Blunt by name, but not by nature

March 8

Emily Blunt, known for playing uptight types, is as warm in her new role as Victoria as she is talking to Julia Molony

Emily Blunt is perched ornamentally on a couch in the centre of an opulent suite in London’s Mandarin Oriental hotel. Her spike-heeled feet are pulled up and arranged beside her at an artful right-angle to the rest of her body. Her posture is as upright as a statue. To her growing Hollywood audience at least, who know her through her most famous roles in The Devil Wears Prada and The Jane Austen Book Club, Blunt has become known for a certain British froideur.

In person, however, she is decidedly warm-blooded. In direct contrast to her most high-profile role to date — that of the icy and neurotic Emily in The Devil Wears Prada, Blunt is gracious company and quick to laugh.

And it is due to this quality that she shines in her latest project, The Young Victoria. For her first lead role in a major motion picture she is charged with bringing the famously austere monarch to life. The lady in mourning weeds, whose name has become a byword for joylessness, has her reputation revitalised in the film, which covers her childhood, her courtship by Albert, and the famously passionate and turbulent first years of her marriage and reign.

Playing a repressed school teacher in The Jane Austen Book Club (complete with alice bands and sensible shoes), Blunt proved she was the master of uptight.

She employed cut-glass British-ness to powerfully comic effect in The Devil Wears Prada — so much so that she was widely credited with stealing scenes from under the nose of the legendary Meryl Streep. And while there is nothing of that fictional Emily in the real one, she does possess a pretty impressive degree of sangfroid and composure for an arriviste star. It’s hard to imagine that the polished, self-possessed woman in front of me suffered from a stutter as a child.

“I feel like I’ve been a newcomer for so long now, I just wonder when I actually arrived,” she says with an almost imperceptible tinge of weariness in her voice.

And it is true that Blunt’s success has hardly been built overnight. She first attracted the attention of an agent while in a school production, and got her first professional gig before she had even sat her A-Levels.

A slew of respectable stage and television roles followed until the film industry came calling in the form of My Summer of Love in 2004. But though she demurs at the suggestion, this latest starring role sees her propelled into a different league. She’s being touted as the next British star, with wattage to match a Kate or a Keira. In London, her face is plastered over billboards and buses. This is the role that sees Blunt become a household name.

Though her fame to date has been quite low key, it’s true to say that, just like the young monarch who she plays, Emily has had to do quite a bit of her growing up in the public eye.

“Even though I certainly don’t have crowds of angry people outside my house,” she says, of the comparison to Queen Victoria’s early experiences of public scrutiny, “I think it’s interesting because it does reflect quite closely on what people deal with in this job.”

And like the Queen, she too admits to a degree of immaturity and ill-judged decisions along the way.

Last year, she ended her long-term relationship with the easy-listening crooner Michael Buble. Though the pair shared a house in Vancouver (where Buble is from), eventually the demands of their different schedules got between them.

When they were together, Emily talked freely and unguardedly about her fella, and how smitten she was. But now that the relationship is over, she has learnt about the perils of inviting the media in too much.

Now dating actor John Krasinski, she has revised her policy on talking about her romantic life. “I feel like in the past I might have talked too openly for my own liking, about my private life, and I think that that can be a mistake, because then you are public domain and then people can ask anything,” she says.

She doesn’t want wariness to sound like self-pity, though. “I think it’s very easy for actors to complain and moan, because, I guess, we are over-indulged in general. It’s not really that big of a deal.” And she’s quick to add lightly that she’s not about to “lose any sleep over it, because it’s a wonderful job. It’s incomparable in many ways. And I’m very fulfilled by it, and I feel very lucky to be doing it. So I think if you can expect that side of it to a certain extent, you’ll be fine. But I think you just make choices to step out of that circle. Nothing comes without a price. But I’m not a struggling single mother who is working three jobs. That’s a job. That’s tiring. That’s pressure. Not what I do.”

On the subject of stalking paparazzi she talks with a kind of academic distance, as if it’s a strange sociological phenomenon rather than something that directly affects her life. “I think it’s got a bit out of control, the fascination with celebrity. We’re not all that interesting. Everyone goes to the loo. I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s a mistake to make this job or the people working in it otherworldly,” she says.

Now that her success has gone global she has set herself up with the obligatory house in LA, where she spends a lot of time. It’s not exactly home, though. She’s happy being “transient at the moment” living wherever the meetings and work are.

LA is a notoriously hard city to break into, I suggest. “I think it’s very clique-y,” she agrees. “I think you have to be a bit careful finding out who your friends are in that town. You can feel that quest for success in LA. It emanates out of everyone and every corner of the place. I think you can smell the fear. No one gives a crap in London. I think there is much more of a nonchalant attitude here, which is refreshing actually. I have to come back here to feed on that for a bit. I love the hustle and bustle of being in London. I love that human contact that you get from being on the street. LA is a place of machines, cars just passing each other, so you don’t get that feeling of, community, I think. Which is really important.”

For now, anyway, her family remains her touchstone, a constant source of stability and sanity that helps her navigate a world known for losing its head.

“I think they are vital — they are sort of my life force in many ways, because I come from a very close family, and which is very supportive. It was always very bubbly and fun and encouraging in developing us as individuals. I’m one of four kids but we were all encouraged on our own different paths … And they are always there when the shit hits the fan.”

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