Tales of the Unexpected Star

‘Jesus,’ Emily Blunt says, scanning a cocktail menu in a dimly lit New York restaurant. ‘There’s a gin and absinthe concoction on here called Dr Funk.’ Her saucer-sized, limpid blue eyes brighten with mischief. ‘It just has to be done, doesn’t it?’ The 27-year-old actress arrived moments ago, and my worries that she might be snobbish or stern (formed, no doubt, thanks to her indelible 2006 turn as bitchily neurotic fashion-magazine slave in The Devil Wears Prada) are dispelled by a loopy hug and descriptions that she’s been darting around on her Vespa all day in brazen defiance of the mid-summer downpour. ‘It’s so fun!’ she declares, shaking the rain out of her hair and flopping down in the wooden booth.

It was difficult to know what exactly to expect of Blunt. Her ability to disappear completely into the characters she plays makes her tremendously watchable onscreen (Meryl Streep, from under whose stilettos Blunt stole scene after scene in The Devil Wears Prada, called her ‘one of the best young actresses I’ve worked with in some time, perhaps ever’) but also renders her somewhat anonymous when off-duty. Droves of people watched her Golden Globe-nominated portrayal of a new monarch in last year’s Young Victoria but, despite the dimple-chinned, carved-ivory beauty, would they recognise Blunt if she sat next to them on the bus? Probably not. ‘People can’t quite place how they know me,’ she agrees. ‘They think we went to the same school or something. I don’t usually help them out.’

Since her breakout role in 2004’s art-house hit My Summer of Love, in which she played a (bi-)sexually adventurous Yorkshire teen, Blunt has zigzagged between acclaimed indie flicks (The Jane Austen Book Club, Sunshine Cleaning) and big-budget crowd pleasers (she played lycanthrope-loving Gwen Conliffe in the underrated classic-horror homage The Wolfman).

These days, she is following in the footsteps of Kate Winslet and Keira Knightley as one of the few Brits Hollywood really embraces as one of its own. Her facility with accents has prevented her from becoming pigeonholed as a costume-drama English rose – even though there’s no doubt it was her turn as Queen Victoria that won the hearts of the American audience, always ready to embrace some corset action. Does it bother her that her compatriots might not realise just what a hit she is in the States? Her quick, musical giggle climbs an octave. ‘Oh, God. If I worried about the way people perceived me, I’d probably not sleep. I try not to think about things like that if at all possible.’

In any case, just as America has embraced her, she has embraced it right back. She’s engaged to John Krasinski – the lanky, goofy-cute star of the American version of The Office, who she refers to as ‘my other half’. They have been holed up in Manhattan for several weeks while he films Something Borrowed alongside Kate Hudson and she works on re-shoots for upcoming sci-fi thriller The Adjustment Bureau.

Probably her most high-profile role to date, Blunt plays a ballet dancer opposite Matt Damon. ‘I had to learn to do ballet for the role, which was terrifying – you can’t really get away with half-assing it,’ she says. ‘There’s something very exposing about dancing in front of people. It’s like asking someone to look you in the eye and sing without any sense of irony. It’s that embarrassing. She takes a long, indulgent drag of her (‘dangerously delicious’) Dr Funk. ‘This is my weekend of revenge on the diet I’ve had to be on for the re-shoots,’ she says. ‘Last night I had steamed pork buns that made me want to weep. I feel like I’m just emerging from a food coma.’ Damon, she adds, derived immense glee from not being the one having to do all the rigorous bodywork for the film. ‘After Bourne and Invictus, he was like, “Just for once, I don’t have to go to the gym, so I’m going to eat burgers in front of you and you’re going to have to deal with it.'”

While Blunt proclaims she loves New York (‘I feel at my best here; it demands you do things you’ve never done before’), she’s looking forward to returning ‘home’ to California. ‘British people pretend to hate L.A., but they completely love it. I’m going back on Thursday and I’m so excited. I get to swim in a pool.’ She throws her arms heavenly in mock ecstasy. ‘It’s amazing.’

She maintains her Britishness by keeping Marmite in the larder at all times (‘Everyone here gags at the smell of it, but it’s like my staple diet. It’s salty deliciousness’), cooking Sunday roasts and hanging out at ‘a slightly contrived British pub’ called Ye Olde King’s Head in Santa Monica. When she’s in London, which is often, she shares a flat with her older sister, Felicity, a literary agent (she also has a younger sister and brother). ‘I feel very transatlantic,’ she says. ‘I shoot in England all the time, and I’m really close to my family and friends there. I know that maybe there’s a perception that I’ve abandoned what’s true to me, but I still maintain it and I never want to look like I’m disregarding where I came from.’ She rolls her eyes. ‘Don’t worry, I’m not on cleanses or doing Pilates every day! Not to stereotype Hollywood girls, but…’

Growing up in the smart London suburb of Roehampton (her father an accomplished barrister; her mother a former actress), Blunt developed a stutter at the age of seven, which was ‘awful, absolutely awful’ she remembers. ‘You feel like there’s an imposter living inside of you who is misrepresenting who you really are. You don’t want to be accepted for being that person but at the same time you do, and you don’t want people to finish your sentences, yet you breathe a sigh of relief when someone does.’ She overcame it after a teacher suggested she try speaking in different accents for a drama class (‘I spoke fluidly for the first time in my life in some northern English accent, probably the hokiest you’ve ever heard’) – though she says she still gets caught out occasionally when making phone calls. ‘It’s very common for stutterers to not be able to say their own name, and when someone asks who’s calling, I’ll be like, “F***!'”

