They threw the book at her.
By the time Emily Blunt agreed to a role in “The Girl on the Train,” the thriller by Paula Hawkins had already reached a full head of steam. It’s already sold 15 million copies worldwide in its first 19 months.
“I noticed everybody reading this book before I did,” Blunt told the Daily News. “I feel like I saw this title everywhere and it was on every subway, every plane I went on. We would go on holidays and you’d see people’s faces just buried into a copy of ‘The Girl on the Train.’”
And that meant all of those eyeballs would be glaring at any film adaptation of a novel that has drawn heady comparisons to both “Rear Window” and “Gone Girl.” That scrutiny would fall particularly hard on Blunt if she couldn’t properly play a perpetually drunk heroine, without stumbling into unintentional slapstick.
“That was my concern,” Blunt said. “I think there are pitfalls with it; that you can appear comical, lurching around like a drunk uncle. I think she needed to be frightening. It’s a very real disease and its claws are in her.”
To prepare, the British-born actress, who became an American citizen last year, didn’t hit the bottle. She’s not quite that method. Instead, she interviewed friends who had battled addiction themselves, and plowed through books and documentaries to find the right mix of sadness, vulnerability and self-deprecating charm.
“I think a drunk is uncomfortable to be around, a drunk is unsettling to be around,” Blunt said. “Nobody wants to breathe the same air as a drunk.”
In the film opening Friday, Blunt plays Rachel, a woman whose life evaporated after her inability to have a child started a domino effect leading to alcoholism and divorce.
“For me, being a mother, my heart is just cracked open right now to anything to do with children,” Blunt said.
A suburbanite riding Metro-North every day to and from Grand Central Terminal to hide her unemployment from her roommate, Rachel fantasizes about a seemingly perfect couple whose house she spies every day from her train — until the wife, Megan (Haley Bennet), goes missing and her husband Scott (Luke Evans) becomes a suspect. Rachel’s unwanted detective work brings her headlong into a deeper mystery and also back into the orbit of her own ex, Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new spouse, Anna (Rachel Ferguson), who has born him the child she couldn’t.
“What holds the movie together, in my opinion, is the likability that Emily Blunt brings to a role,” director Tate Taylor said.
“In the novel, I found Rachel to be odd and a wreck but at a times quite charming … so a lot rested on the energy and charisma of whoever played her.”
After the book was optioned, the filmmakers decided to move “The Girl on the Train” from the novel’s London setting to the more American, audience-friendly environs of New York City. And originally, Blunt had been preparing to use an American accent for the role.
“Then I thought, ‘I don’t want her to change her accent,’” Taylor said.
“I thought that would both be a cool wink and a nod to where the book was originally set and it will add to the alienation that she feels,” Taylor said. “She probably can’t afford a ticket to go home.”
Blunt is just so “chuffed” — that’s how the Brits say “excited” — as an actress working in Hollywood to be in a movie written by a woman (Erin Cressida Wilson), based on a book penned by another woman, with three female leads. She swears she relishes all those extreme, unflattering close-ups in “The Girl on the Train,” which showcase her blotchy skin and chapped lips that dangle spittle.
“It was utterly liberating,” she said. “Very often in films, the thing that will make you feel self-conscious as a woman is sometimes, if we’re supposed to be playing a tough cop or something like that, yet you are still supposed to look pretty.
“It’s something quite freeing when you’re supposed to look like a wreck, when that overhead green lighting on the train is supposed to look awful on you.”
It will be a while before the mother of two daughters — Hazel, 2, and Violet, 3 months, with husband John Krasinski — appears quite so poorly composed in anything quite so edgy. Blunt has a batch of more family-friendly movies coming up, including a sequel to the 1964 classic “Mary Poppins,” in which she takes over the part made famous by Julie Andrews.
“Well, my girls can’t see this one, can they?” Blunt said about “The Girl on the Train.”
“So I have to do a couple they can see. When I, hopefully, proved I’m not an unfit mother.
“I would have done ‘Mary Poppins’ whether I had children or not, but the fact that I have girls makes it such a gift.”
Little Hazel Krasinski, though, is already her mom’s harshest movie critic. The toddler recently returned home in tears after accidentally catching a trailer for “The Girl on the Train” on television during a trip to a burger joint with her nanny.
“When I came home from work, she said, ‘I don’t want to see mommy on the screen anymore,’” recalled Blunt. “I was like, ‘Oh, great, that’s it for acting!’
“I just explained there’s sometimes there’s ‘screen mommy’ and sometimes there’s ‘real mommy.’ But how do you explain this job when it’s so bizarre?”