Although much has been made of Emily Blunt being in what is traditionally thought of as a ‘male’ role in Sicario–she is uber-tough FBI agent Kate Macer–Blunt is not offended. “This is a transitional moment. I think that those conversations are happening now, but my hope is that they will become fewer and further between.” That issue aside, there was something about Blunt that seemed a natural fit for director Denis Villeneuve, although he had not seen her performance in action flick Edge of Tomorrow, but actually cast her after seeing The Young Victoria. “Of all the films,” Blunt says, “he saw me in this role where I play the Queen of England, which is so bizarre. I’m literally in a bonnet and a flowery dress for the whole thing. But I think that character had that sort of mix of vulnerability and strength that he wanted for this.” Blunt is up for a Critics’ Choice for Sicario and is currently deep into shooting the much-anticipated The Girl on the Train, a role she says is “the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.”
What appealed to you when you first read Sicario?
I think the ambiguity of it, morally and psychologically, was really appealing to me because so many films are very clear cut, and I think I miss that about the old seventies films where so much is left to the power of suggestion. I think that Sicario has that ability. I thought it was complicated and uncompromising in a way. So I loved that, and I loved that you weren’t given a huge amount of backstory. You know she needs a new bra, you know that she’s gone through a divorce, but that’s it. That’s literally all that you’re told, and so the need to invent and create a whole inner life for this person was a challenge and was something that was really exciting for me.
Is it still a big deal for women to take these kinds of roles?
I think that it’s not such an anomaly that you see a woman in this kind of role, because the reality of it is that there are lots of women in law enforcement and we just don’t tend to make films about them. In this type of genre, these very masculine roles, women would usually be there to sort of embolden the tough guy man’s character in some way or another; there to be a more servile character, and I think that things are changing. I think it’s been such a powerful year for women, as is evidenced in all of the films that are out there. There are some real powerhouse roles and yes, the thought is that women have been given roles that are sort of deserving of their powerhouse abilities. It’s a very female-strong year, it seems, and I find that thrilling, really, because I do believe things are changing.
You had a baby four months before making Sicario–did that change your approach to the character in any way?
I think you change so existentially when you have a kid and you become a mother, and it’s quite hard to specify exactly what it is that changes about you. The role of Kate was actually so completely removed from what my reality was at that time, which was I was in this very nurturing, very open, sort of vulnerable place, as my family grew, so yeah, I think in a way to play a character who was so closed off and guarded and in a situation where she felt completely overwhelmed, was different from what I was experiencing at home. So I lived a rather dual life while I was doing the film. You can’t bring your work home when you have this five month-old who wants to eat and throw up on you at some point. So it was just a very special time, I have to say. I tended to keep it quite separate.
You have this incredible resilience in the film–what sort of mental prep did you do?
I think it’s partly what I learned about the girl that I was playing. I mean, she was a character who had a really steely courage to her, and a need to seek out the good and the right against all of the dangers and against all odds, and it’s a certain kind of courage that I don’t have. You just sort of take on this other person that you are not similar to. I don’t know how to describe it other than it’s sort of an ultimate form of empathy. I don’t know how to explain it because I’m not a very sort of studious actor. I don’t tend to sort of sit there writing notes and agonizing over which way to do it. If I feel I have some kind of take on it and understanding of that person, then I’ll do it, and if I don’t have an in then I won’t do it.
And the physical?
I feel like when I did Edge of Tomorrow that was the deep end of action and this one was not as intense in that way apart from certain scenes, like the fight scene and the tunnel sequence, and the SWAT assault at the beginning of the film. Luckily I had had quite a lot of weapons training on Edge of Tomorrow. So I wasn’t coming in blind, which helped me enormously. I trained with local FBI and DEA agents who work on SWAT teams, and we even worked with a Delta Force guy. It was a very, very masculine set, you know? It was a very masculine set. It was hilarious, and then my daughter would come and visit, you know, and she’d be in a pink onesie, and she just looked completely out of place. I have the most hilarious picture of her with Jon Bernthal covered in blood and she thinks he’s amazing. It’s a great picture. That sort of sums up my whole experience, when I see a picture of Hazel with Jon Bernthal just smothered in blood.
You’re shooting The Girl on the Train now–what pulled you into that story?
For me it’s more about the portrayal of very damaged women. I just love that it’s about addiction and loneliness and voyeurism and what we think we see and don’t see. I think it’s very relatable. We’ve all ridden the train to work and wondered about the lives of the people on the train, and I think that people relate to that. I love that your heroine, your lead character is the most unreliable witness in the world because she’s a drunk. And yet she’s right, and nobody believes her.The idea of playing a part like that where you just feel like you’re drowning is exciting. I’ve never played a blackout drunk before, so this is new to me now.