Glorious day Soho House LA. I’m sat on a balcony table when I see Emily Blunt approach. I greet her with a friendly hug, one of those I-know-you-because-you’re-so-familiar recognitions; that bitchy secretary in Devil Wears Prada; that spoilt rebellious girl with a girl crush in My Summer Of Love; the princess in Gulliver’s Travels; and more recently as Matt Damon’s star crossed lover in The Adjustment Bureau and her instantly recognisable chipper tones in Gnomeo and Juliet.
We both look at each other wondering why we just hugged each other. Strangely it didn’t feel empty. Blunt is in grey skinny jeans, a bashed up black T-shirt, bare faced but for mascara. She looks toned, lean, and like she’s just spent a few hours with Tracy Anderson’s DVD, but not her whole life.
She’s fully living in LA with her actor husband John Krasinski, the handsome one who was in the US version of The Office. “I love LA,” she says. “If you’re an actor you have these rather accelerated friendships with people you work with, so that stops it being a daunting alienating time. You can go into a restaurant and have that annoying acting thing of going ‘Oh I know you because of what I do’, so even if the initial hug has a certain flair of insincerity you are quickly able to strike up a conversation,” she says doing that penetrating, knowing stare for a millisecond.
“When I first came to LA I experienced the bloodbath of auditions. Summer Of Love had been made but not out. Weirdly, that’s the only film that I’ve done that I would recommend for people to see which is strange as I’ve got no clothes on for most of it, so it does seem strange to encourage people to see me barely dressed. You guys like girl on girl? I’ve got just the film,” she laughs, a pared down naughty laugh.
Her look may be LA but her manners are definitely self-deprecating English. Despite her award nominations for Prada, The Young Victoria and Gideon’s Daughter, she never takes anything for granted. “The job is very precarious. There’s an irrational insecurity that doesn’t go away. I don’t want to be in a situation where I’ve become casual about it.”
Indeed, Blunt is always on top of her game. She’d never cast herself as just the girlfriend or wife facilitating a leading man’s box office. She’s always gone for the strange, the clever, the neurotic. She’d rather take a small role and make it her own. “People like to label you but it’s important to mix it up and hopefully play other people that people like seeing you do. I still panic about work. You can usually find something, but you want to find something that makes your heart skip a beat. It’s not that I want to play weirdos, just people who have got some kind of conflict and a sense of purpose.”
Hence she is the feistiest Juliet ever in Gnomeo and Juliet, an animated 3D garden gnome version of the Shakespeare classic set to Elton John songs.
“You get Benny and the Jets, one of my all time favourite songs.” She starts singing “B-B-Benny and the Jets.”
“You have to be the worst over actor of all time to do animation. You don’t see anyone’s face apart from the director’s, so I would show up in my pyjamas.”
They made Juliet look a bit like her. “They filmed me and they copy your facial expressions. It’s awful when people make you aware of the ticks you have.
“They wanted to make me a tough Juliet. She’s not a victim. I made her more of a tomboy. I made her not too posh and accessible.”
And she’s a gnome with a chubby face, no waistline and no costume change for the whole movie, so no dieting for this role. I’ve read that she had to starve herself to play Vogue secretary in Prada. “I was 22 then so it was easier to keep weight off.She was supposed to be emaciated. She was starving, that’s why she was desperate.
“Things change when you hit 27 (28 on Feb 23). When I did Adjustment Bureau last year (where she played a ballet dancer) I had to be really thin again and it was hell. I also had to get ripped at the gym.”
She had to learn how to dance. “| lasted two days of ballet when I was four. I cried and said it hurt my feet. At the beginning there was some keenness to hire a dancer. I said to the director I think you need an actor to do it. He said if you work your arse off I’ll let you do it and literally my arse almost fell off. Six days a week I had eight weeks prep, I did two hours dance a day and an hour and a half in the gym. A strict diet, muesli in the morning, chicken salad, some fish and some sushi. It’s an endurance test to work like that, but these dancers are athletes, in order to play one you really have to live the life of an athlete. It was interesting to live the physical life of the character and there was an element of understanding her more. She was all about the work and strong. I did contemporary ballet and they are very strong and muscly.”
