Emily Blunt: ‘Famous? We never say that word in our house’

She is one of the big screen’s most talented actresses — though she’s still too British to admit it (and whatever you do, don’t tell her kids). She talks about family, fame and being pranked by the Rock

Idecide to test Emily Blunt, to see if the actress is the good sport she is said to be, by beginning our interview with a threat. Speaking over video, I tell her that I am going to read aloud every single review she got for her recent film Wild Mountain Thyme. A romance in which Jamie Dornan’s and her Irish accents were so atrocious, even Dornan got slain for it, and he’s Northern Irish.

“Oh, you’re just going to tear me apart at the seams,” she says approvingly from her house in London, roaring with laughter. “Excellent.”

Test passed; we can move on. Blunt has, notwithstanding the recent Irish business, had a solid run of success over the past 15 years. Her big break was as the neurotic fashion-magazine assistant in The Devil Wears Prada in 2006, followed by the title role in The Young Victoria in 2009. A new level of global fame came more recently with Mary Poppins Returns, in which Blunt carefully developed the unpredictable nature of the unsentimental nanny. The film was a smash hit, nominated for four Academy awards and grossed almost $350 million at the box office.

Yet the 38-year-old insists, to me, that her rise “hasn’t been meteoric”, but “a sort of slow progression. It used to be, like [she does a twangy American accent], ‘Did we go to school together?’ That was the first thing. People thinking they kind of knew me. Then it went to, ‘Oh, that’s the girl from that movie.’ And then it went to, ‘That’s Emily Blunt.’ That’s when you feel the change. But it has been over 15 years — it hasn’t been overnight.”

Personally I think she’s at her best in more adult roles, playing emotionally suffocated characters who have fought for their life and intend to keep it at any cost. Rita Vrataski, the sergeant who holds her own against Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow; Rachel Watson, the alcoholic ex-wife in The Girl on the Train, whose power comes at you unexpectedly and yet relentlessly.

Then there’s A Quiet Place, the thriller co-written and directed by her husband, John Krasinski, which features the pair of them as a married couple with small children, forced to hide out after an alien apocalypse. They finished making the sequel before Covid hit — I ask if their survivalism experience helped them to get through it. Blunt looks at me sympathetically, explaining gently that the aliens in the film weren’t actually there. “The pandemic was real, but we were acting with tennis balls.”

She didn’t even get into Zoom quizzes: “Ugh, no, I’m dreadful at quizzes. I have a brain like a sieve for information.” So she got through lockdown by going on walks and trying to leave her phone at home so she could “actually notice the leaves and the trees and the sounds and the sound of your footsteps”. She became so concerned by how square-eyed we’ve all been getting, including her, that she also at home “sometimes tried to bury my phone under mountains of clothes, just to shut it off from me”. Thankfully she loves to cook, especially curry, so that has been happening repeatedly, “even though the kids are like, ‘Curry? Again?’”

The Krunts, as Emily jokingly said they call themselves on The Graham Norton Show, married at an estate in Lake Como in 2010 (with George Clooney in attendance) and have two daughters, Hazel, seven, and Violet, four. The nomadic pair seem to buy and sell houses awfully frequently, having recently lived in the Hollywood Hills, a Brooklyn townhouse and a very swish New York apartment. European shooting commitments for both actors brought them to London on what could have been a brief stint, but after the pandemic put things on hold, they ended up staying.

“And to be honest there really has been no better place to be during all of this. Not to say that there hasn’t been huge loss in Britain, because there has, and it has been frightening. But compared to America I find it less intense here. There’s something so shoulder-shruggy and reassuring about the Brits during a crisis. It’s almost like the Brits are really good at getting in line and just going, ‘Yeah, it’s bad isn’t it?’ We’re quite practical.”

Her sister, the literary agent Felicity Blunt, married to Stanley Tucci (they met at Emily and John’s wedding), lives an eight-minute walk from them, and has been feeding Emily all sorts of books to read and even option for the screen. Plus she has two children of almost the same age, “so they all play together. It has been amazing. And our kids love their English school.” Then there are the traditional sightseeing opportunities of our fair capital for her American family: “You know, because I’ve actually just seen some people day-drinking at 11am. Just ravenously drinking outside a London pub. Love to see it. Wonderful.”

I ask her if she and Krasinski, who had child actors play their offspring in A Quiet Place, ever considered casting their own children.

“God no — no! Please God keep them off the stage.”

Well, now I’m thinking about Kate Winslet, who said in a recent interview that she has tried to keep her children from knowing how famous she is. To the extent that her teenage son was genuinely impressed that she had an audience of 400 people at an online event — he seemed surprised that his superstar mother could command such a crowd.

“Oh stop. Oh God.”

There, you see, I knew you’d think this was mad.

“I really understand that, what Kate did. I really get it,” she continues. Oh wait, that’s not where we’re going at all; I meant it all seemed slightly implausible.

“It’s a strange thing to navigate, you know,” she adds. “Because Hazel came home the other day and we were in the kitchen and she goes, ‘Are you famous?’ And I’d never heard her … we’ve never said that word in our house. We don’t talk about it.”

