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Blunt approach to film? Be real

The star of 'The Five-Year Engagement' and 'Your Sister's Sister' says her recent roles have shown her true self, showing off her smarts, dry wit and vulnerable side.

April 28, 2012|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times
  • Emily Blunt moved to Los Angeles for marriage and career. "I love L.A. What's not to love?" she said.
Emily Blunt moved to Los Angeles for marriage and career. "I love L.A.… (Ricardo DeAratanha, Los…)

A hostess escorted Emily Blunt to a private room in the commissary on the Universal Pictures lot, where a lone table had been set for a meal. The actress glanced around at the empty, window-less space and asked, "Might we be able to go out into the main dining room? I feel a bit cooped up in here."

As a team of handlers scurried to grant her request, one publicist whispered admiringly, "Wow, I've never had a star ask for less privacy. She's so cool, right?"

Blunt, 29, seems to inspire this breathless sort of praise. She's funny, but not in a "showcase-y kind of way," says Lynn Shelton, who directed her in the upcoming indie"Your Sister's Sister."She "brings something unexpected" to every one of her roles, adds Rian Johnson, the filmmaker behind the fall's "Looper." Even the tabloids can't manage to find anything disparaging to say about Blunt and her husband, actorJohn Krasinski,who appear to be the kind of down-home couple that's "Just! Like! Us!"

Blunt — of course — brushes aside those sorts of accolades, but her work in two new films certainly required her to turn on the charm. This weekend, she stars with Jason Segel in "The Five-Year Engagement" as an ambitious graduate student whose education derails her wedding to her docile, unfocused fiancé. In Shelton's ultra-low budget independent film, out in June, she plays a young woman who falls for her emotionally compromised best friend (played by Mark Duplass) but can't decide whether to come clean about her feelings.

Both films gave her the opportunity to showcase her dry wit and to reveal a more vulnerable side, depicting bright women who struggle to do right by the people they love while also making smart choices for themselves.

"I think I'm starting to show the real side of myself in my roles — people have told me my recent movies are the most like me," said Blunt, her southwest London upbringing evident in her accent.

Blunt first garnered the attention of American moviegoers in 2006, playing Meryl Streep's wickedly acerbic assistant in "The Devil Wears Prada." Since, she's taken on a divergent mix of roles, from Queen Victoria in 2009's period drama "The Young Victoria" to a consultant trying to help a wealthy sheik on his quest to go"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" earlier this year.

In the fall, she'll star in "Looper," Johnson's anticipated time-travel action flick featuring Bruce Willis andJoseph Gordon-Levitt in which she plays a single mother who becomes entangled in more dangerous affairs.

"Engagement," produced by Judd Apatow, marks Blunt's first broad romantic comedy. The actress said she resisted the genre for years out of fear over playing "the pill girlfriend."

"I was so sick to death of reading scripts where the girl's like, the pill girlfriend who just sits at home wearing hot pants being like, 'Oh, honey, you're so weird!' and the guy is having these amazing comedic moments," Blunt said.

Segel, who co-wrote the film's script with director Nicholas Stoller, penned the character of Violet specifically for Blunt because the two are friends in real life and he thought their chemistry would translate well on screen. But he also believed audience members wouldn't turn on her character, even though she basically forces her fiance to quit his job and move across the country to help her achieve her own goals.

"She never seems like she's trying to hurt my feelings," Segel said. "She is never intentionally trying to do anything but love me."

Blunt herself moved for love and career, relocating from England to Los Angeles three years ago, shortly after she married Krasinski, and the pair live in Hollywood near the Chateau Marmont.

"I love L.A. What's not to love?" she said, digging into a cup of frozen yogurt. "I think everyone feels that they shouldn't like it — that they should be living somewhere more culturally vibrant... But I still think it's pretty cool. The weather's great, we have a nice house, and with work, I think it's a good thing."

She's just as positive about having married someone else in the movie business even though she was cautioned against it.

"I feel like everyone poo-poos actor relationships because they say they always end in divorce and tears," she said. "But that's only because it's in the news and it's broadcast to the world. John and I can talk about everything, and it's nice, because we have a very deep understanding of what the other person does."

Being near the heart of the industry hasn't necessarily influenced Blunt's approach to her career, either. She's appeared in few big-budget movies, and even turned down parts in"Iron Man 2"and "Captain America," feeling that the characters she'd been offered were too one-dimensional.

"It wasn't that I flatly refused to do them — I just really need to identify with a part to want to play it," she said of the comic-book films. "If I am going to do a bigger movie, it has to be for the right reason."

She paused, beginning to lament her decision to eat a half a cup of yogurt hours before heading to an appearance on "Ellen."

"I need to stop eating," she said, with a sigh. "I'm not going to be able to get in my dress... I'm not a very moderate person. If someone puts a cup of frozen yogurt in front of me, I'm not going to take one spoonful."

While fretting over one's weight may be a typical actress worry, Blunt insists there's more to her than her profession. Growing up as the daughter of a teacher and a barrister, she'd never even considered acting until a teacher suggested she try out for a local theater production, and although she's come to love her job, Blunt says she feels fortunate to have a work-life balance that eludes many.

"Most of my day, I try not to allow that paranoia that is so much a part of this industry consume me," she said. "I haven't invested everything emotionally I have in this business. I don't define myself by being an actress."

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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