“If I wasn’t feeling quite so relaxed on this couch you might get punched.”
And I thought we were doing so well. There we were, in Vancouver, around Emily Blunt’s brand-new £2.4m house, sitting on opposite ends of a sofa, warmed by a roaring log fire (with real fake logs). She’d invited me to brunch. She’d given me a bit of a tour. She’d asked my permission to smoke. I’d brought booze and everything. How convivial!
Then I asked if she was related to James Blunt. An obvious enough query, and an innocent one. In the three years since the 24-year-old actress burst into view with her devastating performance in Pawel Pawlikowski’s 2004 indie hit My Summer Of Love, I’d never seen her comment on the fact that she shared her unusual surname with the gazillion-selling troubadour who can’t shave. Sure, the Sandhurst chappie had changed his name from the posher Blount. But maybe she had too. “How many times do you think I’ve been asked that?” Emily says, eyes flashing. A tonne of times apparently, in America especially, such is her stock in Hollywood these days. The Wiltshire Blounts (him) and the Roehampton Blunts (her) are not, she says firmly, related. “It’s not a common name,” she concedes, “and I loathe that there’s another Blunt on the scene.”
Well, there’s your uncle, too. “Anthony?”
Are you related to the late Sir Anthony Blunt, surveyor of the Queen’s pictures and, more infamously, the gay “fourth man” in the Cambridge Five ring of Soviet spies? “No.” OK then. I meant your uncle, Crispin Blunt, Conservative MP for Reigate, Surrey. “Crispin’s on the scene but he’s not quite on the same scene. I’m not related to any really famous Blunts.”
The MP for Reigate is pretty famous. He recently led a delegation to the Department of Transport, calling for work to be kick-started on improving the junction between the M23 and the A23.
His stockbroker-belt constituents are demanding action. “He is so down with the kids.”
He’s been banging on about the M25, too. He wants it resurfaced, and pronto. “What is Crispin doing? I shall ask him about this when I see him. Crispin knows Tarmac. James Blunt and I are thinking of starting a rumour in the press that we are actually related but that we hate each other, and neither of us is willing to admit to it. He’s a buddy – we talked about it because we both get asked about it all the time. I guess we both have brown hair and blue eyes and are British – of course we’re related!”
That’s funny, because he never mentions you in any of his interviews. “What a s***head,” Emily Blunt says with a shake of the head. “What a s***head,” she repeats, face disconsolate. “But it’s fine. The family lawyers are involved and it’s all getting worked out. He’s always wanted to be an actor. He’s so jealous.”
So that just leaves him with selling piles of albums, singing acoustic love songs and squiring supermodels. “What a bummer! What a slut!”
All hail Emily Blunt: a feisty and hilarious – and sweary – treasure, and one of our most incandescent acting talents to boot.
She’s confident enough to invite strangers into her home for probing fireside chats, and to act alongside Oscar-friendly heavyweights Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman in this month’s Charlie Wilson’s War. Clever enough to balance her burgeoning Hollywood career with roles in smaller, smarter indie fare such as Sunshine Cleaning and The Great Buck Howard (both at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival). Funny enough to steal the show in The Devil Wears Prada, playing the neurotic and stick-thin fashionista who torments newbie Anne Hathaway, and to give Steve Carell a run for his comedy money in the just-released Dan In Real Life.
And hot-hot-hot enough to take the title role in The Young Victoria, the all-star, just-wrapped and much-anticipated biopic of Queen Victoria, written by Julian Fellowes (who won an Oscar for Gosford Park’s script), and co-produced by Martin Scorsese and his Midas-touch partner, Graham King, the Englishman with 38 Oscar nominations. “She has a lot of charisma on screen, she’s done all her homework and is well-prepared,” says King, who spent a lot of time on the Young Victoria set, of his new leading lady. “The audience laps her up – she’s not too remote or too glamorous. Emily’s down to earth, she’s real, and she manages to get that across on screen.” Emily is, then, as in-demand in Hollywood as she is in the UK.
Who is she in competition with for parts? “Keira Knightley, or Rachel McAdams, or Amy Adams, who’s my dear friend. Annie Hathaway. All of that lot. We go up against each other. But we know what the score is, and if you just accept that you’re competing, it’s fine. I’m not a big fan of watchful girls. “I can spot women like that a mile off. Just a bit cool, watchful in that competitive, slightly envious way. Passive aggressive. ‘Hey miss super-employed!'” she says in pitch-perfect LA bitch-queen sneer. “I have had that once. I’m like, ‘Faaack off!'”