The experience of being an awkward, ‘profoundly uncool’ adolescent no doubt honed Blunt’s keen observational skills, just as it led to her involvement in theatre, though she says becoming an actress was entirely accidental. She was ‘muddling about’, considering going to university to become a Spanish translator, when she was chosen to appear in a play at the Edinburgh Festival and landed an agent. ‘He asked if I wanted to give acting a go, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ I didn’t have any expectations, which was probably a good thing. I didn’t feel any desperate need to fulfill some lifelong dream. But one thing led to another, and I can’t imagine doing anything else now because I just love it.’ She draws one knee up to her chest. ‘I don’t mean any disrespect to people who have a burning desire to do this, because it really is an extraordinary job and I’ve been unfathomably lucky, but I don’t ever want to be too focused on any one thing. There’s so much out there, and I don’t want to miss anything.’

To which end, and despite the re-shoots, Blunt has taken most of 2010 off, and will only begin shooting her next film – Salmon Fishing in the Yemen with Ewan McGregor – at the end of the summer. ‘It’s so important to take time off. When you’re working on a film, you get engrossed in a reality that’s actually totally unreal, and that goes away as soon as you’ve wrapped, which is a really strange existence,’ she says. ‘I think I needed to get my life back a bit.’ She insists, however, that she did not spend the time planning her wedding to Krasinski, though the rumour mill maintains there will be confetti flying within the next few weeks. ‘Ha!’ she snorts at the question. ‘It’s not my style to be much of a planner, so I don’t even know really when it’s happening. I’m sure it’s going to be small, easy-going and last minute.’ She flashes a grin as bright as the platinum-and-gigantic-diamond ring on her left hand. ‘But you’ll see… soon!’

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Blunt is just a down-to-earth Brit girl muddling through. You get the impression that she long ago got the measure of the system, not least when it comes to interviews. She won’t be drawn into breaking her silence on her break-up from Canadian singer Michael Bublé three years ago (Blunt ditched her then-fiancé not long after photos were released of him cosying up to an ex-girlfriend), and she takes a similarly guarded approach to discussing her relationship with Krasinski. When asked what she loves the most about him, she volleys back, ‘Only he could say, really,’ before swerving subject: ‘Did you watch the football yesterday?’

She does have a fairly relaxed attitude about the attention she and Krasinski draw when they’re out together, though. ‘We’ve created a monster! A two-headed monster! And he’s so tall, he’s hard to miss.’ She shrugs. ‘People are always going to stare, but you can’t do anything about that. It’s easy to complain, but when you sign up for this job and things go well, that’s just what happens.’ She leans forward, a gold-bangle jangling wrist falling on the table with a clatter. ‘I mean, listen, if Denzel Washington walked in here right now I would be gawping at him.’

She can’t be that over-awed by encounters with the A-list. She’s best friends with at least two of their number: Anne Hathaway – who introduced her to Krasinski in 2008 – and Amy Adams, with whom she co-starred in Sunshine Cleaning. But despite the fact that when they get together they generate the kind of star power that would have Hollywood executives on their knees, it all seems based on genuine affection, rather than an eye to moving up the L.A. food chain. She talks sweetly of Adams’s talent – ‘I’m mesmerised by Amy.’

Blunt, it seems, does strive to keep it real. She’s not keen on too much airbrushing (‘I don’t like it when they stretch you out and make you all long and skinny. It makes you look like a Barbie. Who the hell looks like that?’) and though she likes fashion, remains somewhat wary. ‘I think I tend to dress quite hard. I’m definitely not a frilly girl and I don’t wear dresses that much,’ she says. She does employ a stylist, but insists that she makes the final decision. ‘When it’s a red carpet thing, I think it’s good to just go for it. Who cares if someone hates it? If I love something – if I think it’s edgy and cool – I don’t care what anyone else thinks.’ She casts an eye at her outfit of cargo pants, vests and flat sandals, all in shades of brown – ‘Oh, God, here we are talking fashion and I’ve turned up in my pyjamas.’

Despite being one of Hollywood’s cooler star couples, she and Krasinski eschew the celebrity circuit, preferring off-the-radar haunts. In fact, the paparazzi only see the couple when they’re walking their dogs, Finn and Pete. ‘I never thought I was going to be a nerd about my dogs, but I just think they’re gorgeous,’ Blunt gushes, showing me a photo of herself hugging a black-and-white mutt on her iPhone. Her eyes mist as she scrolls past a snapshot of Finn wrapped in a towel. ‘Look at me, I’m getting all soppy! Dr Funk is lethal.’

No such soppiness on screen, though. She excels in reined-in performances, appreciating the power of a quivering lip or a twitch of an eye. Blunt’s role models are telling. ‘Cate Blanchett is wonderful. Rachel Weisz is delicious,’ she says. ‘And Meryl, of course. She’s such a free spirit, so intuitive, she’s got balls, and she manages to maintain a mystique and a wonderful sense of humour. She’s someone who I admire not only for what she can do – that’s a given – but for who she is.’

As well as The Adjustment Bureau, Blunt will be in Gulliver’s Travels this autumn, a Jack Black romp for which she turned down the Iron Man 2 role that Scarlett Johansson ultimately got. ‘I play a tiny princess,’ she says. ‘It’s the fluffiest, girliest part I’ve ever played – it was so much fun. I’m fortunate in that I’m considered someone who can do drama and comedy, so I like to mix it up.’ As for the future? ‘I believe in waiting patiently for the next great role. Once you’ve done a film, you’ve handed your performance to others and they dictate what goes on from there, so the only thing you truly have control over are the choices you make.’

Evening has set in and Blunt needs to go – she’s goiung to a pizza dinner with Krasinksi. She extracts a sequined Alice + Olivia cardigan out of her bag and tugs it over her shoulders. ‘It’s my inner drag queen trying to escape.’ She laughs, standing up with just a hiny of a light-hearted sway. ‘Wow, I’m Funked.’