when I come to L.A. I don’t really associate it with work. A lot of people see it as this is where you work. I haven’t worked here in a while. It’s usually in New York or London. I always feel like it’s my “down time” place.