There is excitement this morning at the Blunt-Bublé’s. Emily’s boyfriend, Michael Bublé – the arena-filling “Noughties Sinatra”; or, if you’re feeling snarkier, “the Canadian Cullum” – is out and about in his shiny new Ford Expedition, popping in to the couple’s other Vancouver residence (a downtown apartment) and running errands. But he’ll be rushing back for lunch, face lit up, bags of Chinese takeaway and Italian biscuits swinging from his arms.
Because today the ice-hockey fanatic will be taking delivery of his bubble-hockey set. “He’s seriously excited, like a little kid,” Emily says with a sigh of affection. A table football-style pub game with a plastic dome over the top, the bubble-hockey will be installed in the basement games room, next to the cinema screening room, bar and wine-cellar-cum-cigar-humidor. Currently this capacious space is echoingly empty: no vintage bottles, no booze, no humongous cinema screen. But the wall-mounted waterfall behind the bar is operational.
Emily and Bublé have only lived here for three days – which explains why there’s a touch of the Norma Desmonds about Emily as she rattles about this huge, lavish but ghostly mansion – but they’ve been together for around two-and-a-half years.
Emily, what first attracted you to millionaire easy-listening sensation Michael Bublé? “Easy listening! You’re not allowed to say that!” she whispers in mock panic. “No, it is… But how about ‘jazz-pop’ singer?”
What first attracted you to millionaire jazz-pop singer Michael Bublé? “I grew up with that kind of music. My grandpa, my mum’s dad, who died when I was three and who I never actually knew, was obsessed with it, and my mum played it to me a lot. Then, when I was in Australia making Irresistible [a thriller starring Susan Sarandon], I got one of his CDs and played it religiously. I just feel swept away when I listen to that kind of music. We’re crying out for melody nowadays.”
While in Australia, Emily met Bublé backstage at an awards show. “I told him I thought he was great – I gushed actually,” she beams.
She met him again at one of his shows in America. “And I did gush again. And obviously he likes compliments… so I was well in there!”
At this point, My Summer Of Love – in which Emily played a duplicitous upper-middle-class teenager having a lesbian affair – hadn’t come out in America. She had shot Stephen Poliakoff’s BBC drama Gideon’s Daughter, for which she would go on to win a Golden Globe for her portrayal of the title role, but no one had seen it.
So, did Bublé – a dapper, tuxedo-wearing megastar in America – have a clue who she was?
She shakes her head and splutters out a laugh. “He was thinking, ‘Oh yeah, actress, like every other waitress…'” she says with a wink. “But he quickly showed his true colours. He’s not really that smooth, sophisticated guy. He’s a bit rough. He’s my bit of rough! And he’s hilarious and we just laughed a lot together, from the get-go and ever since. And now I’ve got a nice house as well! So we’re laughing in our nice house.”
It is a nice house. A very nice house in the quasi-country, on a hill in one of Vancouver’s priciest neighbourhoods. One year old, five bedrooms, three fireplaces, seven bathrooms, 7,113sqft sitting on 15,543sqft of land. Handy for skiing in Whistler and within driving distance of fine golf courses (Emily is as keen on sports as Michael, having been a teenage gymnast, and the Blunt-Bublés like to play golf). If you’re sitting in the salt-water swimming pool or the hot tub, you can take in a stunning view of the Pacific. Cosying around the fire-pit you can have a nose at Bryan Adams’ old pad just over the road.
Living in Vancouver, Bublé’s hometown, suits their hectic, globetrotting, power-couple lifestyle. He’s sold 14 million albums and tours all the time – performing in support of new album Call Me Irresponsible he sold out a run of British arenas last month, and is internationally itinerised throughout the whole of 2008. Having a Canadian home/retreat in familiar surroundings, close to his family, is essential. And this being Canada, even the paparazzi are polite to them.
For Emily, Vancouver is a long way from her family – barrister dad, housewife mum, three siblings – in the moneyed southwestern fringes of London, and from Marmite (which she loves). But it is only two-and-a-half hours from Vancouver to Los Angeles, where she’s working more and more.
