Why Emily Blunt can’t believe her luck

The Guardian – When she was a teenager, Dame Judi Dench took her under her wing. A decade later, she’s the toast of Hollywood – and married to actor John Krasinski. Life would be perfect, she says, if it hadn’t made her so superstitious.

Emily Blunt is describing her OCD with a humorous wryness. “It’s very weird. It’s only happened in this past year. I’ve started getting very superstitious and fixating on things. I used to do it as a kid. I’d get these obsessive moments where I’d be in the car with my dad or something, and every time we went past a lamp-post I’d go like this…” She pauses to make six clucking noises with her tongue, flipping her head with each one to acknowledge the lamp-posts she’s mentally passing. “And my dad would be like: ‘What are you doing?’ And I’d go, ‘Sorry, I can’t…” she clucks, “…stop.”

She rolls her eyes and laughs drily. “It’s becoming an issue. I’m in the middle of the street and my dog is peeing on a tree and I’m touching it.”

Why does she think it’s happening? “I don’t know. I don’t know. I think I’m just worrying lately about my friends and family. I’m lying awake, and getting older and realising how precious everything is; losing that slightly cavalier quality you have as a teenager when you say and do silly things.”

She cringes when I quote from a 2003 newspaper article earmarking her – then a teenager – as an up-and-coming British actor to watch. “Oh-my-God, stop it! I sound like a dick!” We are sitting in the bar in Claridge’s in London – me on a sofa, Blunt on a seat opposite. She sits motionless for much of the time, only fiddling with a large topaz cocktail ring on her right hand (the left sports the biggest engagement rock I’ve ever seen). This is interesting, because her face is, by contrast, so animated. She is immensely self-deprecating. When I begin to quote, she blushes. Why is she squirming? “It’s just… I remember saying a lot of stupid things back then. I was a kid! What did I know, at that point? It was all so new and scary.”

Now 29, Blunt has come a long way since snagging her first theatre role opposite Judi Dench in Sir Peter Hall’s The Royal Family at the age of 18 (her role in cult hit My Summer of Love a few years later marked her breakthrough on to the big screen). After a turn as Meryl Streep’s bitchy assistant in The Devil Wears Prada introduced her to Hollywood in 2006, she has been there ever since, picking up lead roles in films such as The Young Victoria and The Adjustment Bureau, in which she played opposite Matt Damon. Her next two films – a poignant tale of sibling relationships called Your Sister’s Sister, and the latest Judd Apatow-produced comedy The Five-Year Engagement, in which she stars opposite Jason Segel – mark her second and third projects in as many months. “Oh God, it’s so nauseating,” she says, when I mention this. “Everybody is going to be like: ‘Get her off. Pleeease.'”

The directors of both films were such fans of Blunt’s former work that neither required her to audition. “I had seen her in the independent film Sunshine Cleaning and become a bit obsessed with her,” says Lynn Shelton, the director of Your Sister’s Sister. “She has such a presence on screen and you believe everything she does.”

Apatow remembers trying to snare her for other projects, but “this was the first time we managed to suck her in”. At the time of casting, Bridesmaids – the first of his films to place funny women at its forefront – had not yet been released. But Apatow and co-writers Segel and Nicholas Stoller, who worked together on Forgetting Sarah Marshall, managed to convince Blunt with Violet, a lead female role who was to have just as many comic set-pieces as Segel.

“It was this story of a couple who had been engaged far too long,” recalls Blunt, “but it wasn’t the aggy girlfriend role, which is so bloody thankless.”

In the film, Segel and Blunt go head to head, but the best gags are Blunt’s. Her style of comedy is subtle, just like her dramatic performances; a flick of the eye, a twist of the lips. She tells me both projects relied heavily on improvisation and she was drawn to the idea of having so much input. “They were incredibly different. Your Sister’s Sister was shot in 12 days for £80,000, so it required this sort of gung-ho quality from everyone, a leap of faith really. But we each built our own characters with Lynn, spending a year on the phone discussing who they were and their back stories.”

