Emily Blunt: How Hollywood woke up to gender equality
Actress Emily Blunt looks set to impress with a starring role in high-octane drama Sicario. She tells Keeley Bolger why women leading action movies should not be so surprising.
While the production team behind new action-thriller Sicario needed no convincing to hire Emily Blunt as their lead, they had a bigger battle on their hands persuading financial backers that a woman could front such a film.
"One financier said to the writer, Taylor Sheridan, 'If you make her (the character Blunt plays) a guy we'll finance it today and we'll up your budget as well,'" explains the 32-year-old actress, who was asked by director Denis Villeneuve to take on the role. "So that's disappointing, but not altogether surprising," she adds.
"Taylor kept walking out of rooms until he came to production company Lionsgate, who said they loved it and wanted to do it."
The dramatically taut film sees the actress as idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer, who is enlisted by an elite government task force official, played by Josh Brolin, to aid in the escalating war against drugs. While work took on a gritty and serious edge, taking the mood home with her wasn't an option for first-time mum Blunt; she and her husband John Krasinski welcomed their daughter Hazel in February 2014.
"The ultimate way to detach is with a baby," she says, laughing. "I know it seems very dark and a very intense film, but on set, it was a lovely atmosphere. I think I'm someone who has to be happy to do the best work I can do, so I usually try and keep it light."
Professionally speaking, Blunt would be happier if there were more such roles for women.
"It's not been a tsunami, but there have been waves of better roles for women," says the star, who won a Golden Globe in 2007 for her performance in Stephen Poliakoff's Gideon's Daughter.
"I think the business is paying attention to that as well, which is the thing we needed. We need the money in the business to pay attention to the fact that these films make money with women at the core of them, and I think especially intense, strong action roles
"People are loving Scarlett Johansson in the action-thriller Lucy and Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible and Charlize Theron in Mad Max - it goes on and on.
"We have a way to go with equality, with billing and pay and all of that, but we're getting there."
While gender equality is a larger battle to be fought, Blunt recently had a personal fight on her hands.
In the days leading up to the international publicity tour for Sicario, the actress, who lives in the US with her young family, joked that she regretted recently becoming an American citizen after watching a Republican party presidential candidacy debate. The comments, while said in jest, prompted swift criticism, and Blunt eventually appeared on NBC's Today programme and apologised for any offence caused.
But has the uproar made her more cautious about speaking her mind?
"Maybe about political stuff," says the star, who is also known for her sizeable roles in musical Into The Woods, comedy The Five-Year Engagement and 2014 blockbuster Edge Of Tomorrow.
"I might leave that to late night television. I was a bit shocked by the outrage," she admits. "It wasn't intended as anything other than an innocuous joke." Judging by Blunt's current projects, the comments don't seem to have dented her appeal.
Discovered by an agent while at sixth-form college, the actress scored her breakthrough role as a snippy personal assistant in The Devil Wears Prada, opposite Meryl Streep. She's set to play the eponymous role in the much-hyped adaptation of The Girl On The Train, and there's a suggestion that she could play Mary Poppins in a remake of the Julie Andrews classic.
"I've heard rumours, which would be a thrill, but there's nothing official," Blunt says coyly. "She's sort of an icon, so that would be scary, but I haven't heard anything official."
- Sicario is released in cinemas tomorrow