Emily Blunt has always had that name—and, as obvious as it may sound, it fits. “It makes me want to throw up in my mouth,” she says, when I suggest—like everyone else has—that her role in The Devil Wears Prada was “scene-stealing.” “The thought that I could possibly do that in a Meryl Streep film is insane! I find myself snorting derisively about that.” Such ardent humility is a total trip but can’t change the fact that as the bedraggled but well-dressed fashion assistant on the verge of an anorexia-fueled flameout, Blunt unwittingly stole enough thunder to bag a Golden Globe nomination. “I just had a good time,” she says. “I’ll let other people be the bird-watchers.”
The watchers know that two years before her Hollywood debut in Prada, Blunt blew away critics in the indie My Summer of Love (2004) playing Tamsin, a spoiled and recklessly manipulative teenager who lures an impressionable friend named Mona (Natalie Press) into her puffed-up world of quoting Nietzsche and swilling red wine. In Blunt’s first scene, she rides up to Mona atop a white horse and with chilling indifference informs her, “I’ve just been suspended—apparently I’m a bad influence on people.” You know instantly that Mona’s toast.
Blunt’s electrifying screen presence goes beyond great lines. In fact, she has a knack for playing subtle, unspoken notes like a virtuoso, and it’s no wonder: Growing up in southwest London, and before attending a performing arts school in Surrey, England, Blunt struggled with a habitual stutter and was drawn toward quiet observation. “One of my teachers once said to my mum, `We never quite know what Emily’s thinking,'” she says. “And my mum was like, `What are you implying? That my child is sly? Like, what are you saying?!'”
Blunt, now 26 (and recently engaged to The Office’s John Krasinski), has grown into a buoyantly charming, colorful talker who can’t tell a boring story: Each character gets an accent—a Texas cowboy, a Polish director, a rugged film-crew guy—to pitch-perfect effect. “I’m a big people-watcher, so I probably steal from everyone I meet,” she says. After Prada, Blunt played American (brilliantly, as the Brits would say) in starring roles as the French-spewing, hippie-hating, uptight Prudie in The Jane Austen Book Club and as Norah, the emotionally stunted rocker chick still living with her dad in this year’s indie gem Sunshine Cleaning. Under Blunt’s careful nurture, both the unlikable Prudie and misguided Norah seem sympathetically tormented; you simply fall in love with them.