Hold on a minute — two Hollywood film stars in one house have never used the word “famous” in front of their children? Apparently not.

“Someone at school had clearly said it. I was like, ‘Um … ’” she laughs, “‘not really, I don’t think I am. Did someone say that to you, Haze?’ She said, ‘Yeah,’ but then she wouldn’t divulge much more, you know, but it’s weird. It’s weird.”

Surely you were tempted to acknowledge all your hard work and say, “Yeah, kid, your little pals all think I’m Mary Poppins, get over it already”?

“No! No, no, not really. Because I understand what Kate Winslet’s saying, you just want — I don’t want my kids to feel any more important or special or that there’s a glare on them any more than other kids. If they can remain oblivious for the longest time I’d be thrilled. They don’t even want to see what I do.” (She has insisted they prefer the Julie Andrews version of Mary Poppins.) “They don’t even like it when I put on make-up. They don’t like any of it! They just want me to be their mummy.”

A Quiet Place Part II features a bigger role for Millicent Simmonds, the deaf actress who plays their daughter and is now 18, along with a new co-lead, Cillian Murphy, who Krasinski cast after writing his own character out of the film. The adults all drank a fair bit of Macallan whisky on set. I put it to Blunt that her husband is a brave man to replace himself with the mesmeric star of Peaky Blinders.

“He did it because he’s in love with Cillian. I think John might be more in love with Cillian than anyone I’ve ever met.” She had even more grounds to question her husband’s love for her when he put her in an incredibly dangerous stunt involving a spinning car — “the most exhilarating, slightly terrifying event of my life. There is that moment when you first start doing the scene, and I was like, ‘Does John care about me?’”

She is of course joking — partly because it turns out that she has more lasting trauma from making her other new film, Jungle Cruise, a huge Disney adventure. In it, she plays a scientist searching for a tree’s magical cure, while the Rock, her co-star, is the captain of the riverboat they travel on. She still blushes with dread when she recalls their first meeting, when she was clearly trying to overcompensate for her posh, white Englishness.

“I went in so big, I was like, ‘Heyyyy!’, acting like I knew him. I was expecting this larger-than-life, bombastic personality. But he’s really gentle and he listens to you, so he just whispered, ‘Hi, how are you?’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, how embarrassing, I went in too big.’ I was so embarrassed. But he’s a quality piss-taker — he will rip the piss out of you. Jack Whitehall’s in the film too, and we were a constant source of amusement for the Rock, because we were so gullible.”

For example, Blunt would sometimes have her phone out on the boat with them on set, “and then I’d get home and see all these selfies of him, and these disgusting videos that he had taken on my phone”. What sort of disgusting? “Oh, like your big brother just being gross. Or he’d have secretly filmed me speaking to the director, but he’d be rolling his eyes into the camera while I talked. He’s the devil. I’d end up sending him texts saying, ‘What the f*** did you leave on my phone?’”

Blunt grew up in Wandsworth, southwest London, one of four siblings, with their mother, Joanna, a teacher who has also been an actress herself, and her father, Oliver, a barrister. Crispin Blunt, her father’s brother, is the Conservative MP for Reigate. She was educated privately, first at Ibstock Place School in Roehampton and later at Hurtwood House in Surrey, a sixth-form college with a focus on performing arts, where she was signed by an agent.

She insists that she never expected this huge career in acting, but now that she has it, she wants more control over it, hence her co-producing a western series that she will also star in. “I’ve been playing the role of producer for many years, creatively. It’s just I haven’t asked for that role officially until now. I think I’m learning to reclaim the idea that it is not pushy or wrong to ask for something that you’re doing anyway.” She would like to direct films later in her career, perhaps when her children are much older, “because I have seen how all-consuming it can become and I think it will just snowball out of control for me. I know I’m going to become obsessive about it.” Approaching the age of 40 is also not as dreaded as it once was for women in Hollywood, “because there are amazing roles for women who are not in their ingenue phase any more”.

After the recent #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, there seems to have been real change in Hollywood. “Now that the tides are calming, I’m seeing how productive it has been. It certainly made a difference in my life. Feeling that, as women, we don’t have to do a bit of a dance and make sure that no feathers are ruffled to get what we want,” she says. “And when you make your deals, that has changed too.”

Money? So they’re paying you more?

“Yes, for sure! I think they can’t be seen to be prioritising your male co-star’s pay any more.”

And are the actors angry that their fee is presumably going down a bit?

“No! And if they are,” she says triumphantly, with that constant, rather delicious smile on her lips, “well then, they don’t really have a leg to stand on.”

A Quiet Place Part II is out in cinemas nationwide on June 3; Jungle Cruise is out in cinemas nationwide and on Disney+ Premier Access on July 30

Styling: Nicky Yates. Hair: Earl Simms at Caren using Hair by Sam McKnight. Make-up: Emma Lovell at the Wall Group. Nails: Rebecca Jade Wilson at the Wall Group