Emily Blunt is British to the core, London-born, a veteran of the West End stage and many a BBC production.
But in spite of break-out work in her native accent in films such as “The Devil Wears Prada,” Blunt is finding her greatest fame on the big screen in playing Americans. In “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The Jane Austen Book Club” and the new film “Sunshine Cleaning,” Blunt leaves her Britishness at home and becomes as American as the best of us.
Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Jason Spevack, Steve Zahn, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Clifton Collins, Jr.
(Overture Films; US theatrical: 13 Mar 2009 (Limited release); 2008)
“If you’re in America a lot, it’s easy to get into playing American,” she says. “All of it, the sounds, the energies, all very different.
“But it’s really hard to do the accent. I tend to try and stay in it all day, which is the only way I can manage it. Tonally, the stresses you people put on different parts of words, it’s worlds apart from what I grew up with.”
And Blunt, 26, says it’s not just the voice she has to change.
“Americans are a lot more open, of course,” Blunt says. “There’s something more declamatory in the way you express emotions. It’s a stereotype but it’s true. British people can appear repressed in expressing emotions. Not very good at self-evaluating, or affirming situations, touching, anything like that.”
For “Sunshine Cleaning,” opening March 27, Blunt used every bit of American she could summon up. She and Amy Adams play sisters, members of the working poor who find a niche in cleaning up crime scenes. Blunt’s Norah may be the most damaged character the actress has ever played - angry, confused and flat broke.
Blunt makes Norah “appealing, no easy task with a character nursing serious resentment, repressing her sexual identity and indulging her inner child,” Rex Roberts wrote in Film Journal International.
“She’s kooky and left-of-center and complicated and vulnerable and not like me at all!” Blunt says of Norah. “All of the characters in this movie are yearning for more, in some way, than the trench that life has plopped them in. The script is so quirky and original, the idea of having them clean up after violent deaths as a way of coming to grips with the death of their mother. Heartwarming.”
It’s also a movie that shows people struggling to make ends meet.
“If you can capture the humanity of a family struggling in an economic crisis you can make a difference,” Blunt says. “You can raise awareness just of the simple humanity” of the working poor.
Blunt’s 2009 has already been eventful. She was courted to play the Russian villain Black Widow in the much-hyped “Iron Man” sequel, but had to give up the part when Fox leaned on her to co-star with Jack Black in a film of “Gulliver’s Travels.”
And there’s this little role in her native accent that may make her reputation. Blunt is the title character in “The Young Victoria.” It may be hard to think of Queen Victoria as anyone other than the grim-faced matriarch presiding over England’s Imperial glory dressed in black, with a hint of a mustache on her stiff upper lip.
“Nooo, I had mine waxed off for this one!” Blunt laughs. “I think what I’m most excited about are people’s perceptions changing about her by seeing her as a rebellious young girl who is in love and in a job in which she’s in way over her head. I think that will make her someone a lot of people can identify with.
“A lot of period dramas can appear quite arch to most people, stuffy. But what was clever about getting a French-Canadian director, Jean-Marc (Vallee), was that he brings a very different sensibility to her story. Unlike a Briton, he didn’t hold her in such reverence that he wasn’t willing to show her wilder side. It was a big challenge and the most rewarding film I think I’ve ever worked on.”