The Accidental Actress

Four nights ago, Emily Blunt was playing the supportive wife in Alaska, hanging out while husband John Krasinski filmed Everybody Loves Whales. Three nights ago, she was in New York, being whisked off to a photo shoot. Last night, she touched down in Los Angeles, her current home. Now, the British actress is flopped on a sofa in a lavish hotel suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. She wears black skinny jeans so well worn they’ve turned navy, as well as a black blouse with tiny orange flowers that she says she picked up at some vintage shop in town. “My head is fried,” Blunt admits with a laugh, though she hardly looks jet-lagged. “What’s my name right now? Gwendolyn, I think.”

If Blunt is having trouble keeping her identity straight, it’s no wonder that the public can’t quite place the thespian yet. “Most people think they’ve met me somewhere or gone to school with me,” she says. “I’m not the instantly recognizable person who gets hounded.” That could also be a testament to the variety of roles that the 28-year-old has taken on in her relatively short career and how thoroughly she disappears inside the characters. Over the past five years, Blunt has played everything from an acid-tongued, couture-clothed assistant (The Devil Wears Prada) to a largely unclothed 1980s political constituent (Charlie Wilson’s War) to an 1890s damsel in distress (The Wolfman). Last year, she snagged a Golden Globe nomination for playing the teenage Queen of England in The Young Victoria.

But Hollywood producers have no trouble recognizing the actress’s A-list status. She has three films currently in production, and recent months have found Blunt starring in two family movies: Gulliver’s Travels with Jack Black (in which she plays a pint-size princess) and her first animated feature, Gnomeo and Juliet (in which she lends her voice to a star-crossed garden gnome). For that one, she loved coming to work in flip-flops and jeans or pajamas, “looking like a dog’s arse,” she says. “I would roll up in greasy hair and no one would know.” (Well, her director knew — and on the days he filmed the bonus features for the DVD, she would get a call saying “Leave the baggy pants at home.”)

This March, though, Blunt will step into a contemporary role that she says, due to her character’s strength and playfulness, is the closest to herself she’s ever played. In The Adjustment Bureau, which opens in theatres on March 4, she stars as Elise, a quick-witted ballerina who falls in love with David (Matt Damon), a candidate for the U.S. Senate. Blunt’s dry sense of humour is front and centre when Elise and David meet serendipitously in a men’s washroom at New York’s Waldorf Astoria. David is practicing a speech in front of the mirror; Elise emerges from a stall holding champagne. Sparks fly. But fate didn’t intend for them to meet or fall in love—and a group of mysterious agents, who want nothing left to chance, aggressively try to stop them from staying together. It’s George Orwell’s 1984 mixed with The Matrix.

Blunt could have followed up this romantic thriller with a starring role as the female lead in Captain America: The First Avenger—a franchise that may be as big as the Twilight or Harry Potter series — but, to everyone’s surprise, she turned it down. Blunt insists that she didn’t reject the role because of its blockbuster potential but because of a scheduling conflict with Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, a 2012 release co-starring Ewan McGregor and Kristin Scott Thomas. “The choices I make are not always about ‘Oh, I don’t want to be overexposed,’” she says, “because you have to do those movies to be green-lit to do small films or a passion project.”

It’s the kind of pragmatism that you’d expect to hear from someone who grew up dreaming of Tinseltown and silver screens. Instead, Blunt was raised in leafy Roehampton, in the suburbs of London, England, the daughter of a barrister father and a teacher mother who stayed home to raise her four children. What kind of youthful trouble did she get into? She arches an eyebrow and says dramatically “I can’t! I won’t!” And then Blunt folds like hot laundry. “I stole some carrot seeds as a child from the local garden centre. My mom made me take them back and apologize.”

At school, she studied French and Spanish. “I had an interesting feeling that I’d become an interpreter at the U.N.,” she recalls. Blunt didn’t entertain thoughts of acting until she was 16 and began to take drama classes; in 2000, she was selected to participate in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where an agent spotted her performance and signed her. Her parents are pleased that she’s thriving in an industry known for devouring people, but “they’re not a family that dines out on this kind of thing,” she says.

So while Blunt is happy to skewer her good-girl image— “Let’s trash this hotel room and I can play a heroin-fuelled rock star next,” she deadpans—she’s most interested in a quiet life with The Office star Krasinski, whom she married in July and refers to as her “better half.” That’s about all she’s willing to give up: She kept her silence on her breakup with Michael Bublé and she’s just as committed to keeping details about her marriage on lockdown, lest she feed the gossip mill. (The gossip mill, of course, churns on. Blunt describes going to a Bikram yoga class without her wedding rings. “They literally fall off because I sweat but of course [the headline was] ‘The marriage is on the rocks!’”)

As our interview draws to a close, I ask the actress to reveal a hidden talent unrelated to her husband. Smiling, Blunt says that she has a party trick—something that she’s been able to do for as long as she can remember. Puckering her lips, she wiggles her tongue and emits a high-pitched, pigeon-like trill for a full five seconds. Her eyes water and she throws back her head and laughs. “Very few people have seen or heard that!” Suddenly, Blunt seems rather far away from all of her roles. She doesn’t look anything like an ice queen or a Victorian princess; she just looks like she’s having a ball.