In Hollywood parlance, Emily Blunt has “done it all,” from indies like “Sunshine Cleaning” to historical dramas like “The Young Victoria,” though her recent roles in films like “Edge of Tomorrow” and the Toronto International Film Festival entry “Sicario” have suddenly shoved her to the top of any and all “short lists” for other action-heavy roles. But just because Blunt knows how to wield a gun and isn’t afraid to mix it up with more standard-issue action hero guys doesn’t mean that the British actress is ready to make that her entire career. (And don’t believe the rumors that’s she going to do just that.)
In Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario,” Blunt plays Kate Macer, a well-meaning FBI agent who is suddenly pulled into a shady operation — led by Josh Brolin and assisted by Benicio Del Toro — that crosses all manner of borders, both literal (it’s set in Mexico and in the U.S. borderlands) and personal (Kate, for all her good intentions, is soon in way over her head). Although Kate struggles to hold on to her morality, that gets harder to do as each thrilling minute ticks by. And yes, she gets to use a gun a lot, but that’s not why Blunt thinks her latest character is so strong.
The actress recently spoke with Indiewire in Toronto, during which she ruminated as to why she’s suddenly being anointed an action star, the pleasure of making both “Sicario” and “Edge of Tomorrow” and why she’s pretty excited to take on a role as a very different kind of woman next (that she deems her turn in “The Girl on the Train” as “Boozebag McGee” is just a bonus).
Are you going to be our new action star?
No, that means I have to be in the gym all the time. I don’t want to do that.
You did do this movie four months after you had a baby.
I did. It didn’t seem like the obvious choice to do after having a child. I remember my friends at the time were like, “this is what you have to do, you’re a lioness now. This is a great part for you to do now.” I have a complicated and mixed reaction being anointed action heroine, because I also feel that it’s not quite right to associate toughness with wielding a gun in two pictures, which has sort of happened now, that’s sort of the reaction. I don’t think Josh and Benicio are being told, “wow, you play such a strong role.” The definition of strength to me is something that I’m interested in hearing, why people seem to think that gun-wielding and punching a guy is super-strong. I guess because we just don’t see it in films, I think that’s why there’s the reaction to it.
At the beginning of the process, when I heard that there was a financier who’d offered [screenwriter] Taylor Sheridan more money in the budget if he made my part a dude — I’m very happy that he held fast and didn’t do that, because then you’ve got a film about guys being tough and running around with guns and we’ve seen it before. And I think the dynamic of having a woman in this role magnifies it for us and I think the audience kind of looks a little closer because it’s unusual and it just physically looks more vulnerable to be in that position.
When I spoke to Denis about the “make Kate a guy” demand, he was very admiring of Taylor that he didn’t back down and didn’t do that. We’ve seen that, we don’t really need more of that right now.
Yeah, I’m really happy Taylor didn’t do it, too. I think that what I admired about this film was how uncompromising it was, how uncompromising the script was. It doesn’t give you too much information, you’re not spoon fed by the film. And I think that that’s unusual, I think we dumb down films to accommodate what we think an audience needs or wants and I think what people have responded to in this situation is being as confused as Kate Macer throughout the course of the film.
It’s like when you see movies and someone says, “hey, sis.” No one says that in real life.
No! [laughs] It’s so true. Oh, my God, “hey, sis.” I have two sisters, I’ve never said, “Hey, sis.”
Denis said you were the first choice for the role, because he was looking for someone who could be tough and vulnerable and still be a woman.
That’s very nice. What’s funny is, people are like, “oh, he must have cast you off of ‘Edge of Tomorrow,'” and he hadn’t seen “Edge of Tomorrow” when he cast me. He cast me off “Young Victoria.” Did he tell you that?
Which I thought was cool! I’m like a bonnet-wearing queen, and he’s like, “She’s perfect.” [laughs] “I need her for the Mexican drug war film.” I was happy about that. At least he can see past a costume.
You do get very tough in the film, especially in a specific scene with Jon Bernthal.
