Emily Blunt talks about playing the mysterious Sara in Rian Johnson's Looper, arriving in theaters September 28
Emily Blunt is an actress whose career I've admired for some time, mainly because she's always striving to do something new. After breaking out with the 2006 hit The Devil Wears Prada, she has taken roles in essentially every genre imaginable. She has played a queen (The Young Victoria), an "angel" (Charlie Wilson's War), a gnome (Gnomeo and Juliet), and even a bossy pig's secretary (The Muppets), just to name a few of her memorable roles. The versatile actress steps into the sci-fi genre as Sara in writer-director Rian Johnson's Looper, arriving in theaters nationwide September 28. I recently had the chance to speak with her over the phone about her experience working on this time travel thriller. Here's what she had to say.
I love how diverse your career is. With something like this, a crazy, sci-fi time-traveling movie, is there something you were particularly looking for, or is it something intangible that you spark to and say, 'OK, I want to do this'?
Emily Blunt: I think it's very intrinsic. There's an immediate impact that a script will have on me, and I can't quite put my finger on why it is, but it will just feel like a right fit. I look for a challenge, the fresh and the new. Looper is just brimming with originality, and it's also a character I hadn't played before. I loved the question of, 'Holy fuck, how am I going to do this?' I love being able to ask myself that question. I think with this sort of character, there was so much mystique surrounding her. She had this exterior that slowly unfolds throughout the course of the third act. I just loved that. It just seemed very human. It's just thrilling that Rian is able to write in such a human way, in such a high-concept movie.
What I was also impressed with is that, even though this is set 60 years in the future, with this time travel element, it's still a very grounded, relatable world. Were you surprised that wasn't more "futuristic?" You would see a lot of filmmakers going over the top and adding these weird future toys and things like that. Was that one of the aspects that drew you to this as well?
Emily Blunt: Oh yeah! I think how real and how frighteningly accessible this future is relates to now. I think that Rian's idea of the future has a darker feel, emotionally, as opposed to a technological sense. I think he wanted to create that dog-eat-dog world where people are just living for themselves only. There's an emotional disconnect from each other and from humanity. I think that was more the future he was wanting to paint, rather than making it about toys, you know.
You can see the issues with trust that Sara has, right off the bat. It's really cool to see a future portrayed in that way, instead of with just visuals.
Emily Blunt: Exactly. She is a person who is so fiercely protective of her child and her secret, that she doesn't want anyone to get close. No one has been close to her for two or three years. I don't think she's had many conversations with people, so she's socially cut off. She's not a fan of talking and communicating and sharing, and she's certainly not a fan of anyone coming into her life, and her child's life. I just loved that scene in the bedroom where you find out why she is the way she is. It's just so beautiful, that moment.
I understand there was quite a lengthy search to find the boy who plays Sara's son, before finding Pierce Gagnon.
Emily Blunt: Yeah. Rian searched all over America for that kid. I really think all of us have a lot of gratitude to put towards Pierce, because I think we would have been in trouble if we couldn't find a kid who could do what he did. He was just magic. He just had it. I don't know what it is, but whatever it is, he had it. The moment he opened his mouth to do a scene, he dropped all of that five-year-old little boy stuff, and understood he was playing a part. I don't know how he did it. It's weird when you find someone with that kind of talent. It's like the air changes in the room, and everyone leans forward. I'll never forget the moment that we found him, when he read with us. It was just surreal.
It's just amazing to find someone with such poise at that age. What was he, six years old, five years old when you shot this?
Emily Blunt: He was five when we shot it! He'd laser in on the takes, and in between takes, he'd just be screwing around like any other five year old. We'd play games and keep him distracted because, of course, shooting a scene can be laborious. You have to do many, many takes. Pierce was like, 'Well, I nailed it in the first two takes? What do I have to do?' (Laughs). I was like, 'Because we have to do my close-up now. Now it's my turn, so you have to sit for me.' He just couldn't grasp that. He'd say, 'But Rian said I got it. Rian said I nailed it.' Yeah, and now I have to nail it, so sit down.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is popping up in some amazing roles, very diverse. Can you talk a bit about sharing the screen with him, and what he brings to a role like this?
Emily Blunt: Well, Joe is so versatile. That's his magic weapon. He's so versatile. I don't think even he's discovered his whole bag of tricks, so I think there are many more characters to come from Joe. He really commits to each character he plays, without it seeming like he's doing some kind of cheap impersonation of something he's seen in another movie. He really commits, on a human level, to find different versions of himself in each role himself. You really feel it's grounded, every time he does something new.
I did an edit bay visit with Rian a few years ago, when he was cutting The Brothers Bloom. I loved it, but it was amazing to see this guy who did a really dark movie like Brick, do this hilarious con man movie. It's the same thing here, with this mind-bending sci-fi movie. Can you talk about what impressed you the most about his abilities as a storyteller and a director?
Emily Blunt: Well, Rian is a wonderful director to work with, because he's so open and collaborative and interested in what you might bring to the table. He's never threatened by anything you might want to change, or adjust. He's not precious about his own script, but he has a really clear, firm, strong point of view. That's all you want, as an actor. You want to know the canvas. You want to know what's going on, and then you can have fun. If you don't have a clear canvas made for you, you're kind of screwed. I think Rian is so sure-handed. He wrote this script for eight years, so there was nothing that he hadn't overturned. He really went through it with a microscopic glance, and he really figured out every single answer that any actor could possibly have. Rian is also such a massive fan of movies. He's seen everything, and that's how he's able to be so inspired by so many different genres, and yet, carve out new space for each genre he's inspired by. He's extraordinary. He's a real visionary. I don't think there's anyone else quite like him right now.
I was wondering if you could talk a bit about All You Need Is Kill with Tom Cruise and (director) Doug Liman. I believe that starts shooting fairly soon. One of our readers mentioned in the comments section that this sounded like a hybrid of Groundhog Day meets War of the Worlds. Would you say that's accurate? Can you talk a bit more about your character?
Emily Blunt: I would say that is very accurate (Laughs). I play a character called Valkyrie 1. She's a highly decorated soldier in the army, and my job is really to use and train Tom Cruise's character in order to defeat this species that's taking over the world. She's a real, tough, physical, frightening cookie, and she's irreverent and cool. The training is hell, but new and different. This is a challenge, for sure.
Excellent. Well, that's my time. Thank you so much, Emily.
Emily Blunt: Thank you.