Did that make her feel powerful? “Yes,” she brightens, “I felt invigorated all the time. I definitely pulled muscles and threw things out and there’s a pain that comes with it when your muscles are just screaming because you’re so tired. Essentially you feel this robust energy going through you, which is a new feeling. I’ve always worked out, but not like that. Over Christmas I did a month of binge.” Certainly it doesn’t show. She puts that down to a couple of weeks of Bikram yoga. She orders fish taco and hummus.
“I love to cook and I love to eat. I make a great Thai green curry and a great roast chicken. I do it all the time, obsessively. It relaxes me and I get zen’d out. I go into a meditative state and I don’t want anyone helping me. My mother said trying to cook for four kids every day was just agony.”
Blunt grew up in Roehampton, south west London, the second eldest of four. Would she want four kids? “I don’t know. Probably not. It’s a lot isn’t it.” It wouldn’t surprise me though. There’s something very old-fashioned and capable about Blunt.
The Adjustment Bureau is part science-fiction thriller part romance based on a Philip K. Dick story. It’s about destiny and true love and can you change the course of it.
“Two people meet and they have an electric connection, as you do when you meet that person you feel you’re meant to be with. They meet and it’s instantaneous, they want to be with each other. They seem to have a secret language from the get go. Then comes the sci-fi element who are seen as big brother who can effectively manipulate people’s paths in life. Matt’s character finds out about this system and he wants to beat it to be with her, but the Adjustment Bureau are trying to keep them apart because the theory is she is enough for him. The relationship is fulfilling enough so he will not further his career and she won’t go on to do what she does and that will have a knock-on effect.”
Do you think it’s possible that if you are with someone that’s enough for you? “Yes, I think it is a possibility.”
Has she ever felt that, that she is in a relationship and not driven to do anything else? “Well, I am in a relationship that’s incredibly fulfilled and it’s just the best thing ever. I don’t think it makes me less driven, I think it makes me more confident on the drive.”
Does she mean it provides a core of stability from which she can flourish? “Absolutely, I think when you’re happy in a relationship it subconsciously gives you more than you realise.”
You wonder if it caused tension with her husband when she had to get passionate on film with Matt Damon? “It comes with the job. By that time Matt and I had become friends and I got to know his wife Lucy. I laughed the whole time because it’s so embarrassing to kiss somebody who is your friend. And there’s nothing sexy about it.”
Does she think that the premise of the movie is true, that there is such a thing as destiny? “I think you know very early on and I have always been a subscriber to fate. I look back on a number of things that have happened to me and wonder if what would have happened if something had directed me in a slightly different route. Would I have ever met this person? I am grateful for where these strange near misses have taken me.”
For instance had she never met Anne Hathaway she would never have introduced her to her husband? “Er, I don’t know where that came from.” I’ve read it many times. “It’s definitely not true. John didn’t know Annie when we first met.” So how did you and John meet? “I try never to talk about it. I feel I need to keep that for us.”
She falters when she says this because in many ways she’s a very open person. Perhaps it’s because she felt she said too much about Michael Bublé. They were together three years until July 2008 when they broke off suddenly. She even sang on his album Call Me Irresponsible and he wrote the love song Everything for her.
Does she think she’s ever going to sing again? “Probably not. In the shower maybe. ‘
She blushes at the mention of his name, ever so slightly. Is it a blush or is it just the sun? “He’s a good guy but I’m not in touch with him any more. It’s a weird thing bringing up exes. It’s weird when I’m married. It seems a long time ago.” Weirder than kissing Matt Damon? “Ha. It’s all weird. It’s a weird life for sure.”