Actress Emily Blunt will have a Scotch on the rocks, if you’re asking. Or a vodka with a dash of soda water and a splash of cranberry. If the sun is shining, she will take a bottle of Corona beer with a lime wedge in the top. “Oh no, I’ve made myself sound like an alcoholic now, haven’t I?” she says, counting out her favourite poisons on the fingers of one hand.
It’s not the conversation opener I expected from the refined-looking Blunt. As the fantastically neurotic and snooty assistant to Meryl Streep’s magazine editor in The Devil Wears Prada, she stalked the set as if she had a coat hanger stuck down the back of her blouse.
Now she is the imposing lead in The Young Victoria, which depicts that famously rigid monarch as a young woman, her accession to the throne at 17, and the first bloom of her romance with Prince Albert.
It is another royal — well, ex-royal — who has inspired our most unregal turn of conversation. Sarah Ferguson, formerly the Duchess of York, aka Fergie, is one of the movie’s producers and is holding court to journalists just down the hall from where Blunt sits with her feet tucked under her on a sofa. The movie’s entourage has taken up the whole first floor of a hotel in London’s swish Knightsbridge, fittingly close to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Amid the mayhem, as TV crews and publicists flit from room to room, Sarah Ferguson’s laugh rings out clearly down the hall.
Fergie is the type of woman you could go for a drink with, I hazard, a double G&T kinda gal. “I think she’s more of a Scotch woman,” suggest Blunt, “I like Scotch myself, on the rocks.”
Blunt just turned 26, but she seems older. She is entrancingly pretty and fresh-faced but is also self-possessed and easy in her skin.
“I hate hearing actors going on about how difficult their lives are,” she says. “I’m not on a minimum wage, working in McDonald’s, trying to bring up a family. Actors are so indulged in many ways, really.”
Blunt seems to be of the mind that if you don’t court attention, you won’t attract it. I tell her that just before our interview I was across the road in Harvey Nichols, where Lindsay Lohan and her girlfriend Samantha Ronson were being trailed around the shop by a retinue of minders. There were no paparazzi around for a change.
“But someone will call them,” says Blunt, with a little involuntary shiver. “The trick is to not go to places where you know you will get attention. You keep your bad behaviour for behind closed doors.”
In any case, Blunt feels she is not yet of the A-list caste that has mutated to wear shades indoors. She doesn’t party in LA — “where people are constantly looking on the street to see if you are ‘someone’” — but she goes out as she pleases in New York and in her native London. She is being chauffeur-driven around on her publicity whirlwind this week, but she normally takes the Tube everywhere. “When people recognise me on the street in London, they just think I am someone they went to school with.”
That suits Blunt just fine because she has already tasted a slice of celebrity as former-girlfriend to Canadian singer Michael Bublé. The pair met backstage at an awards ceremony in Melbourne in 2005 and spent three years being photographed as the glamorous actress and the cabaret crooner. Fans lapped up the romance of how she sang backing vocals on his cover of Me And Mrs Jones, and how he wrote his hit single Everything For Her. When they split last summer, the rumour mill went into overdrive and Blunt shut down.
“I don’t want to sound… distant,” she says hesitatingly, “but it was definitely something that I have had to learn — that I have to keep some things for myself. I just can’t see what there is to be gained from giving away your personal life.” So she won’t confirm or deny that she is dating John Krasinski, the handsome actor from the US version of The Office.
She is afraid this comes across as haughty, but it makes sense in the context of someone like Lohan, who confirmed her relationship with Ronson by ringing into a US radio station.
Not that Blunt is likely to be still taking the Tube this time next year. While Prada made American audiences take notice of her in 2006 — Meryl Streep joked that Blunt should be given a carbon copy of the film, rather than stealing it outright — she is about to feature in an even bigger box office draw. Wolfman, in which she co-stars with Benicio del Toro, is a remake of a 1940s horror classic. “I’m not worried about it,” she says firmly.
Blunt’s maturity must stem from the fact that she has been working solidly as a professional actress since she was 17, performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival while still doing her A-levels. Her lead role in an independent British movie My Summer Of Love won her a slew of newcomer awards in 2004.
She won a Golden Globe in 2007 for playing a troubled young woman in Gideon’s Daughter opposite Bill Nighy and Miranda Richardson, who also plays Victoria’s mother in The Young Victoria. So unvarnished was Blunt just two short years ago, that she went up to accept her Golden Globe with no speech prepared.
She is still learning, but has come a long way from the 12-year-old who began drama classes as a way of overcoming a debilitating stammer. She now holds her own opposite such luminary co-stars as Streep and Susan Sarandon. “I did a film called Irresistible with Susan. My God, she’s so sexy, isn’t she? I can’t tell you the number of my friends who came up to me afterwards and said they had the biggest girl crush on her!” laughs Blunt.
One of Blunt’s formative theatre roles was opposite Judi Dench, in a production called the Royal Family. It was prophetic because Dench also fleshed out the character of Queen Victoria, in the 1997 film Mrs Brown.
Blunt is horrified at the thought of being hailed as a national treasure like the wonderful Judi. “That would be terrible — the pressure of not making a mistake or saying something that all of a sudden reflects badly on your whole country!”
Blunt and Dench’s portrayals are at opposite bookends of Victoria’s life, but both found a way of bringing the hoary old matriarch to life. “When I was told there was a script coming towards me about Victoria I thought, ‘Oh, right…’ The image I had of her was that old side-profile that everyone knows with the hanky on her head and the jowls,” says Blunt.
Instead, the movie shows a headstrong, funny, vivacious young woman trying to be a socially conscious monarch within the suffocating cocoon of royalty. Her relationship with Albert is the lynchpin of the movie — it helps that he is played by Rupert Friend, boyfriend of Keira Knightley and doe-eyed hunk. “Poor Rupert,” says Blunt, “we were being interviewed together this morning, and some of the female journalists just came out and said to him, ‘You’re gorgeous’. I mean, what do you say to that? He was really embarrassed.” I’m pleased to see that Blunt is a bit of a lioness when it comes to her friends, or should we say, Friend. I make a mental note not to call him a heart-throb in her presence.
“Her relationship with Albert is so wonderful and vibrant,” she continues. Is that a euphemism for sexy? After all, the ‘intimate’ body piercing called the Prince Albert ring is supposedly named for the man who popularised it. “That is an absolute myth! I know; I asked!” laughs Blunt, clearly no prude.
Interviews with actors are often pleasant, but rarely fun. Talking to Blunt is like having a natter with a pal. She’s not afraid of a naughty anecdote: “Anne [Hathaway]had to wear padding on her bottom at the start of Prada, and my favourite thing was to go past her and whack her on the backside!”
For the record, she didn’t mind slimming down for Prada because her character, also called Emily, was meant to be obsessed with her weight. But she would point-blank refuse to skinny up just because a director thought she looked chubby. “You know, it’s actually the men I’ve worked with who have been more often asked to lose a few pounds,” she confides with a smile. “They put on a bit of weight, but I think they think they can just hide it under the clothes.”
Still, her male colleagues are unlikely to be subjected to the corsets which Blunt was strapped into every morning on the set of Victoria. “I actually got used to it. When I first put it on, it reminded me of putting on my first bra — you know, that weird feeling?”
Bras, cute boys, girl crushes: all this conversation is missing is the vodka.
The Young Victoria opens today nationwide