Here’s the thing about Emily Blunt: Everyone likes her. Young men like her, middle-aged women like her, teenagers like her. The Canadian crooner Michael Bublé, in the three years he dated Blunt, reportedly liked her enough to write the hit You’re My Everything about her. That in itself could make someone dislike her. But it doesn’t.
Honestly, I can’t think of another young actress who is so darn likable. She doesn’t get on anyone’s nerves, she doesn’t have irritating tics. The idea that she’s 29, gorgeous, and magnetically talented could inspire a least a little cattiness. But no. The fact that she’s married to the poster boy for All-American adorableness, The Office’s John Krasinski, might ratchet up the envy, or coat her in saccharine cutesy-ness – but again, no. (It’s miraculously not even annoying that they got married, in July, 2010, at pal George Clooney’s place in Lake Como, Italy.)
The really amazing thing is, Blunt’s best-known character, Emily in The Devil Wears Prada, is kind of a bitch. But instead of making us want to hiss at Emily for being nasty to enormous-eyed Andrea (Anne Hathaway), Blunt makes us believe that Emily gives Andrea exactly the kick she needs to grow up. As well, reviews of Blunt’s last movie, The Adjustment Bureau, co-starring Matt Damon, could not say enough about how refreshing it was to watch well-matched lovers create genuine chemistry.
In Toronto a while back to promote two new films, Blunt’s likeability beam was on high. When the projector failed during a screening of the upcoming Your Sister’s Sister, many in the crowd stood up to take cellphone photos of Blunt simply sitting in her seat. And when she stepped on stage with director Lynne Shelton ( Humpday) and co-star Mark Duplass for a Q&A, she was everything they wanted her to be: collegial, modest, funny, sharp. (She also has a comedy due in April, The Five-Year Engagement, produced by Judd Apatow.)
But guess what? When I talked to Blunt in person about her current movie, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, directed by Lasse Hallstrom ( Chocolat) and co-starring Ewan Macgregor, which opens on Friday – when I finally got her alone, in real life, she was … damn it, she was delightful. She was fizzy, like old-fashioned fireworks, or lemon soda. Everything she said made me either laugh out loud or grin at her like a schoolgirl with a crush.
In Salmon Fishing, Blunt plays Harriet, a mysterious attaché for a sheik with a dream: to irrigate a desert valley and stock the rivers for sport fishing. She enlists Macgregor’s Fred, a mild-mannered government fisheries expert, and the project catches the eye of Bridget Maxwell (Kristen Scott Thomas), the British Prime Minister’s spokeswoman, who’s desperate to generate some goodwill in the Middle East. Naturally, complications ensue and love blooms.
“It’s perfect writing,” Blunt says. “It’s that British humour that I really love, full of charm and real wit, and it’s actually how people speak to each other. Nothing was on the nose, it was all suppressed. The love story was more of a gently arcing friendship. I love that you see a relationship blossom, rather than just, in the first scene, people are dropping drawers and getting at it.”
Salmon Fishing gives Blunt another crack at what is fast becoming her specialty: credible cleverness. “The woman with a brain,” she says, laughing. “As if that’s a character detail, like being blonde.” She enumerates a couple of tropes that she’s noticed in that kind of script: “It will say, ‘She walks with determination.’ No, ‘She walks with purpose.’ Or, ‘She’s a deliberate person.’ ” She laughs. “I didn’t even go to college, and people still think I’m smart. It’s a miracle.”
Blunt grew up in London, the second of four siblings. “I’m so fiercely protective of my siblings. They break me in two if they’re going through something,” she says. “I find that bond very emotional. We go on trips together, share a bed, laugh into the night. They’re all in the U.K., though; I find that hard.” Her mother Joanna was an English teacher, and her father Oliver, a high-profile barrister.
“I didn’t intend on being an actress,” Blunt says. “I was involved in school plays, and I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t anything I had some kind of crazed desire for. I was going to go to university and study modern languages. I’ve always loved them.” She chuckles at herself. “I thought I’d be a translator for the UN.” But when she was 17, one of her school plays went to the Edinburgh Theatre Festival, and an agent snapped her up. Her first film, My Summer of Love, which was completely improvised – “I was 20,” she says. “I was terrified” – netted her the Evening Standard British film award for most promising newcomer, and she was off. “Acting was sort of a love that crept up on me,” Blunt says. “Now I’m completely in love with it. I feel unfathomably lucky.”
In 2008, Hathaway introduced Blunt to Krasinski. “I don’t really want to talk about my relationship, but I will say I knew very, very instantaneously that I wanted to be with John,” Blunt says, then laughs again. “There’re many girls very angry with me because I got him. I hear that all the time. He has no idea that people think he’s glorious. That women on the street talk to me about my husband, and very openly.” She puts on a flat American accent: “ ‘Gad, I’m so jealous, I love him.’ It’s weird. I like it, actually. It’s very genuine. They’re genuinely like, ‘You really picked a good one.’ I say, ‘I know.’ He’s awesome.”
As winners of the likeability lottery, the couple isn’t hounded much. “I mean, maybe there’s more of an awareness, going out, that people might look at you, they might want to take a picture and say hello,” Blunt says. “And there might be some men following you with cameras. But it’s not an issue for me. I’m usually photographed doing the most boring things ever, like shopping for groceries or sweating coming out of a yoga class. It’s never interesting. We have our fun behind closed doors, really.” Big grin there. “That’s the way to do it. Shut the door, keep it on the inside.”
So how many languages does Blunt speak, anyway? “I speak Spanish, really badly,” she answers. “And now, thanks to Salmon Fishing, a tiny bit of Mandarin.” (Her character interacts with Chinese engineers.) “But I only know how to talk about sandstone walls and water pressure. I can’t even say, ‘How are you?’ ”
Trust me, it doesn’t matter. If you’re that close to Blunt, you’re dandy.