Emily Blunt: ‘It’s about human beings and how they’re affected by a crisis’

Now postponed because of coronavirus, A Quiet Place 2 explores a world untethered by fear. Its star discusses parenthood, in film and real life, and her terror of doing SNL

Emily Blunt and her husband, John Krasinski, devised a rigorous self-care regime when the pair were making A Quiet Place, 2017s harrowing self-isolation horror hit. I always say that Macallan 12 sponsored A Quiet Place, says Blunt. John and I would just go home and drink a lot of whisky every night. And that sort of continued on A Quiet Place 2.

You, too, might need a tumbler of scotch while watching the film. Blunt describes it as a runaway train that grips you by the neck, which is half-right. It also takes that neck and lays it on the tracks before running over it repeatedly. I realised what an investment people had in this family from the first film, says Blunt. Everyone asked: What happens next?

Now the answer is on the way. As if the audience had gone out for a two-year loo break, the new movie picks up at the very moment the first one ended with Blunts wounded matriarch, Evelyn Abbott, and her three surviving children in the basement of their farm after fending off an alien attack. Try to imagine giving birth in such a nightmare landscape and you have the plot of A Quiet Place. Take the newborn out into the world, to face fresh dangers, and you have A Quiet Place Part 2.

At its core, its about motherhood, its about parenthood, its about how far youd go to protect your children, Blunt says. It turns out youd go a really long way.

Scotch is not being served in the New York hotel suite where we meet. Instead, theres abstemious pots of earl grey and three sorry biscuits. Blunt contemplates a trio of jugs with a mix of curiosity and suspicion. So many different milks here, she says. I think thats the one I want. This is real milk, not fake, she says approvingly, offering it over. The idea of oat milk probably makes you feel a bit sick.

Blunt has a ready and pleasing facility to make you feel noticed. Its easy to see why she was such tip-top casting for Mary Poppins, though her daughters, Hazel, five, and Violet, three, prefer the 1964 original. Theyve seen mine once and that seemed to be enough for them, says Blunt. Whereas Julie Andrews has been watched on a loop. Her acting self confuses them, she says. Her first priority coming back from work is to remove her makeup so they recognise her.

Mary Poppins and A Quiet Place were released in 2018. In the former, she glides down into a picturesque London on the end of a parrot-handled brolly. In the latter, she gives birth alone, bloodied and terrorised, in a hell-blasted landscape. Both are about the promise parents make to their children to keep them safe; but in A Quiet Place, and its sequel, we see what happens when that promise cant be kept.

If the first movie is about parenthood, I think that the second one is very much about that idea of a fractured sense of community, says Blunt. Its really diving into human beings and how theyre affected by a crisis, and whos resilient enough to withstand this kind of thing and still extend your hand to your neighbour.

It may be unintentionally ironic, but at the time of writing, A Quiet Place 2s release has been postponed as the coronavirus crisis takes hold. Covid-19 aside, the sense of a world in freefall was always very intentional, says Blunt. Krasinski, who wrote and directed the film as well as starring in it, just felt this untethered feeling in the world, in which community and the idea of community is under threat, led by our fears, by our fears of people who are different from us, by our own need for survival.

The outsider this time round is one of the Abbotts neighbours, played by Cillian Murphy himself a veteran at navigating post-apocalyptic landscapes. Murphys breakout, zombies-on-acid horror 28 Days Later hit cinemas in November 2002, just as Sars was exploding in southern China. In the early moments of A Quiet Place 2, we catch glimpses of news reports of mass casualties in Shanghai, a jarring reminder that todays headlines often play like a movie despite real-world tragedy. Everyone is walking around with a low level of anxiety about the state of the world, how were abusing it, and about the capacity of the people in charge, Murphy tells me over the phone. Thats why these films tap into peoples psyches and get under their skin.

Being a couple on screen has inevitably raised the profile of Blunt and Krasinskis real marriage, but Blunt seems unwilling to play the celeb-couple game. When Graham Norton asked her in 2018 if she and Krasinski had a portmanteau like Brangelina or Bennifer, Blunt shot back: Krunt. She is not on social media, has no plans to be and ferociously guards the separation between her public and private lives. She and Krasinski named their first daughter Hazel after the Nick Drake song Hazey Jane, she says, but asked if she can recall the first time they listened to it, she replies with a compensating smile I do and Im not going to share it. Living in Brooklyn helps. No one bothers us, we walk around, we dont have a car, its very manageable, she says. I dont know many other neighbourhoods where we would find it as easy.

