Emily Blunt - Yo majesty!
Miles Fielder discovers how Emily Blunt taking centre stage in The Young Victoria is only the start of the English actress’s cinematic rise
When people got an eyeful of Emily Blunt’s striking good looks and acting ability in My Summer of Love, winner of the Best New British Feature award following its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2004, the general consensus was: hot new talent. It didn’t take long for word to get to Hollywood, and within two years she was stealing scenes from Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada. But despite having made seven films since (four are still to be released here), we’ve not yet seen the just-26 London-born Blunt in a leading role.
That’s set to change with The Young Victoria, a period romance-cum-biopic of the early years of the longest reigning British queen. Playing queens on screen has done wonders for Blunt’s forbears: Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I, Judi Dench as an older Victoria, Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II. And, like the films showcasing those acclaimed performances, The Young Victoria benefits from a strong script (penned by Julian Fellowes, who won an Oscar for Gosford Park). Fellowes’ script focuses on teenage Victoria, cosseted by her weak mother and scheming partner, bullied by the court and parliament and facing stiff competition for her affections by Lord Melbourne and her future husband, Prince Albert. The film requires its leading actress to take Victoria from child to woman, heiress to queen. It’s a good role in its own right, and a great one for Blunt’s first shot at being the figurehead of a film.
‘There are much bigger English actresses out there,’ Blunt says, ‘I pretty much just demanded they cast me – or pleaded first, then demanded – and it seemed to work. Maybe there was something quite queenly in that,’ she laughs, ‘commanding them to choose me please!’
Blunt’s insistence got her a foothold on the role. After meeting Graham King, the Brit who introduced the film’s unlikely producers Martin Scorsese and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, King and Marty saw Blunt collect an award for the TV film Gideon’s Daughter at the Golden Globes, which prompted Scorsese to say, ‘that’s Queen Victoria’. Then the hard work began.
‘Playing Victoria is wonderful,’ says Blunt, ‘but a challenge to say the least. I do feel the weight of responsibility. It was frightening – then as soon as you start, the nerves dissipate a bit. She was a remarkable girl and you want to do her justice. There’s a big journey from young, stubborn teenager to a magnetic queen very much in command of herself. When you shoot scenes out of order, it’s tricky to maintain that character arc. But I’m loving her. I’d read a lot about her, and contrary to popular belief, when she was younger she was feisty and emotional, an intelligent, vibrant person. People mistake her for this widowed, mourning queen, so it’s exciting that we’re going to refresh people’s opinion.’
Victoria might be Blunt’s first leading role, but it would be misleading to think of her as a newcomer. She started acting at 12, initially to get over a debilitating stutter. ‘I couldn’t talk as a kid, so I would just watch’, she once explained. ‘I loved being able to morph into different characters.’ She made her professional debut age 17 in 2000 at the Edinburgh Fringe in the musical Bliss, and the following year appeared opposite Judi Dench in Sir Peter Hall’s production of The Royal Family in London, for which the Evening Standard awarded Blunt the first of many best newcomer accolades. Then came My Summer of Love, The Devil Wears Prada and that Golden Globe and people started thinking, not entirely without justification, Blunt was the new Kate Winslet.
Despite having worked professionally for almost a decade, Blunt feels that she’s had fame thrust upon her. ‘It sort of fell into my lap,’ she said recently. ‘It’s an awful story for people who’ve struggled and waited. It was incredibly fortunate. I can’t believe I was so casual about it, because I really wouldn’t want to do anything else.’
Thrust into the limelight, the young actress found herself identifying with Victoria: ‘I think we are fairly similar, but I’ve heard she wasn’t really a looker,’ Blunt says with a snort. ‘We both have these rather hooded eyes and similar colouring. And she liked to eat. The Prime Minister said to her, “Maam, you must try to eat only when you’re hungry.” And she said, “Well, I’m always hungry” – and I eat like a truck-driver. But I think I have a better metabolism than she did. Seriously though, the public and private Victoria are very different, so I realise what a performance it was to be a queen. I know what it is like to be a teenager, to think we know it all and be in a job which is way over your head. Not to mention being deeply in love for the first time.’ Blunt’s alluding to dealing with attention from the celebrity obsessed press. Her long romance with Canadian singer Michael Bublé, which ended last summer, was under much media scrutiny, and there’s been speculation about her relationship with The Office US’s John Krasinski. But Blunt’s got her head screwed on, and appears to be in acting for the long haul, so she’ll no doubt rise above the tabloid gossip in true queenly style.
Meanwhile, she’s entered the comedy hall of fame by voicing an episode of The Simpsons. And she’s appearing in a slew of films, among them The Wolfman opposite Benicio del Toro, Gulliver’s Travels with Jack Black and the Sundance hit comedy Sunshine Cleaning, made by the team behind Little Miss Sunshine. Her hectic work schedule may preclude her from playing sexy super-spy the Black Widow in Iron Man 2, but it’s nevertheless looking like this years is going to be Blunt’s annus mirabilis.
The Young Victoria is on general release from Fri, 13 Mar.