‘Into the Woods’: Emily Blunt on Singing for Stephen Sondheim

In the big-budget adaptation of the musical “Into the Woods,” directed by Rob Marshall and set for a Dec. 25 release, Emily Blunt teams up again with Meryl Streep, her on-screen foil in “The Devil Wears Prada” and her off-screen friend. In the new film Ms. Blunt plays the Baker’s Wife, whose yearning for a child sets the intertwining fairy-tale plot in motion. Ms. Streep plays the Witch, who promises to have “the curse reversed” — as Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics go — so the Baker’s Wife will no longer be barren, as long as a few key demands are met. In New York for the film’s premiere this month, before she learned of her Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a musical or comedy, Ms. Blunt had a quick sit-down with the Bagger over English tea to talk about a role she assumed she’d never get; the names she and James Corden, who plays her husband, chose for their characters; and shots from the chest up.

Q.You clearly have a penchant for roles where Meryl Streep has unreasonable demands on you.

A.That’s the nature of our relationship — just purely tortured. We were laughing — I said: “You and I can’t ever play lovers now. Audiences wouldn’t accept it. They’d just have to see you torment me.” It’s wonderful to work with her again. That was a huge part of it for me.

Q.Are you a singer?

Q.I’ve always liked it, and I did it in school and on my own in the car, like most people. Stephen Sondheim’s music is challenging. It’s a mountain, and it’s a huge role, but it’s a wonderful role. The thought of working with Meryl again and working with Rob was what kind of shoved me through the auditioning door. Everybody had to go and sing, probably, other than Meryl. It’s like that feeling of showing your underwear.

Q.Did you train before the audition?

A.I did two lessons before the audition, but still, at that point, I just didn’t think I’d get it. What probably helped me more than anything is that Rob Marshall heard that I was nervous to come in, and he said, “I want an actor who can kind of sing, not the other way around.” I thought that was really emboldening.

Q.Had you met Stephen Sondheim before?

A.No. I remember him coming in. I was doing “Moments in the Woods,” that big number after I had the fling with the Prince [Cinderella’s Prince], and he felt that I was trying to make it sound too pretty. He said, “She’s on a mission, she needs to figure out what she’s going to do, you gotta keep it moving.” I was trying to make it sound nice for him.

Q.I had never seen “Into the Woods” onstage. Had you?

A.No, I had never seen it; I’d never heard of it, which I’m so embarrassed to say. It’s not so well known in England. Everybody does it in their high school and college here. Sadly, they usually only do the first act, which is kind of annoying because it’s the happily ever after and everyone gets their wish. That’s a shame because I think we are in a society where we’re sort of coddling our kids, and I think kids like to be challenged. No one’s more perceptive than a child. You have 11-year-olds looking at the most atrocious stuff online in their bedrooms. I’ve had a few of my friends saying, “Is it O.K. for kids?” And I always say, “Yes, it is, actually.”

Q.Especially for young girls, right?

A.It’s nice you have these very modern, very strong female characters. I think usually in fairy tales you have women going through hell and high water to get their happily ever after. In this, they get it and then maybe realize it’s not what they want. That’s a nice shift.

Q.You didn’t have a name, right? You were just the Baker’s Wife.

A.We decided to call ourselves Margery and Jeff, I think. We [James Corden and I] talked about Margery being almost like a Midwestern housewife who’s never left her little town, and she reads US Weekly every week and is obsessed with George Clooney, and then one day he shows up and knocks on her door.

Q.You had many scenes with Meryl. Did it feel “The Devil Wears Prada”-ish?

A.I was a little less star-struck this time. I wasn’t less awe-struck because I am just awe-struck by her. I know her a lot better. I’ve known her for eight years, and she’s been amazing to me, and a friend, actually. She was very kind to me because I was pregnant. She’s such a mama bear.

Q.Were you pregnant for the whole production?

A.Yeah. I found out I was having a baby the same week I found out I had this job. [She and her husband, John Krasinski, welcomed Hazel in February.] I didn’t want to tell anyone early on. I didn’t know how Rob would react. I think he’s now known as the pregnant women director because it happened with Penélope [Penélope Cruz, when he was making “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”]. I was like, “I’m sorry you’re about to do it again; you’re about to do a lot of shots boobs up on me.” He said: “As your friend, I’m thrilled. As your director, I’m like, ‘Oh, God.’ But we will make it work.” So he did.