Love in the slow lane

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Love in the slow lane

Emily Blunt on engagements, both on and off screen, playing true-to-life characters and the best beauty secret around

By Cindy Pearlman (New York ?Times Syndicate)

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Published: Fri 27 Apr 2012, 4:44 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 3:00 PM

“I appreciate a slow-burn romance,” 
Emily Blunt says. “In most movies everyone is just tearing their clothes off in the first scene. Let that chemistry burn!”

The 29-year-old British actress stars in two romantic movies this spring — Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and The Five-Year Engagement — and in neither of them is the burn excessively rapid. Speaking by phone from her Los Angeles home, she says she was attracted to both films precisely because they allow the romance to breathe and simmer.

In The Five-Year Engagement, set to open today, Blunt plays Violet Barnes, whose story seems to end happily as the film begins. She’s in love with Tom Solomon (Jason Segel), who proposes marriage and is accepted... which only begins their problems, as a short engagement is extended again and again until it lasts, well, five years.

“It’s very funny and a lot bawdier than many romantic comedies,” Blunt says. “It’s closing in on When Harry Met Sally (1989), but racier. The film is a comedy of errors about a couple that are engaged, but keep delaying the wedding for one reason or another. It’s all about who is doing the delaying and the self-fulfillment within the couple that keeps shifting. You see the dynamics of this couple over several years and how a relationship changes.

“A lot of people have come out of early screenings and have told me, ‘It’s so true to life.’”

Blunt, who in 2010 married actor John Krasinski of The Office, is not a fan of long engagements.

“Personally I’m an advocate for short engagements,” she says, laughing. “Long sometimes means that there is a reason for it. Two years engaged and no wedding? I’d be upset!”

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen casts Blunt as the very efficient Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, a British corporate publicist who takes a long time — though not five years — before giving her heart to a fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor) whom she has recruited to help a Yemeni sheikh bring salmon fishing to his native land in the Middle East.

Her most romantic scene with McGregor was also her hardest scene in the film. “Oh my God, it was awful,” Blunt blurts out. “Our love scene called for a midnight swim on our Morocco set. What everyone forgot is that, in the desert at night, the temperature plummets. It was supposed to be a romantic and peaceful swim, but our teeth were chattering. Plus the water was only about two feet deep — we were scraping our knickers on the rocks below.

“This is when the real acting comes in,” she says, laughing. “You have to zone it all out and persuade yourself that it’s all warm, romantic and wonderful.”

Blunt has proven her acting chops in other recent films, most notably as the title character in The Young Victoria (2009) and as a depressive fashionista in The Devil Wears Prada (2006), which moved her co-star, three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep, to call Blunt “one of the best actresses I’ve ever worked with.”

In Five-Year Engagement, Blunt’s character struggles with the challenge of having a job and a life. “Sometimes the job takes over the life, which is the danger,” she says. “That’s a struggle so many women and men face these days. How do you make time to have it all? I think you have to work hard on all of it.

“In Salmon Fishing I’m facing a different, but difficult, conflict,” Blunt continues. “I’m grieving for the loss of my boyfriend in the war, trying to make a work project happen and trying to avoid falling in love with a married colleague. These characters are all flawed, which I loved.”

Blunt was born in southwest London, where she grew up as the second of four children, her father a barrister and her mother a teacher. Blunt had a slight stammer, which her mother hoped to cure with relaxation classes. That didn’t work, but something else did. “When I turned 12 a teacher cast me in a school play,” Blunt recalls. “Just having to use a different voice made my stammer disappear. I got lost in a northern accent and spoke perfectly.”

She attended Hurtwood House, a top boarding school where she focused on singing and playing cello. She also studied drama, however, and was chosen to perform in a show at the Edinburgh Festival. An agent quickly signed her, and several stage roles followed, most notably a role in Sir Peter Hall’s production of The Royal Family, starring Judi Dench.

She made her film debut in Warrior Queen (2003), and went on to such movies as My Summer of Love (2004) and Irresistible (2006) before breaking through as the harried assistant to an exacting fashion-magazine editor (Streep) in The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Since then she’s barely been off the screen, appearing in Dan in Real Life (2007), The Jane Austen Book Club (2007), Sunshine Cleaning (2008), The Young Victoria (2009), The Wolfman (2010), The Adjustment Bureau (2011) and The Muppets (2011).

In the upcoming Arthur Newman, Golf Pro, co-starring Colin Firth and Anne Heche, Blunt will play a woman trying to escape her past by moving into an abandoned house with someone in similar circumstances. She will also be seen with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis in Looper, a science-fiction thriller about a killer who works for the mob of the future.

“I don’t do a ton of action,” Blunt says, “but I do get to wield a big gun in that film. I even had to learn how to chop wood and shoot.”

On the personal front, after dating singer Michael Buble for several years and then breaking up in 2008, Blunt was introduced to Krasinski by her Devil Wears Prada co-star Anne Hathaway. The two clicked immediately, and in 2010 they were married at George Clooney’s Lake Como estate in Italy.

Each has seen career ups and downs since they’ve been a couple, but they try to take both in their stride.

“The side effects can be good or bad — the important thing is the work,” Blunt says. “I try not to buy into what other people think.”

At home, Blunt says, she’s not obsessive about anything, including her beauty routines. “Oh, gee,” she says. “I go through bouts of eating whatever I want, and then I face terrible guilt and go on a juice diet or pay for my guilt at the gym. But I do believe that, when people are starving themselves, they look miserable.

“I think the best beauty secret is happiness,” she concludes. “True happiness makes you look like you’re lit from within.”

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