In Rian Johnson’s critically-acclaimed sci-fi thriller Looper, Emily Blunt plays Sara, a tough-as-nails woman living on a farm in the middle of nowhere trying to protect her special son. And although her character doesn’t appear on screen until the midway point, the entire dynamic of the film shifts and it becomes something so much bigger and more exciting when she does.
Blunt is at the top of her game in Looper and steals every scene she’s in with both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. In the end she delivers the best performance of her career so far and deserves a lot of accolades for her part. Criticize This! caught up with Blunt on the day Looper had its world premiere at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. Read our Q&A below.
What was it that initially drew you to the film and the character?
The script. It was just such a singular voice. It wasn’t derivative of anything I’d ever read and I was rather stunned by it. About 20 pages in, even before I got to my character, I called my agent and was like, ‘You need to get me into this film right now!’ I think my agent knows I don’t react like that often to a script. I finished it and REALLY wanted to be in the movie once I discovered this rather ambiguous, complex character.
How was it working with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in that makeup?
When I first met him no one had told me he was wearing the prosthetics. So I went into his trailer and I couldn’t understand why he had looked nothing like I had previously imagined. I talked to him for about 20-minutes and the whole time I thought maybe I was talking to the wrong person. And then I came out and everyone was like, ‘What do you think of the prosthetics?’ And I was like, ‘My god! That’s what it was!’ I guess that’s a credit to the makeup department.
Sara is a much different character than we’re used to seeing you play.
It is quite a different character for me. The way she looks, the way she is, the way she talks… that was part of the appeal of the character to me. I was so moved by the script and the relationship she has with her child. I’ve got to credit [Pierce Gagnon], the little boy who was cast as Cid, with why those scenes are so potent and loaded and moving. It was a real find discovering him and they searched high and low across the country to cast that part. I read with three other actors and the thing that differentiated him from the others was that he really understood that he was playing a character and he’s only 5-years-old. He’d do these spooky and intense scenes and then he’d go goof off.
Did you relate to her at all?
No one can break your heart like your family and no one can panic you like your family. My mom and dad have had so many sleepless nights out of fear for us… and there’s four of us! And they still go through it. I understood the fierce protection and her guilt in how she was before she arrived at the farm. There’s a certain amount of self-punishment that goes on with this character. I related to that and also to the tenderness of it and the bond that they have is so loaded and complex and he has her wrapped around his finger.
Is it a different mentality for you getting into an accent and do you find it hard to drop after using it for so long on set?
I prepared for it and worked on the accent for about a month beforehand with this amazing dialect coach Liz Himelstein, who teaches all of us Brits how to talk American. I decided to focus the accent and Rian and I decided it would be a Kansas one. Then I listened to a lot of people from Kansas, specifically Chris Cooper because I love his voice and think he has a very melancholy, emotional voice. But then on set I would try to stay in the accent to not confuse Pierce. And it was quite sad when I met him about two months after we finished shooting Looper. We were both filming in North Carolina and I called his mom to see if we could all get together for dinner and I was speaking in my normal voice and he was scared and weirded out by it and I felt really sad. And you could see his little brain was trying to compute why I sounded so weird.
Rian has a reputation of being collaborative. Did you have much say in building your character?
That’s the greatest thing about Rian is that he’s not precious at all about his dialogue. And obviously the script was so brilliant that there was no need to add or enhance anything. It was so evocative and the words were so exciting. He’s always interested in what you bring to a scene or an attitude or the reasons why you played a line the way you did and he doesn’t straightjacket you in to what he had previously imagined the scene being like. His notes are incredibly specific and I couldn’t have asked for more from a director. He’s very sure of himself and that’s what you want as an actor.
How tough was that wood-chopping scene for you to do?
This nice prop man on the movie came and delivered logs to my Los Angeles home. And they brought some axes and showed me how to chop the wood. And I practiced because I didn’t want her to be chopping wood like a sissy. Not only is she someone outside working every day, but she also is taking out frustration on this poor log. But when you shoot a scene over and over and over again… Rian said when he was editing the scene he was just winching because by the end of it I had thrown my shoulder out and I tweaked my back. That was the hardest scene for sure.
You’ve covered such a wide range of genres in your career already. Is there one you haven’t done yet or a type of role you’d still like to play?
I’d like to be in a western. A really cool western. Obviously the Coen Bros. just did it with True Grit, and that would have been so cool to be in a Coen Bros. western. I like riding horses, but I don’t want to be the damsel in distress. I want to be the one with a gun on the horse.
Would you ever consider writing or directing a film yourself?
I don’t think so. John [Krasinski, her husband] has just been doing it and it’s been extraordinary watching him discover this new side that he’s capable of. And his movie is amazing. I’ve seen what goes into it and I knew he could do it, but I don’t think it’s something I have the fire in the belly yet for.
You’re starring in Arthur Newman this year as well. Can you talk about your role in that at all?
Arthur Newman is the polar opposite of Looper. Colin Firth and I are playing a couple of very unhappy social misfits who are trying to escape their previous identities. I think it’s a very strange, beautiful film about trying to find your place in the world. I think all of us at one point have wanted to escape and that’s what this film is a study of. It’s the most unconventional love story you’ll ever see.
Since you’ve been working in the industry have you noticed a diversity of parts for women?
I probably speak for a lot of actresses in that we get really sick of reading parts that are written for a certain gender as opposed to a character. You read a lot of parts and you think, ‘Okay, so I’m playing the girl who is at home wagging her finger and is also compassionate and emotional simply because she’s the girl.’ Don’t write me as a girl, just write me as a character. There’s still a ways to go for that in the business. One in four parts are for women, which is a pretty big gap. The thing I’ve been excited about is that certain films I’ve been a part of that are female heavy and are directed towards females, like The Devil Wears Prada or Sunshine Cleaning, are great female roles that have been universally enjoyed. I think there needs to be more films like that.
What do you do for fun when you’re not filming?
I love to cook. That’s the real passion. Obsessive Food Network watching goes on in my house. I have to be dragged from indoors sometimes cause I could watch the Food Network all day. I just love to cook and I’ve always loved it so any excuse to have a boozy dinner party is welcomed.
Looper is currently playing in theatres. Read our 5-star review of the film here.
Top image: Emily Blunt in a scene from Looper. Courtesy Alliance Films.