As
As Mary Poppins. Photograph: Courtesy of Disney/AP

Hazey Jane off the table, Blunt does tell the story of introducing Krasinski to her parents over Sunday roast at their house. My father likes to present the beef sort of barely cooked, Blunt says, and then lowers her voice a few octaves to imitate her father requesting his steak be served bleu, his doner kebab rare. Anyway, Krasinski, true to his Boston upbringing, made not a murmur of protest. It is my lasting memory of how John coped with that situation, as someone who prefers things a bit more medium.

Raised in Roehampton, London not a million miles from the Reigate constituency of her uncle, the Tory MP Crispin Blunt Blunt was privately educated and doesnt mind saying her parents are properly posh. She studied recordings of Princess Margaret to nail Poppins clipped vowels; possibly a chat with her mother might have sufficed. The second of four children, Blunt says she was the naughty one who wanted to go clubbing on holiday. This was permitted only if her older sister, Felicity, went along too which essentially kiboshed the plan. Shed bring a suitcase of 10 books and read them all over two weeks, Blunt recalls. Now a literary agent, Felicity keeps her sisters bedside table stacked: Things in Jars by Jess Kidd is currently on top; below is Max Porters Lanny. God, but its so good. Reading it was a visceral experience.

As a child, Blunt aspired to be a translator, but fell into acting as a handy way to manage a stutter. A student production in Edinburgh sealed the deal; next thing she knew she was starring alongside Judi Dench on stage. She arrived on screen in My Summer of Love, Pawel Pawlikowskis gorgeous coming-of-age tale. In the 16 years since, Blunt has made 32 movies; not many shy of Kate Winslet, the actor whose career and no-nonsense charm Blunts most seems to resemble.

Ive been lucky because the films that I built my whole career on, those $25m- to $35m-budget films like Sicario and The Devil Wears Prada, arent really being made any more, she says. Its a shame because those films were really clever and beautifully crafted, and people ended up actually seeing them. Her career has been marked by a succession of stretching new roles. She doesnt phone anything in, says Tate Taylor, who directed her in The Girl on a Train. You just lean into her when shes on screen, and you have to possess that.

With
With Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe in A Quiet Place 2. Photograph: Allstar/Paramount

Recently, Blunt wrote to Pawlikowski to thank him for giving me instinctive tools. Working with him was so freewheeling and terrifying, because there was no script and it was improvised, so its a weird feeling of jumping off a cliff every day. All you had was instinct. Blunt does a good impression of Pawlikowski scoffing at Hollywood bullshit, but the directors scepticism found its mark. Working with him, she says, has always encouraged me to stretch a scene around and to question it, and make sure you find the most interesting way in.

Next, Blunt starts work on her first TV project proper: The English, a BBC western by Hugo Blick, the man behind The Honourable Woman. She wont give details, save that she signed on immediately. I literally called my husband and said: I just read one page of a script and Im doing it.

Actually, she has done some TV before: bit parts in Foyles War and Poirot and, four years ago, a turn on Saturday Night Live. Ive never been more scared in my life, she shudders. I get anxiety just thinking about it. The whole week was such a whirlwind because Violet was nine weeks old so I just wasnt sleeping.

Theres a reason theres a vomit bucket just offstage, she says. I mean, I didnt puke in it, but its there. It was just this completely alternate reality. This amazing woman who has looked after the talent going in there to host it for years just wrestled me around the sets and stripped my clothes off. I mean tearing the clothes off me. I remember her standing by that door and theyre like: Live from New York! and shes rubbing my back very firmly and Im moving with it, and she goes: Youre OK, youre all right, youre OK, breathe, youre OK, OK, youre up. Honestly, its like a nightmare. The thought of it now, it makes me sweat.

And a Quiet Place 3 just got its plot.

A Quiet Place 2 will be released later this year

This article was amended on 13 March 2020 because Nick Drakes song Hazey Jane, was misnamed Hazy Jane. This has been corrected.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/mar/13/emily-blunt-its-about-human-beings-and-how-theyre-affected-by-a-crisis

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