'Looper' Star Emily Blunt Discusses 'Crap' Roles for Women and 'The Redeeming Quality of a Mother's Love'
In the six short years since The Devil Wears Prada, Emily Blunt has moved from MVP supporting player to top-notch leading lady: her turns in Sunshine Cleaning and The Young Victoria won her critical acclaim, while roles in The Adjustment Bureau and The Five-Year Engagement proved her commercial mettle.
But most importantly, Blunt has flourished with acting challenges often diametrically opposed to one another, establishing her as a versatile and consistent performer who can provide exactly what a film or filmmaker needs. And in Looper, starring opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Blunt plays a young woman struggling with her maternal responsibilities even as she deals with a hired killer who’s willing to use her and her child to ensnare his target: his older self.
Blunt spoke recently with Celebuzz about her work in the film, which arrives on Blu-ray December 31. In addition to talking about the character’s core struggle, she talked about her technique as an actress, and addressed the challenges of finding interesting work in an industry that often doesn’t offer it to even the most talented among its ranks.
Celebuzz: To get started, talk about your initial meeting with Rian, because the movie has such an interesting subtext about parents and children, and a role for you as a mother struggling to come to terms with that responsibility.
Emily Blunt: I think I was so enthralled by the script and how rich in complexity it was, but particularly that last act on the farm where it wound it into being such a, [examination of the] big themes of nature versus nurture, and the redeeming quality of a mother's love. The redeeming quality of a mother's love and how vital that can be in a child's life, and in anyone's life. And I think that that theme was emanating from every scene in the third act. So I didn't feel any need to accentuate that or be aware of it. I felt that they were just sort of there. I felt that it wasn't really much else you could do but just play the scene.
EB: I think all I want really is a great character and I want a point of view. And I do like the specificity of the backdrop or the idea of a film, because I think things can become kind of wishy-washy and derivative of each other if you don't have a specific point of view that the director has or that the writer has, and the tone that is specific. So I do definitely look for those things, because otherwise then you're just playing a character in a wishy-washy backdrop. You've got to have something specific so that you know how you should play it and what kind of movie you're falling into, and what kind of story you are having to portray.
CB: How familiar were you with Rian's previous work, and how much did Looper catch you off-guard? Particularly because it seems like every movie that he's made has sort of been a right turn from what he was previously doing.
EB: Yeah. I mean, he's just completely singular in what he does. I hadn't seen The Brothers Bloom, and I loved Brick, and I thought it was such an ambitious idea. The thing you can't fault Rian for is his complete dedication to an idea and to a tone and to a point of view. I mean, he just is so specific. Looper sort of took my breath away with its originality. The dialogue was something I hadn't heard before, and it didn't seem like it had been copied from somewhere else. It was so rich in concept, but rich in emotionality as well. I just don't think those two things go hand in hand. I think a movie can either be fun or not, or kind of complex. I'd never seen one where it can be both.
CB: It seems like even when people totally love a sci-fi movie about time travel, they start trying to deconstruct and understand everything. And the movie kind of sidesteps that by sort of just going, the more you ask questions, the less sense it'll probably make.
EB: Exactly. Well, I think that for the most part people just went with it and didn't concern themselves with trying to pick it apart. And if they had picked it apart and done an interview with Rian Johnson, they probably would have ended up with egg on their face because he has been writing this for eight years. It's something he completely thought out. And so I think you do get the cerebral sci-fi nerd who will kind of try and pick it to pieces, but really the time travel element, at least, was there to serve as a backdrop to create an environment that was really heightened. You can see these characters interact and struggle and try and figure out what they need to do on a basic human level. I mean, I felt that even especially with my section -- it felt more like that movie Witness than Blade Runner, you know.
CB: This movie has a "love scene" which I think in another movie would just be a concession scene where these two people get together and they're clearly falling in love, but Looper addresses it in such a way that it's like these are two people who kind of need each other – just for a second.
EB: Exactly. I think in other movies, other less sure-handed directors would have been scared of something like that. And I think that the scene was about a basic need of two very lost and lonely people who were very similar in many ways, and very cut off from the world and have chosen to live their lives in that way, in that rather detached way. And I think it was just about a need. It was about a need to be close to someone, to anyone. It could have been anyone. It wasn't specific to that person, you know.
CB: What's also great about that is the way that it is even established just with a shot of your hand on the hem of your nightgown. Was that photographed exactly sort of the way it was originally conceived?
EB: Yeah. I mean, that was Rian's idea he had. He had a shot of my hand on my leg and he just wanted just a small indication of maybe what she's thinking about. And he's just so specific, and doesn't ever bash you over the head with an idea -- I think that's what's nice about him.
