Emily Blunt: Dangerous Beauty

If you think Emily Blunt’s magnetic portrayal of a privileged teenager who develops a dangerously close relationship with a working-class tomboy is reminiscent of another breakthrough role for a young English actor, you’re not alone in that opinion. A little more than a decade ago, an unknown actor named Kate Winslet delivered a similarly stunning performance in Heavenly Creatures, a film that echoes similar themes. Blunt certainly shares the striking beauty of Winslet, and her debut film, My Summer of Love, proves she also has the chops to match. Her role in the film, already released in England, has garnered the young actor many awards, including The London Film Critics Circle Award for British Newcomer of the Year.

The actor was 20 years old when she landed the role of Tamsin, a manipulative and pampered teen who draws the less-sophisticated Mona (played by Nathalie Press) into her web of deceit. Having done only theatre and British television, Blunt was nervous about meeting My Summer of Love director Pawel Pavlikovsky. “There was a 20-page synopsis of the movie with certain scenes written out, and I found out the audition would be improvised,” she recalls. “I was terrified; I thought I was going to make an idiot out of myself and be boring as hell.” Instead she found the director warm and encouraging and developed an immediate rapport with Press, who had already been cast. “There’s a very effortless chemistry there,” says Blunt. “We’re completely different people—such contrasting personalities off-set—and I think it gave us a spark together on-camera.”

Pavlikovsky was instantly taken by Blunt and asked her to return the next day to work on scenes. “When she appeared, she just felt very right and relevant,” he tells Back Stage West. “She was very confident and had these animated, seductive eyes that made contact with you while hiding at the same time. I knew she could carry Tamsin off.” The second day, he offered her the role.

Once cast, Blunt found herself tackling a variety of challenging scenes: some emotionally draining, some requiring nudity. “Nathalie and I were both aware it wasn’t going to be gratuitous,” she says of the love scenes. “We knew why these characters would do what they did, and I think as long as you know that and understand the material and why you’re going there, you’ll always be brave enough to do it.” The moments fraught with high emotional tension were also taxing. “They’re hard in a completely different way,” she says. “It’s hard to get those to ring true.” She excelled at the tricky scenes, including a turning point in which her character exposes her disdain for everyone else. “Oh, I’m such a bitch,” she says with a laugh. “I watched it with some friends, and they just stared at me, but I loved doing it. Pawel just kept teasing things out of us, getting different reactions and trying again and again until we finally hit gold with it.”

Tamsin has questionable motives, and Blunt says part of the key to playing her was understanding her. “I was never Tamsin; I was the geek who wanted to be her friend,” she explains. “But I know girls like Tamsin, and I remember how magnetic they were. There are some people you meet who have a kind of static about them and they draw you in, even though you know you shouldn’t be friends with them.” Blunt adds that she came to understand why a character would be so aloof. “She’s pretentious and indulged, but also incredibly fragile and naïve,” she says. “So I felt sympathy for her. Her cavalier cruelty wasn’t sinister; it was just a game she plays. I really enjoyed playing someone so layered who, deep down, is so lost.”

Blunt recently wrapped shooting another femme-fatale type in Irresistible, co-starring Susan Sarandon and Sam Neill. She will also be seen as Camane in the ABC miniseries Empire, a retelling of the story of Julius Caesar, beginning June 28. As for future projects, she’s taking the time to be particular. “I’ve been offered some other stuff, but it’s just about finding the right one,” she notes. “It’s also about finding the right director; I’m learning more and more how vital that is.”

She’s also learned how much she loves the craft of acting, which she first became involved with while doing school plays in her late teens. “I became accustomed to the idea that people thought I was good, so I was given leads, and then I got an agent,” she says. “It was very lucky for me; I know people who struggle for years to find one. When an opportunity like that is handed to you on a golden plate, you’re not going to turn your nose up at it. Now I can’t believe how casual I was about it, because I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”