Yes, Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a great job of playing the young Bruce Willis in Rian Johnson’s superb time-travel thriller “Looper” (September 28). (The actor talks to Time here, Johnson talks to TOH here, the animated trailer is here.) But the performer who anchors the movie and turns it into something deeper than a hardboiled sci-fi actioner is Emily Blunt. (Here’s my review.) I grabbed the in-demand actress between rehearsals on Doug Liman’s “All You Need is Kill” for a brief telephone interview.
Anne Thompson: You’re making another action movie?
Emily Blunt: It is, it’s an action movie with Tom Cruise. I play a highly decorated soldier who’s kind of a bad-ass.
AT: You’ve been playing some strong women of late.
EB: I’m lucky enough to have played some of those roles, I’m playing one now who is the baddest of the bad. I know a lot of tough chicks, people who are protective single mothers, who build a fort around themselves. I feel lucky not to be doing the girl tied to a tree in a corset or the girlfriend at home. It’s empowering to play the one wielding the gun.
AT: What was the toughest thing you had to do in “Looper”?
EB: Learning how to chop wood, that took like a month to really get good. I had logs delivered to my house.
AT: In “Looper,” you turn up in the second act and the entire dynamic of the movie shifts.
EB: Rian wanted there to be en emotional shift when she comes in, where the heart of the movie kicks off. We talked about the movie “Witness” a lot. In “Witness” you have that alien presence coming in and disrupting and upsetting their way of life. We wanted to create that same feeling. Sara didn’t want anyone coming into her world, she wants to protect her child in a controlled, isolated environment.
AT: You’re withholding information.
EB: I wanted to maintain the mystique of my character as well as the mystique of her child. Unfolding the character happened in baby steps, I was lucky with the little boy. I so fell in love with him found working with him was ultimately the most rewarding part of doing the film. I was devastated saying good-bye.
AT: “Looper” also doesn’t head in an expected romantic direction. There’s a sexual connection…
EB: Any kind of connection–like the scene where there isn’t anything romantic between the characters–is about a need these lonely isolated people have, who are disconnected emotionally from so much. It’s about a need, more than a romantic notion.
AT: You were a strong and romantic lead in “The Adjustment Bureau” with Matt Damon.
EB: She was a strong girl, she knew what she wanted, she was streetwise, irreverent and funny. I expanded on that and Damon and I got along like house on fire, we improved stuff, risked stuff. The chemistry felt specific to us, people responded to the love story because it felt specific. We wanted to get away from classic boy-meets-girl scenes, be more spontaneous. The director [George Nolfi] allowed us to riff and play.
AT: The director you are working with now, Doug Liman, is known for running a loosely improvisational set.
EB: Liman does like to work that way, we have yet to start shooting, just script meetings. All of that we will find out on the day on this big expensive action movie as we practice riffing and improving stuff, so that you can find a sort of spontaneity and reality to the scenes.
AT: You also did a lot of that on Lynn Shelton’s “Your Sister’s Sister” with Mark Duplass and Rosemary DeWitt.
EB: We totally improvised, it had a freewheeling organic sense to it. A great deal of responsibility was put on the actors to come up with the good, the exciting, throw-a-bunch-of-stuff-against-the-wall and see what sticks. Shelton was good at editing and being specific on the days, encouraging us to be safe enough to try anything. I loved doing that movie, it was so invigorating.
AT: You started out your career working opposite Judi Dench. What did she teach you, right off?
EB: The thing I remember more than anything was her kindness and generosity and work ethic. If anyone gets to have a sainthood, if there is one give it to her. On my first day, I was 18, so green. I hadn’t trained, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. She said “Darling you are going to be great. If anyone gives you trouble come to me.” She hadn’t lost sight of how that felt. I have never forgotten the ease with which she approached the job. She had fun doing it, she was not taking it too seriously.
AT: And with Meryl Streep on “The Devil Wears Prada”?
EB: With Meryl I learned guts and spontaneity. She changes it every single time.I had to keep up with her, she made me change so much, she was doing double duty for the both of us. I saw the benefits of mixing scenes up, staying in the moment and staying loose.
Videos below include a New York Times interview with Rian Johnson, Wired with Johnson and Gordon-Levitt, a Blunt clip, and a super-cut of “Looper” star Bruce Willis looking confused.