Emily Blunt is in the middle of talking about one of her earliest theater gigs when a phone in the audience at the Hamptons’ Bay Street Theater begins to ring. “Whose ever phone that is, get out!” she yells with exaggerated enthusiasm. As the audience begins to cheer, Blunt’s true colors reveal themselves. “I”m kidding! I’m kidding!” she shouts. “Oh my, that poor person!”
Currently riding a wave of acclaim thanks to the Denis Villeneuve border thriller “Sicario,” Blunt stopped by the 23rd Hamptons International Film Festival over the weekend to take part in its “A Conversation With…” discussion series with Variety’s Jenelle Riley. Blunt, who also received the festival’s Creative Impact in Acting Award, was a pure delight as she reflected on her various collaborations with some of the industry’s biggest talent, including Judi Dench, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise.
“I do feel incredibly proud to be a part of this new wave of emboldened female characters, who are proving to make money at the box office, which hasn’t always been the case,” she said in regards to her current status in the business. But her appreciation of where her career has taken her was just the beginning of a lively discussion about all she’s learned in her 10 years and counting. Check out all of the highlights from Blunt’s Hamptons discussion below.
Blunt originally wanted to study modern languages.
“I was late to the party with the interest in acting. I enjoyed it at school. I was in school plays and enjoyed the drama classes. When I was 17, the head of drama said, ‘Do you want to be in this play that we’re going to take to the Edinburgh Theater Festival?’ It was the end of the summer holidays and I really needed to turn some money, but it wasn’t the plan. I wasn’t going to go to drama school. I was going to go to the university to study modern languages. But I went and this agent came to see it and asked if I wanted to give it a go. It is something that I’ve fallen more and more in love with over the years. It wasn’t ever this burning ambition for me, it was a slow burn.”
Working with Judi Dench taught Blunt the importance of happiness on set.
“It was a play called ‘The Royal Family’ in the West End and Judi Dench was in the play with me and it was a remarkable learning curve,” Blunt said of her first professional gig. “I hadn’t trained or anything, so I feel like I got my three years of school just working with her and watching her. She went about it with such joy and there was no angst or torture to it. She just wanted everyone to have a good time, and I think I adopted that very early on and I’ve sort of continued to work from a happy place. I do my best work when I’m happy. It was amazing. I remember all these famous people came to see the play because of her, and she always invited me for champagne and like.. Johnny Depp was there! Oh my god! It was so crazy! I was 18, it was wild!”
Pawel Pawlikowski proved to Blunt that performance ambiguity is key.
“[‘My Summer of Love’] was different than anything I had ever done because the whole thing was improvised. It was this organic, freewheeling approach and it was really frightening and exhilarating. I learned more from Pawel Pawlikowski than anyone I’ve ever worked with because he taught me the importance of ambiguity and nuance and not knowing and how interesting the power of suggestion can be — the space between people is more interesting than what they actually say to each other. I’ve never forgotten that experience. I’ve taken it with me through everything I’ve ever done.”
No one throws acting curveballs quite like Meryl Streep.
“She’s the best. I was very intimidated. She was very focused on [‘The Devil Wears Prada’]. I became friends with her after the film really. On the film, I wouldn’t say she’s a Method actor, but she’s very focused and slightly adopts the characteristic of the character she’s playing, she remains in their skin and they sort of dwell in her a little bit. She’s naturally a very gregarious person, a very happy person, and I think she had a very hard time playing that part and restraining herself and being so cold and unpleasant. She’s wonderful to work with because she throws you curveballs and you just don’t know what she’s going to do. She keeps you on your toes very much.”
Blunt tips her hat to Tom Cruise, and she thinks you should, too.
“He had seen ‘The Adjustment Bureau,’ which was quite physical in some ways and there was chemistry and back-and-forth between Matt [Damon] and I, and Tom pushed for me to get [‘Edge of Tomorrow’]. I hadn’t known him at all. He’s the sweetest, sweetest thing. He’s so generous. He loves the job — this boundless enthusiasm for the job, it’s sort of infectious working with him.” “
“Look how cool he is. He did ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and then ‘Mission’ with Rebecca Ferguson, who kicks his ass in the film again. I think it’s just remarkable and unusual for an action star of his stature to really want these empowered roles for women in action roles. You have to take your hat off to him because I think a lot of guys wouldn’t be alright with that. On the whole, the women play these moody-eyed damsels and the guys run around saving the world. He is more a rarity in that way. He loves strong women.”
Blunt wants a director who will inspire the confidence to try anything.
“I love a very spirited opinion. I don’t want someone who has their head in their hands and doesn’t know what to do. I will take a spirited opinion from a director any day of the week over a vague one. I love someone who is very collaborative and gives you space. I just want space to feel like I can throw anything against the wall and then we’ll see what sticks. The directors I’ve worked with, the few that I’ve felt very unhappy with, it was that I felt straightjacketed and I was trying to conform to something they saw in the character that I was never going to be able to match. I love working with people who embolden you to try anything. Acting is so much about confidence.”
“Sicario” gave Blunt the opportunity to play a character all too rare in Hollywood these days.
“I’m blown away by ‘Sicario.’ It’s an extraordinary film; it’s very uncompromising, morally very ambitious and it creates discussion. I love that people leave the movie theater and they feel inspired to discuss, where as a lot of films leave you feeling numb. To be a part of a film that ambushes people the way that it does is really special…The script is completely original. You just don’t get many parts like that where your female protagonist is in this action-fueled, masculine world holding her own, and still a woman, not trying to be butch and swagger. I love the themes of morality in an amoral world and the cycles of violence in it, too.”
“Sicario” is now playing in theaters nationwide.