EB: I'm not a huge planner. I think I feel more comfortable in a more free-wheeling environment because I like the idea of who knows and who cares and the continuity of it all, because you can capture something really unique in that way. I do very much try and be moment-to-moment and reactionary to whatever is going on. And then I think when it comes to preparing a character, if we're talking about not working on the day, when it comes to preparing a character I think a lot. And it's weird. I find it hard to talk about any kind of process, because I don't really know what it is. I don't make charts; I don't really write things down. I just think all the time. It consumes me for a while. And I read books, and I listen to music, and listen to people, especially from that area, because I was playing someone from Kansas. So I listened to a lot of people who were from Kansas and with that kind of accent. So that kind of prep goes into it, but on the day you want to feel like you've done none of it. You want to feel like it all just seeped under your skin and it's just there and this person's kind of dwelling in you and you shouldn't be aware of all the work.
CB: You've had I think a very unique opportunity to really play so many different kinds of roles. How much do you feel like that is sort of strategy and how much of it is sort of luck?
EB: I think the choices I make are very strategic in that I want to play a variety of different parts. I think I just like the elements of discovering a bag of tricks and not knowing the bottom of the bag. I think that that's fun for me, that maybe I'll run out of faces one day, but I'd like to keep trying until I do. I think that the variety that's on offer out there should be taken advantage of. But I will say one thing – there have been a couple of movies I think changed a lot for me, the main one being Devil Wears Prada. Because it was such a character role -- there was nothing leading lady-like about that character. So I think it opened up an enormous amount of avenues for me to go into the more character world and be accepted in that light and seen in that light to the point where I can get offered those kind of parts. I mean, if I hadn't done Devil Wears Prada I would never in a million years have been given Sunshine Cleaning -- play that junky pothead, which is such a character role. I just don't think I would have been even considered.
CB: How important is the idea of transformation? Is it important to you to get as far away as possible from yourself, or is it more important to maybe find a commonality between a character that might be diametrically opposed to you?
EB: I wonder if all the people I've played as sort of various small elements of myself just magnified for the part. Because I think it will always be your personal take on a character. That's why this job is so incredibly personal, because it is my take on it in a way that another actress would have a different take on it. So I think that it's impossible to completely detach yourself from a role because it's your take, it's your version. But I do believe in the shape-shifting part of it. I don't just want to play myself in my every day life. So that's why I believe in discovering maybe a small part of myself and magnifying it so that it feels like a complete shape-shift for that, for that role or for that moment.
CB: How long do you feel like it takes for you to nail down a character, particularly because you can give five takes of every shot and they can edit it and you can be the most hilarious thing in the movie, or you can be the most serious thing in the movie? Do you have to come on the first day and before you shoot a single frame of footage and go, "I know who this character is." Or can you allow yourself to discover who she is?
EB: It's funny. I feel like sometimes I read scripts and I have that instantaneous going, "I know exactly how to play this part," and then other times I'll read it and go, "Oh, my God. How the hell am I going to do this?" And those are usually the parts that I want to play, because then you’re offered a challenge -- and I’m a real sucker for that. But I feel like you can prep as much as you want and then you're going to turn up on day one and just do it. I feel it takes me a couple of days to find my feet, because suddenly there's a ton of people and cameras and the scenes always play out differently from how you expected. But there's a momentary sort of adjustment period that I think I go through, and you just hope that the first scene that you ever shot of a movie you didn't mess up too badly because I think after day one everyone just finds their feet. Everybody does. Day one is the worst; I hate it.
CB: But once you get past that, it's…
EB: Then I'm fine. Then you're kind of slow boiling and it's good.
EB: I know. Isn't it crap?
CB: How tough is it to find roles, and how important is it to find roles that at their core when they're created are that interesting, as opposed to maybe going, this is maybe a slightly less interesting role but I can bring something to?
EB: I don't want to do that anymore. I feel like I've done that and, you know, in my earlier years of it and I think it can be challenging to find the great female roles. There's are an ocean of girlfriend parts out there, and I feel like I know instantly as soon as I start reading the script, I'm like, "Nope." Because you're just a reactionary role or you're a nag or you're the person who's missing out on all the fun stuff. It's just not interest – I'm not interested. I don't have any interest in playing those parts. Those are not the kind of chicks I like to hang out with, let alone play. And that's why I tend to play in a lot of different genres, a lot of different types of files because it's all just in search for great characters, great people to play, people interest me.
CB: Sure. Ultimately, how much do you feel like you take away from say a role, not necessarily Looper but just any in terms of being able to sort of apply the life lesson that a character learns to your own?
EB: It's funny. I feel like I've learned a lot from some people that I've played and I feel like those people sort of stay with you for a while. I feel like it's the human experience that you go through every day on a film set -- you can't help but grow and learn, and so I feel like certain characters I've played, like Queen Victoria, I was just blown away by her and just so full of admiration of her. And then someone like the character in Looper, that fearless maternal quality, I think that that stayed with me as well in the desire for in the future for me to have children -- you draw from her. I drew from my own mother. I think about all those things. So I think whether or not you learn directly from the character that you've played, elements of playing that part I think spark off ideas or inspiration in your life and make you think about a lot of stuff.
Watch Celebuzz' video interview with Looper writer-director Rian Johnson below, and then let us know what you thought of the movie in the comments section!