t feels a little like Emily Blunt Month here in the United States, where the cheery British actress is popping up all over the place. She is on magazine covers, talk shows, red carpets – and, for now, sitting opposite me in a Manhattan hotel.
She has just flown in from Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband John Krasinksi (a fellow actor, he plays the Martin Freeman role in the American version of The Office) for the premiere of The Adjustment Bureau, a new romantic thriller in which she stars with Matt Damon.
The once stammering actress has learnt to handle the demands of the promotional treadmill like a veteran. “When you’ve done it a few times it becomes less nerve-racking,” she says.
Now 28, Blunt made her film debut in 2004 in Pawel Pawlikowski’s dark coming of age tale, My Summer of Love, a daring performance that won her a British Independent Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer. She says it is the only one of her films she recommends people to see. It also happens to be the one in which she spends most time naked.
“I’m really proud of it,” she says. “It’s not like any other movie.” She thinks for a second and adds with a laugh, “I don’t know why I’m broadcasting my breasts to the world. It’s a bit worrying.”
Now there is The Adjustment Bureau, written and directed by first-time director George Nolfi. Based on a story by Philip K Dick, it asks whether we are in charge of our lives or whether unseen forces manipulate our destiny. Blunt plays Elise, a ballet dancer who falls for a charismatic politician (Damon) who is running for the US Senate. Agents of the shadowy Adjustment Bureau, led by Terence Stamp, are determined to keep them apart.
Nolfi had intended to cast a professional dancer in the role of Elise but, he says, “In one meeting Emily completely derailed my plans. I could tell immediately she was the one.”
Blunt was attracted by the script. “I’m not a fan of science fiction but Philip Dick does the sort of science fiction that feels close to home and creeps into your subconscious,” she says. “He targets that paranoia that we all live with. Are we being manipulated? Are we being watched? There’s something threatening about his science fiction that I really enjoy,” she says.
Her biggest challenge was achieving the precision and form of a dancer. “I had never danced in my life. I told George I’d work my arse off if he gave me the role but the training was unreal.
“I had eight weeks’ solid training before the movie and then throughout filming, anytime I could I was in the gym or the dance studio.”
In the past, in films such as 2008’s indie comedy Sunshine Cleaning, she has demonstrated that she is perfectly capable of pulling off an American accent. But, although the character of Elise was written as an American, in The Adjustment Bureau, she retains her English accent because Nolfi liked the way she speaks.
One of four children of an actress mother and barrister father, Emily was raised in Roehampton and began appearing in school plays because she discovered that acting helped her stammer. “I started stuttering when I was about seven and it started to get better when I was 14,” she recalls. “I found it very liberating to be someone else and talk in a different voice. It was miraculous how I never stuttered onstage, but if you’re a stutterer you always have it and I still have it – on the phone or if I’m really tired and trying to relate a story.”
A theatrical agent signed her when she was 16 and she went straight into the West End, appearing opposite Judi Dench in The Royal Family. In 2002 she played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet at the Chichester Festival.
After My Summer of Love and a Golden Globe win for her part in Stephen Poliakov’s TV drama Gideon’s Daughter, Blunt made her scene-stealing Hollywood debut in the role of the arrogant assistant to Meryl Streep’s fashion editor in The Devil Wears Prada.
“That role changed things in a huge way for me,” she says. “If you play such an off-the-wall character people see you can play a variety of roles. I never expected the reaction that film got.”
After that, she showed up briefly with Tom Hanks in Charlie Wilson’s War, co-starred with Steve Carell in Dan In Real Life and was the lead in The Young Victoria. Next month she will shoot Looper, a time-travel thriller set in New Orleans.
Through it all she has managed to remain down-to-earth, refusing to take her new Hollywood life too seriously. In fact, she still seems somewhat surprised at the turn her career has taken.
“I didn’t have a burning desire to act,” she says. “When I was three years I didn’t want to be an actress – I wanted to be the tooth fairy. So it is bizarre how it happened. But when it did I embraced it.”