It was very, very physical, that fight. I remember, because I said to the stunt guy, “let’s make it messy, it’s gotta look real, it’s gotta look desperate,” because she isn’t actually an action heroine, this character, she’s a female cop and the reality is she would be overpowered by a guy that size, that is the reality. She hasn’t got the perfect thing to say, or she can knock out any guy. She’s not that girl. It has to be desperate, like she’s fighting for her life. And so, with that comes a sort of messiness and a lack of choreography, so you’re met with a lot of bruises and soreness the next day. But Jon is a doll, and such a gent. He also used to be a boxer so he said, “you can hit me as hard as you want, I won’t feel anything,” , so I was like, “no problem.”
By the end of that scene, you look like you’ve been through a fight. There’s nothing glossy about it.
A very unglossy character, yeah. I think I have two t-shirts in this film. One long sleeve blue one and one short sleeve blue one.
You also wear pants that can last through a battle at the border.
Exactly. She’s wardrobe-ready for whatever. Not a glamorous role.
It is funny that Denis didn’t see “Edge of Tomorrow,” which is still so good and so rewatchable.
Thank you, I know, it’s a good one. It’s a really good one. I’m really proud of that film, I think it was almost impossible to make and the mileage Doug Liman got out of a repeating day is just astonishing. I loved working with Tom [Cruise} and Doug and Chris McQuarrie. It was really cool.
It’s so funny, too.
Yeah, really funny. You know what I love about Cruise? He’s not afraid of having very emboldened, strong women in his film and it’s because he loves women. Like, he grew up with very strong women, he’s from a family of sisters, and his mom. Rebecca Ferguson in the new “Mission: Impossible,” she’s as good as he is. I think, in “Edge,” it was really kind of a flashy role for a woman to play. And I think there’s a lot of action heroes, action stars, men, who wouldn’t be alright with that. They want the women to be the damsel tied to a tree and Tom just completely defies that. That’s what I love about him.
Now that you’ve had two action-heavy roles, you’re starting to be pushed into this strange cycle of casting list rumors for films that require that, like “Captain Marvel.”
My new anointing. No, I have not heard anything about Captain Marvel.
I think it’s because the list is very short, because we don’t see women in these kind of roles. So I think as soon as you do a role like that, like Charlize did or I did, or Rebecca’s done — there’s like four of us or something. And Jen Lawrence. So I feel like us four, we get talked about — and Angie, Angelina. So it’s a list of like, four women who are going to be considered for those kind of roles. So I think that’s why the rumors happen, because they’re like, “who else? Surely not another girl can wield a gun,” you know what I mean? “A woman doing push-ups? There’s only one who can do that.”
But you’re not doing action for your next role in “The Girl on the Train.”
Well, I’m about to play an alcoholic next. So, I guess I’m looking for that. Looking to play Boozebag McGee, in the next one I’m doing.
I love that book. We read it in my book club.
Oh, you did? I love that you have a book club. Yeah, it’s great. And it will be a very down and dirty version of it. And weird. And I really like the director’s take on it. I like that he’s not shying away from damaged women. Because if you think about it, that’s most of what people have responded to. It’s not really the thriller aspect of the book, it’s the representation of three damaged women, who are very real and a lot of women can associate with them. And again, you don’t see that on film. So I guess my main intention when I look for a role, I think it’s something that we don’t usually see in cinema.
When you’re reading the book, you meet Rachel first and you think the book is just about her, but when you realize it’s three women, it’s really exciting.
Yeah. Really exciting, and how intertwined they are, how different they are in damaged ways.
But you do also have “The Huntsman” coming up, too.
I play a villainous snow queen. I’ve never played a villain before, and so Charlize and I had like a crown-off every day. It was like the hammiest, hammiest performance. But it was really wonderful. Jessica Chastain’s in it, who’s another powerhouse, and Chris Hemsworth, we kind of let him be one of the girls when we felt charitable. He just got the piss ripped out of him the entire time, poor Chris. I don’t think he’ll ever work with women again.
Too bad about those Marvel movies.
I know, too bad. [laughs]
“Sicario” is in theaters on October 2.