She only has two scenes in Charlie Wilson’s War, a satirical political drama written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and directed by veteran Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Closer), but it’s a big-budget, big-star, Oscar-friendly showcase for her talents. Based on a true story, Tom Hanks plays Wilson, a boozy, womanising Texan congressman who convinces the American government to apply serious – but still covert – funds to the mujaheddin fighting the Soviet invaders in late Eighties Afghanistan. Emily plays Jane, the daughter of one of Hanks’ cow-country constituents. “I would say Jane is… schizophrenic,” she decides. “No – duplicitous! When you first meet her she’s buttoned up to her chin and not flaunting any kind of sexuality in front of her father.
Then the next time you see her she’s barely clothed and smoking a joint in Charlie Wilson’s apartment. So she’s quite raunchy. Just looking for a good time, quite ambitious, smart. I mean, God knows, I’m in it for three minutes, you work it out!”
Well, your languorous, stoned near-nudity was certainly eye-grabbing.
She smiles and shrugs. “I wanted to be in the film because it’s a very impactive three minutes.” A pause. “Impactive? Is that a word? Maybe I made that up.”
How was it getting intimate with–well, crawling naked over–Tom Hanks? “Hot!” she hoots. “It was surreal! And embarrassing, always, because it’s just you with your tits hanging out, and you have to hope that the lighting’s nice. There are some people who feel OK and confident with prancing around in their underwear. I wouldn’t say I was one of those people. So you just become someone who’s good at it. “But he is such a gentleman. Maybe it was weird for him too, because…”
Because you could be his daughter? “I could be his daughter. And I’m friends with his son – I did Buck Howard with Colin. And also because Tom Hanks is not known for these kind of scenes, for being that kind of guy – and Charlie Wilson was a massive player, he was really promiscuous. And sexy! Tom was so really good at that. He’s really sexy! I promise you. He just made it effortless, to do those scenes. And he was very protective of me. And he’s a gent.” ˘
˘What about Julia Roberts? How was it appearing in the same movie as the most highly paid actress in the world? Any advice from the $25m-a-movie, $2bn-in-box-office-receipts icon? “I worked with her the day before I went to the Golden Globes and she’s great at performing at those things – she’s got that million-dollar smile that could light up a room. I remember her and Philip Seymour Hoffman having a fight…”
It should here be noted that Emily Blunt is a brilliant mimic.
During the course of our long conversation she will do excellent impersonations of Sean Connery; Ray Winstone, with whom she starred in TV’s Henry VIII, playing Catherine Howard (“all the women on set were in love with Ray, we’d get a bit flittery around him”); her Sunshine Cleaning co-star Alan Arkin (Emily loved him too, and would follow him around “like a bad smell”); a sassy black diva; The Importance Of Being Earnest’s Lady Bracknell; and a braying Valley Girl, the type who gushes up to her in Starbucks and says, “Ohmygawdareyouthegirlwhowasindevilwearsprada?”
And now Emily is doing Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman, arguing over Emily’s attendance at the Golden Globes.
Hoffman: “You’re gonna get up there and you’re gonna hate yourself.”
Roberts: “You’re just a crank! She’ll have a great time!”
Emily Blunt hasn’t struggled for work since “falling” into acting in her teens. While still at school she almost landed a part in The Four Feathers, Elizabeth director Shekhar Kapur’s remake of the classic about cowardice and British toffs going off to imperial war against the fuzzy-wuzzies (Kate Hudson pipped her).
But she almost didn’t get even that far – while doing her Spanish, French and Theatre A levels at the private and arts-friendly Hurtwood House School in Surrey, Emily was offered a record contract. But her heart wasn’t in the music. “It was just pop,” she says. “The night before we were about to sign a deal, I just knew it wasn’t right and it wasn’t what I wanted to do, and I very unprofessionally pulled out at the last minute and upset everyone. I felt I wouldn’t be taken seriously as an actress if I was up on a stage bumping and grinding.” She can obviously sing though: she supplies fine backing vocals to a cover of “Me And Mrs Jones” on Call Me Irresponsible.
After leaving school she cut her theatrical teeth at the Edinburgh Festival, in London’s West End and at the National – “that was my drama school”. Solid but unremarkable TV gigs followed: Poirot, Foyle’s War, Empire (sword’n’sandals hokum that “was the sad little brother of Rome that no one saw!”). Then My Summer Of Love and the Poliakoff. She had lift-off. But it was The Devil Wears Prada that made Emily an international star.
