Emily Blunt loses herself as a raging alcoholic and jilted wife in the latest best-selling novel to film adaptation, The Girl on the Train.
Blunt, 33, is known for turning in solid performances in all genres of film from her breakout role in The Devil Wears Prada (2006), to period piece, The Young Victoria (2009), and most recently, The Huntsman: Winter's War. In The Girl on the Train she delivers a haunted, emotionally gruelling portrayal of a woman whose life has spiralled out of control.
"It was a dark skin to wear," Blunt agrees. "I've been around that type of person. I understand and I feel for her. I feel for someone who has taken life's setbacks harder than others would. And she is in the grips of a very deep addiction."
Although there have been myriad versions of inebriated characters on screen, any actor will tell you pulling off fake-drunk is more difficult than it looks. "There was a great deal of research that went into discovering how I wanted to play her, whether it was through friends of mine who were recovering alcoholics, I also read books on it, I watched documentaries on it because not only was it an emotional capture that I had to get, but physically, how do you portray a drunk? There are many pitfalls to playing an alcoholic in making it look too comedic," she notes. "And in this case, she is somebody that people don't want to breathe the same air as; she's embarrassing to be around."
Those who have read the novel will know Blunt had to go places other actresses might not have had the stomach for. "Women are usually required to be likeable or pretty or witty. For women, "likable" equals bankable. Men don't have those same constraints on them when it comes to the types of roles they are offered, so it was such a rarity to read a script like this. It was such an exciting prospect and a huge draw for me. "
Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up), the film stars Justin Theroux as Blunt's character's ex-husband, and latest "ingenue du jour", Haley Bennett. Bennett has five movies coming out in close succession, including The Magnificent Seven and Rules Don't Apply and she bears a striking resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence.
Offscreen, Blunt is married to actor John Krasinski (The Office), whom she met in 2008. The photogenic couple married at George Clooney's villa on Lake Como in 2010, and are raising their two daughters: Hazel, 2, and Violet, born in June this year, in New York. As any parent will tell you, Blunt's life has changed dramatically in the past two years.
"Nowadays when I take on a role it has to be emotionally worth it for me. I have to love it because now I have children at very tender ages and so there's that juggle. Not to say that every working mother doesn't go through that, but I think it's a juggle when you have kids this young."
Blunt wanted this role to the extent that she didn't reveal to the director she was pregnant when she accepted the part. "I found out I was pregnant about a week before we started shooting. So I thought, 'This will be interesting,'" she laughs loudly.
Given the nature of the shoot and the physical - at times brutal - nature of the role, it must have presented some difficulties. "For the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, as every mother knows, it's frightening in that you hope everything's going to be okay. And Justin is my dear friend. He took me aside because he could see I was being a bit wussy about some of the stunts. He said, 'You did Edge of Tomorrow. What's wrong with you? Are you pregnant?' And I said, 'Yes! Don't tell anybody!' So he had to be aware of what he couldn't do in some of the scenes because we had quite a few tussles in it."
Playing someone afflicted with depression was also difficult. "In some ways my fragile state helped. I am not sure. I had a long car ride to work to prep and a long car ride home to shed the skin."
The Paula Hawkins novel (which debuted at No 1 on the New York Times best seller list in January 2015 and remained on the list for 13 consecutive weeks) is set in England and features the protagonist taking a London-bound train each day. The movie's location has changed from the UK to US, with the train journey taking place from the Hudson Valley to Grand Central station in Manhattan. "With this sort of suburban commute to the city, you can transplant it anywhere. It's a universal route, and this one in particular was so exciting and beautiful that it gives the film real scope."
Apparently Hawkins was initially resistant to the idea her heroine would be played by Blunt and gave her a backhanded compliment, saying that she was too pretty for the role.
"I think people should see the film and then decide if I am too pretty," she smiles. "I think it's pretty evident that should not be a concern."
To her credit, in contrast to the many glamorous roles she's inhabited, Blunt is believable as a woman whose appearance is utterly irrelevant. I tell her so, and she laughs loudly.
"I will take that as a compliment."