Emily Blunt has been living in Los Angeles for a few years now, but it’s a bit of a love/hate relationship. “It’s complicated!” she explains. “I love so much about LA and I hate a lot about it, too. I hate that it’s a one-industry town and that the quest for success emanates from every corner of it. It can be suffocating in some ways.
“But I love my friends there, I love the weather and it’s a very easy place to raise a child. A lot of the time we live outside of LA in the countryside, in a place called Ojai, which is lovely and offers more respite than the city.”
Blunt recently caused a media storm in her adoptive homeland after quipping on TV that a Republican party debate had her questioning her decision to become a US citizen. An apology was duly issued, but it highlighted the fact that, whatever the legal documentation says, the 32-year-old Londoner remains as English as a rainy summer’s day. And if that was in any doubt, she doesn’t have the slightest hint of an American accent – unless she’s doing one, flawlessly, on screen.
She started acting at school to overcome a childhood stutter. “It was a massive challenge for me to speak in front of people, to speak fluently,” she recalls. “It was hard – I had so much to say and I felt that I had so much to offer but I was restricted by not being able to put it out there in the world. I was between seven and 12 when I had it really badly. You miss out on so much.
“Acting actually helped. I’ve always loved mimicking people and doing accents because it enabled me to speak freely. If you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, in another voice, you detach from yourself in some ways. Now I’ve sort of grown out of it, but funnily enough when I was pregnant it came back quite prominently. That was interesting!”
Blunt has a baby called Hazel, aged 20 months, with her American husband, actor John Krasinski. She admits that motherhood has changed her profoundly. “It changes you infinitely in a rather overwhelming way. The best way I can describe it is that it’s like this lovely distraction that I always have. It’s always there and I love that feeling.”
After starting out on stage and on TV (notably in Stephen Poliakoff’s BBC drama Gideon’s Daughter) in the UK, her US break came starring alongside Meryl Streep in the 2006 satire The Devil Wears Prada. Now, she’s one of Hollywood’s favourite Brits with a string of box-office successes to her name, including thrillers like The Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon, Looper with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise. In between, she’s nipped back home to play a royal in The Young Victoria and team up with Ewan McGregor for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
It’s clearly a golden age for British actors in America – from Benedict Cumberbatch to Eddie Redmayne and Damian Lewis. Do they all hang out together?
She giggles at the thought of it. “I have British friends in America but not many British actor friends. But you do see a lot of them around. I mean, gradually we’re taking over,” she jokes.
In her latest film, Sicario (below, in cinemas now), Blunt plays FBI agent Kate Macer, who is hand-picked to join a covert CIA team tasked with taking out a Mexican drugs cartel boss. The film also stars Josh Brolin as the leader of the operation and Benicio Del Toro as an operative with a mysterious past who uses ruthless methods to get results. It’s a very physical role, which she loved.
“I’ve always been quite a physical person. I was very sporty growing up, so I’ve never felt precious about doing that kind of thing.” In fact, Blunt found out after she accepted the part that some executives suggested to screenwriter Taylor Sheridan that he change the gender of her character. He refused.
“It’s shocking,” she says. “But at the same time I’m used to hearing studios crunching numbers on everything, from gender to whether someone has facial hair in the movie. I did a film in which an actor had grown facial hair for his role and the head of the studio called him and said, ‘Look, we’ve done a lot of background checks on movies with guys with facial hair, and you’ve got to lose the beard.’ The actor said, ‘Great, I’ll lose the beard, and then you can find another actor.’ They ended up keeping him because he was such a powerful figure at the time… And he kept the beard.”
But Blunt isn’t about to be fazed by Hollywood misogyny. “Sure I’ve experienced sexism but not that often any more. I do think I’m coming from a place of more confidence now because I’ve been doing this for 14 years and my opinion is more valued than it used to be.
“But I sometimes feel that we can exacerbate the problem by talking about it more. I think you can keep talking about it and create more and more of a stamp of divide. I think we need to do more and stop talking about it.
“We need to come up with practical solutions – like creating programmes to encourage female writers – rather than celebrating women who are already doing all right in Hollywood.”