Displaying a gift for comic timing, channelling John Cleese (“That physical stiffness, a flappiness, very British, very brittle humour”), and working some serious green eyeshadow – “Teal, I think they called it. That’s all you need and you get nominated for a Golden Globe!” which she was, for Best Comedic Performance – Emily hogged the camera, despite the staggering loveliness of swan turned, er, swan Hathaway, and an imperious performance from Meryl Streep.
Her character, also called Emily, was never more hilarious than when on her eat-nothing diet, the better to fit into some divine frock in time for the Paris shows. Now that she’s a red-carpet regular herself – and with Julia Roberts’ blessing to bloody enjoy herself while she’s at it – how is Emily coping with Hollywood’s skinny-centric neuroticism? “I think you make a choice to find it important or not. I’m naturally slim so I’m all right, but I’m definitely not on the scale of some girls, the lollipop heads! Aren’t they amazing?
People just look sort of taut and alien-like and just starving. Desperate! “Yeah, it’s horrible and a bit scary. But do I pay attention to it? Listen, when you step out of that car, it’s like your arse is hanging out, it’s so exposing. Everyone’s deciding who hates your hair or your dress or they think you look pregnant because you have a slight bump. ‘Look who doesn’t exfoliate their elbows!’ It would be weird if I got used to that. “But that’s the difference between being in LA and being in Vancouver or the UK: you don’t waste much time on it. I don’t understand how that has become attractive. I don’t think guys necessarily like girls to be that thin.”
Right, who wants a xylophone girlfriend? “Yeah! Who wants that? I know that when I’m hungry, I get mean. And that’s gonna make a mean set of women!”
Speaking of which, it’s brunch-time. Emily heads off into her vast new kitchen, armed with some eggs, a map and a compass. Once she’s found the cooker and retrieved leftover potatoes from the fridge she rustles up… an eggy-mashy-garlicky-spud-u-like mess.
It’s all over the place but it’s surprisingly tasty.
Then her baseball-capped boyfriend bustles through the door. You can see the attraction: carrying less poundage these days, Michael Bublé looks like a young Matt Dillon. More importantly, he’s a brilliant laugh.
Gathered around the kitchen table, we talk about the future.
Emily is seriously excited about The Young Victoria. And judging from producer Graham King’s remarks, she should be. “Before I’d even thought about casting the movie – I was still caught up in The Departure and Blood Diamond –
Emily had got hold of the script,” says Graham King. “She read it and came in for a meeting and said, ‘I have to play this role.’ She was really passionate, and that’s something I respond to. I remember being at the Golden Globes this year, when she won for Gideon’s Daughter. When she went up to collect her award I turned round to Marty [Scorsese] and said, ‘What do you think?’ And he just said, ‘That’s young Queen Victoria.'”
This is, Emily thinks, her Big Moment: “For me to carry a film and to feel that weight of responsibility, and also to play someone you really have to do justice to – it was a big challenge and a nerve-racking time for me.”
But once the shoot was under way she loved every minute. She was back in Blighty, working with actors with a proper work ethic (“none of that diva bulls**t”) and a proper (ie bawdy) sense of humour, and togged up to the nines in regal corsetry. “I did pull a whitey on the first costume fitting, but I was jet lagged!” she says. “I’m a horrible sloucher, and the corset just won’t allow you to. But my slouching took over because I managed to break three of the whalebones.”
There was only one other problem: Emily is phobic – seriously – about gloves. And Queen Victoria wore a lot of gloves. “I don’t know what it is,” she says sheepishly. “Maybe it’s something about doctors’ gloves. But I feel completely suffocated in them.”
Still, she was amply distracted by the production, which enjoyed the run of the UK’s grandest stately homes, courtesy of the granny of the project’s source: The Young Victoria is from an original idea by Fergie. The Queen’s former daughter-in-law, that is, not the singer out of Black Eyed Peas.
Michael Bublé wants to talk about the future too: his bubble-hockey game will be here any second. Then, with a chirrup of his mobile phone, it is. Bublé, Emily and I run out to the front drive to meet the delivery men. Within half-an-hour, Bublé and I are jumping around in his deluxe basement, playing hockey. He kicks my arse, of course.
Emily Blunt watches, looking lovingly (at him, obviously), just like she does from the side of the stage when he performs. “I love it. I stand there with a glass of wine, getting trolleyed,” she says, her voice back to its normal, well-modulated English. But suddenly she’s mimicking Beyoncé. “Getting trolleyed and shaking my bon-bon, ha ha ha!”