Emily Blunt could have been the original Jennifer Lawrence – all she would have needed was Bradley Cooper, an Oscar and a vodka shot; instead she got Rupert Friend, a tiara and a reserved peck on the cheek. Her starring big-screen break as The Young Victoria shaped public opinion that Emily Blunt was merely very pretty, a bit bland and prone to Victorian reserve – in short, a poor man’s Keira Knightley – while in fact, she is warm, witty and a powerful actress.
She’s participated in a vomit-off with Colbert, is on the board of the American Institute for Stuttering (she was plagued by a severe stutter through the ages 7-14) and with husband John Krasinski is embroiled in a long standing prank war with Jimmy Kimmel. To understand what brought Emily Blunt to her starring role as Kate Macer – an idealistic FBI agent enlisted to track down an anonymous drug lord across the US/Mexico border – in the upcoming Sicario, it’s important to understand just exactly how Emily Blunt, period-drama princess, has turned the tide, redefining herself as musical star, comedic darling and Hollywood action queen.
Her early screen career moved her swiftly along from an impressive stock of theatre roles, with a debut opposite Judi Dench in The Royal Family in 2002, to two small but well-received TV dramas in 2003: Boudica with Alex Kingston and Henry VIII with Ray Winstone. It was her impressive performances opposite seasoned actors that saw her cast alongside Paddy Considine in My Summer of Love (2004), one of those special sort of British lesbian dramas which is fairly certain that attractive teenage lesbians are sort of like fairies and should be treated as such on film. Notably, she was showered in awards from the beginning: she won her first Golden Globe opposite Bill Nighy in Gideon’s Daughter (2005), the BAFTA Rising Star in 2007, and in her relatively minor The Devil Wears Prada role she was nominated for both a BAFTA and Golden Globe. With a growing stack of smaller films to her name, notably the 2008 gem Sunshine Cleaning, Blunt was building a reputation as a wonderful, intelligent actress with undeniable screen and stage presence that fascinated audiences. All she needed was that big break, that star-maker that would solidify her as one of the greats, the Helen Mirren of her generation.
However, Blunt’s career was stalled by a series of poor and unfortunate career choices. The Young Victoria (2009) was the lead role Emily Blunt’s career needed but, sadly, not what she deserved. The role had a strange effect on public opinion, effectively launching her as a powerful character actress capable of fleshing out a thin script with an arresting glance and cleverly measured intonation, but swaying her film portfolio heavily towards reserved period damsels. In addition to the mediocre fare of The Wolfman (2010) and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2012), Blunt was forced to turn down the role of Black Widow/Natasha Romanov (for which she was director Jon Favreau’s first choice) due to scheduling conflicts with Jack Black’s Gulliver’s Travels, and also passed on the role of Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger due to her other commitments.
However, the next year would bring two of the fundamental roles of her reinvention. In Looper (2012) she stunned in an action role, portraying a stripper-turned-gentle moralistic mother in a violent dystopian future, and subsequently Blunt has become a fan favourite for casting as the upcoming Captain Marvel. Her onscreen chemistry with Jason Segel in Gulliver’s Travels lead their own fully fledged rom-com The Five Year Engagement (2012). Witty, adorable and ‘so different’ in the way that (500) Days of Summer wanted to be, it was the perfect chance for audiences to see Blunt as a comedic actress (the best moments actually came from her comedic pairing with Alison Brie) and her talent for playing out that real heartfelt chemistry between people who genuinely like each other.
Into the Woods was another turning point for Blunt. Cheeky and funny as The Baker’s Wife, she manages to reconcile a character at odds with herself, both desperate for a secure stereotypical family and tempted by ‘the prince in the woods’, without missing a beat – or a note. In fact, in a musical of melodrama and fantasy she was lauded for her ability to drag an emotional reality back into her songs, to find the balance between a musical performance and a real moment of truth, pain, or comedy, creating a character that can see the funny side. It’s something she brought to Edge of Tomorrow, her second serious action film, which matched her with Tom Cruise. Believe it or not it is – and they both are – funny, and their central relationship has an interesting chemistry that feels more like an enduring friendship and respect than a hot and heavy love affair. It’s a performance that has set Blunt up well for the violent drama of Sicario; this hilarious, adorable and incredibly talented woman has in fact revealed herself to be the rising star of her generation and, finally, audiences are starting to notice.