IN ONE OF THE BUSIEST PROFESSIONAL YEARS OF HER LIFE, THIS GOLDEN GLOBE WINNER BEGAN WITH A SEARING ROLE IN A QUIET PLACE, AND CONCLUDES BY TACKLING THE TITLE CHARACTER IN A MARY POPPINS REMAKE
BY JOEL KELLER
Even in our celebrity obsessed society, where an actor’s every utterance and image is picked apart on social media, it’s hard to find anyone who’s said a bad word about Emily Blunt. That may be calculated, of course; except for a mistimed joke about regretting her then new U.S. citizenship after watching a Republican presidential primary debate in 2015 one that got her into a bit of Twitter hot water Blunt and her husband, actor/ director John Krasinski, have worked hard to foster a reputation for not taking themselves too seriously. And, while Krasinski is active on social media, Blunt has a decided privacy streak. “I strongly believe that my job is to persuade you that I am playing somebody else, so exposing too much personally is just something I can’t get on board with,” she told Vanity Fair earlier this year.
Considering how busy her past year has been, though, Blunt likely wouldn’t have time for tweets and Instagram Stories, anyway. Aside from raising two daughters (Hazel, 4, and Violet, 2, with Krasinski), the 35-year-old has starred with her husband in the acclaimed thriller, A Quiet Place, and provided her voice for a role (alongside Krasinski again) in the upcoming animated feature, Animal Crackers. Most significantly, she took on the challenge of reprising Julie Andrews’s Oscarwinning turn as the flying nanny in Mary Poppins Returns, which will be released in December.
Born in London in 1983, performing was likely in Blunt’s blood; her mother, Joanna, is a former actor and teacher, and her father, Peter, was a barrister who often argued cases in Britain’s high courts. She was interested in acting early on, in part as a way to help overcome a stutter she struggled with while in grade school. When she was 12, a teacher encouraged Blunt to act in a school play, and to speak in a funny accent, a move she feels helped her tremendously.
“Once you’re able to hear yourself speak fluently, albeit in a ridiculous accent, you gain the confidence to think this could happen again and again. It all became a bit easier [after the play],” she told Vulture in 2011.
Blunt’s first professional acting splash was made on stage, too, as Juliet in a production of Romeo and Juliet for the Chichester Festival, followed by another theatre role opposite Dame Judi Dench in The Royal Family, which got her a nod as Jason Walsh) into a formidably muscled military heroine.
This swoop of role diversity was, in part, why Krasinski tasked with casting A Quiet Place was nervous about asking her to star in his feature directorial debut. In fact, he asked Blunt for recommendations for who might be good for the part. Then she got a chance to read the script.
“We were on a plane together and she asked, ‘Do you mind if I read the script?,’” recalled Krasinski in a Columbia Pictures interview. “She read it, and I’ll never forget…turned to me and looked sick. She said, ‘You can’t let anyone else do this movie. I have to play this part.’ It was the greatest compliment of my career, because I’ve been witness to exactly what it takes to get my wife to commit to a movie…how insanely classy she is, how insanely smart she is, how insanely dedicated she is to all these movies she chooses.”
In the film, Blunt and Krasinski play the parents of two kids, one of whom is hearing impaired, who live in a postapocalyptic society where sound-sensitive monsters kill humans who make even the slightest noise. Thanks to their ability to use sign language and hand signals, though, they have been able to survive. Blunt was drawn to her character, Evelyn, she said, precisely because she knows what it’s like to be a parent who wants to make sure her kids are safe.
“For me, it represented my deepest fear of not being able to protect them… what that felt like. So, it scared me to take on this role,” she explained in a studio interview. The couple had long been looking for a way to work with each other (they had explored working on a play, for instance); fortunately, A Quiet Place production worked out better than either expected.
“I felt protected because he was at the helm of it,” Blunt said, “so he could control what was really getting out there. Because we are married, it was so beneficial to this movie, this dynamic, this experience, and I felt so valued by him creatively. We were so on the same page.”
Technically, the couple had worked together previously, on Animal Crackers, though likely weren’t in the studio together while doing voice work. In that film, due out in September, an overextended couple inherit a circus. A clown (voiced by Danny DeVito) shows them a box of magical animal crackers that can turn them into whatever animal the cracker is shaped like. They use the crackers to revive the circus and bring magic back into their lives.
Then there’s Mary Poppins Returns, which Blunt completed in England before filming A Quiet Place in Pawling, New York. Rob Marshall, who directed her in Into The Woods, helms the sequel to Disney’s 1964 classic. In the new version, Poppins comes back to London to help the now-grown Jane and Michael Banks (Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw) and Michael’s children cope with a recent loss. Also starring is Lin-Manuel Miranda, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, and Dick Van Dyke.
“It’s set in the ’30s during the Great Depression, which is when P.L. Travers wrote [the books]. The idea [was] having a darker backdrop in which hope could reappear from the skies,” Blunt told Variety. “Having somebody like Julie Andrews, who is iconic, play Mary Poppins, who is also iconic… it could have felt like I was rolling aside this huge boulder. But Rob made it feel so intimate and empowering for me, so I could have my own version of her.”
Blunt refused to watch the original while rehearsing and filming.
“I had a memory of the movie seared into my brain…but I didn’t want the distraction of the amazing Julie’s version of her. I just read the books. This is my interpretation of Mary.”
Blunt and Krasinski recently sold their Brooklyn townhouse, even after extensive renovations. But if you listen to Blunt, who equates their old Park Slope neighborhood to the one she grew up in North London, they may end up back there when their daughters are school age. “The people are cool; we walk everywhere,” she told The Evening Standard. “The restaurants are fabulous and everyone has a stroller. So we fit right in.”