Meanwhile, The Five-Year Engagement included her first experience in the writer’s room. “I went in with a list of notes and I don’t think I’d quite been heard in that way before,” Blunt says, blue eyes alight with enthusiasm. “It was a room full of guys and they were like: ‘Tell me what you want! Tell me what you need!’ And I was like: ‘Just please don’t write us from a perceived feminine point of view. Write us like a dude. We think and talk like you.'”

She compares finding decent roles for women to “joining a pack of hyenas feeding on very few carcasses”. Lately she’s become interested in writing. Her husband of 18 months, John Krasinski – aka Jim from the US version of The Office and star of romcoms such as It’s Complicated and Big Miracle – is currently writing a film with Matt Damon after she introduced them: “It really is so impressive. I’m so admiring of it. They’re both from Boston so they’re very funny together. It’s going to be brilliant.”

She is reluctant to talk about her marriage and has refused to speak about her love life since breaking off her engagement to singer Michael Bublé in 2008. As if to distance Krasinski further from conversation, she refers to him simply as “my husband”. Do they talk about work at home? “Obviously we talk about everything.” His influence is clear: “It’s a very clever thing that he’s doing, and lately I’m keen on optioning books for films myself. I’ll tear articles out of the New York Times that I think are interesting.”

And as if she might be sounding just a little too serious, she adds that she hates the smell of newspapers. “It’s probably my least favourite smell, apart from bad breath. You would take the smell of a fart over bad breath, you have to admit.”
One of four children raised by a QC and a former actress in Roehampton, Surrey, Blunt suffered from a terrible stutter as a child. “There was one point, when I was 12, when I stopped speaking entirely, which was embarrassing not just for me but everyone who tried to talk to me,” she says. After a teacher saw her impersonating her classmates, she was encouraged to try acting. “I really credit him with my confidence growing. I found that by alienating myself in some way, I could stop stuttering.”

She attended a sixth-form college that specialised in the performing arts and it was while starring in the school play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe that she was spotted by her agent, Roger Charteris, who helped win her a part in Sir Peter Hall’s play The Royal Family. “I think he just took a chance on me,” says Blunt, who doesn’t remember entering the business “with huge hopes and desperation for it”. Hall agrees: “She was determined, but not one of those rather black, neurotic and silent actresses.” He remembers Blunt being “open and happy” and was struck by her candour. “To me, she was ‘it’. She had such a simplicity and directness – there was no putting it on.”

Off-stage, she was humble but not over-awed: “Here she was, starring opposite Judi Dench and yet she pitched that rather well,” says Hall. Blunt remembers working with Dench clearly: “I remember her taking my sweaty palm when we were doing the photo shoot for the poster – and this was my first experience of interacting with anybody that famous – and saying: ‘If anyone gives you any trouble, you come straight to me.'” Did they strike up a friendship? “She was incredibly generous and supportive. I was pretty much having a little glass of champagne in her dressing room every night. She’d be like: ‘Where’s Ems? Get Ems down here.'”

Stephen Poliakoff, who directed her in his television film Gideon’s Daughter in 2005 remembers her as “hilarious to be around”. “But I think at that point people saw her as a serious, middle-class actress. A very senior film producer called me up and asked if she could play comedy because nobody thought she could. I just couldn’t work out what that was based on. ”

Of the actors she most admires, Blunt says it is Dench, along with Meryl Streep. Is Streep a friend? She attended Blunt’s wedding. “Mmm,” she nods, rather noncommittally. Didn’t Streep declare Blunt the finest young actor she’d ever worked with? Blunt blushes again. “I mean, God, I’m very lucky.”

She says she’d like to go back to the theatre next, but would probably plump for Broadway over the West End. “I would love to come back, but at the moment it’s very hard if my husband and my home are in LA. I don’t want to spend six months away and I think… It’s just your priorities change.”

Does she miss Britain? “I miss the people I love. I worry about them more than anything else, much more than the work I’m doing.” She tells me how she will be heading to her parents’ house that evening to stay in her old room. “It’s always funny. You know, looking at your childhood pictures of your school friends and cheap girlie trips to the south of Spain. I guess it’s how my life used to be. And it can be really nostalgic and emotional thinking about that sometimes, you know? It’s an odd feeling.”

Would she change it? “No,” she says. “I’m completely in love with this job. And… I touch wood all the time.”