Emily Blunt has just come back from taking her mum to visit the Met. She’s in New York and gushing about Hamilton, the hottest musical in town. She’s seen it twice already. If you’re in the Big Apple, she recommends seeing the show because “it’s astonishing, it’s one of those ‘Change The Game’ type of shows,” and “is that brilliant.”
The last time I spoke to Blunt, she was prancing around the woods in Rob Marshall adaptation of Into The Woods, this time she’s playing an FBI Agent on a mission to take out the drug lords of Mexico. Blunt is promoting her latest role in the film and we manage to schedule a short phone interview with her. As luck would have it, technology fails and Blunt is left on hold for a short while. The issue is swiftly resolved and we resume our talk. She, of course, is a patient trooper and we continue talking about Sicario.
Sicario is such a good film, and it’s such a great role, but I do have to ask, did you get hurt during the making of the film?
Nothing cataclysmic, but in the fight scene with Jon Bernthal we were quite bruised the next day, my neck. I don’t know what I did, but I must have landed funny. That fight scene was really intense because we wanted it to look more of like a messy, desperate struggle. She thinks she’s going to die, and so I think that I don’t like it when fight scenes seem too choreographed and you have this exaggerated action heroine who can take down any guy. We wanted it to be the reality of the situation that she would be overpowered by this guy. Jon Bernthal has a face like mush, because he’s been a boxer for years so you could hit him as hard as you like and he won’t feel anything. It was quite a scrappy film in many ways. There are a few scraps that she gets in to. So, inevitably you’re going to get a bit bruised, but there was nothing major.
There are some very intense moments in the film. How did you leave that on set to going home and being a mother?
She doesn’t care what I did with my day. It’s important to create those two different worlds for yourself. I’ve always found it fairly easy with most of the films I’ve done to detach. Although with Sicario, of all the films I’ve done, it sort of crept under my skin a bit more. Some of the scenes made it hard for me to sleep after we’d done them and my mind was just racing. Even though we had a wonderful time on set and there was a lot of levity often to counteract the dark material we were often doing, it was important for me to maintain quite a focused journey with this one because she’s in every scene. She’s reacting to everything around her. She’s in this incoherent world and is kept in the dark the whole time. So much of it is unspoken and when you’re doing unspoken work, you very much have to be really on your toes to make that translate and make that interesting.
She’s very intense with so many layers. What research did you have to do to find that sort of character?
Well, I spoke to four FBI female FBI Agents which was very influential in the decisions and choices I made with the character. There was one I met who was socially quite shy but had a steeliness to her that I thought was really interesting for the character, so that she wasn’t this butch gun-wielding heroine. She actually was the reality of a female cop, and someone whose job defines them in that all-encompassing, very taxing world that they live in, and exist in, that very masculine world. This woman that I met was really quite shy. I really responded to her in a way that I thought would work well for the character. So, I kind of went that route rather than make her too finger-wagging and too high and mighty and sanctimonious.
Yes, she operates on a very high moral point and she represents morality in this amoral world, yet I didn’t want her to be completely naïve. I think she has a bit of purity in her, in how she sees the world and how she wants to combat the bad elements of life. I didn’t want naivety to be the driving force.
I spoke to Benicio Del Toro last week about being reunited with you on-screen. You’ve gone from lovers to pointing guns at each other.
I know. I feel like I was still getting hunted down, but maybe with less teeth. It wasn’t quite as terrifying, or in some ways more terrifying. Certainly in that last scene we had together. He’s a joy to work with and very exciting to work with. He’s very surprising. He manages to fight in a very original scenes and moments, and that takes you somewhere else as an actor. So, it’s exciting.
There’s certainly some chemistry there, you feel it.
He and I made the decision that the chemistry should be something more complex than just a physical attraction or something romantic. I think the chemistry is more complex because it sort of reminds him of who he used to be before he became this vengeful enigmatic character. She reminds him of when he was an upstanding member of the community when he had a family, a wife and a child. There’s something very nostalgic that he feels when he looks at her, in who she is and what she represents, so that’s why the chemistry. She’s drawn to him because he’s very protective of her. Yet, there’s something menacing about him, she can’t get a read on him. That unspoken relationship that they have became very interesting for us to play out with all the different layers.
Tell us about working with Denis Villeneuve.
Well, he’s very collaborative and doesn’t have the tendencies of someone you’d expect as an auteur. He’s very open and he wants to listen to all of your ideas and hopefully puts them into play. He’s also humble enough to say, “I don’t know,” if we had questions or a change we wanted to make. He would have to have guts to say, (Blunt puts on a French accent) “You know what? I don’t know. I have to go home. I go to sleep, I come back and I will tell you.” That’s great to work with someone like that because a lot of people have too big of an ego to say, “You know what? I don’t know.”
What did you know about the drugs war before you took on the role.
Nothing. We had a very limited exposure to it which is insane because there are drugs at the border. That’s rather astonishing because we hear about ISIS every day but more Americans have been killed by the war on drugs than by ISIS and we don’t talk about it. I think I really learnt about how two-sided it. It’s not just them and us. It’s not just the Mexican government and the Mexicans, and South American countries who are producing all of this problem single-handedly. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s less that they’re producing the drugs, it’s that there’s so many people in North America, that there’s a demand. You get corruption on both sides; the North American side and the South American side. I think a lot of discovering the grey area of this war is what the film represents. It asks a lot of really difficult questions and doesn’t necessarily present the solution.
You’ve done a nice mix of drama, comedy and action. Do you prefer one over the other?
I don’t really have a preference. I really love all of them. I think I really enjoyed doing Sicario because I hadn’t done such a bare all of your bones, layers of skin shedding, very raw drama in such a long time. It was a thrill to do that, and then I enjoyed going off to do a fantasy like The Huntsman. I don’t think I have a preference. I think my preference would be to try not to repeat myself and try to maintain a shape-shifting career. It’s a very conscious effort to not discover my whole bag of tricks.