Emily Blunt, the blue-eyed English beauty, known for her work in The Devil Wears Prada and The Young Victoria, sat in for a Q&A session at AMC Loews Theatre on the Common last Thursday after an advanced screening of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Poised and charismatic, Ms. Blunt warmed her audience with charm and a wealth of giggles.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, a film about hope, faith and realizing the impossible, stars Blunt and Ewan McGregor – whose lives intertwine, driven by a desire to help Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked) build a dam in the Yemen for imported salmon fishing.
Coming at the heels of the Arab Spring, serious issues bubble under the surface of this off-kilter, funny romance. Kristin Scott Thomas adds biting wit and uproarious laughter as a British press official in finagling news about the Arabian Peninsula for fodder in the political arena and bolsters the salmon fishing story while zipping off texts to the Prime Minister. McGregor plays Dr. Alfred Jones, an environmental expert with a louse for a boss, and is initially very skeptical about the project.
Pressures from the reality of his failing marriage as well as a peaceful, awakening persuasion from the Sheikh push him further into his desire to have this unlikely endeavor succeed. Emily Blunt portrays sweet, computing Harriet, whose life is upturned when her new boyfriend, Captain Robert Mayers (Tom Mison) is called back into duty, and is missing in action.
For those of you that don’t know she’s taken, Emily Blunt is married to The Office’s John Krasinski – whose in-laws were sitting in on the discussion.
EMILY BLUNT: They’re not all like this; they’re not as easy or effortless as films like this one. And I had a great time on it, which is quite rare.
Q: A romantic comedy is a terribly tricky thing – not done terribly well these days, so tell us how it went – it did look like a very fun, believable relationship there—
EM: He’s heaven – I mean he’s really easy to work with, and he’s fun as hell, he’s lovely. It’s a funny thing with chemistry, because I feel like people I’ve had chemistry with – both men and women – I feel like it comes out more effectively if you have a great rapport with that person off-set, and you find a natural rhythm that resonates on screen as well. Other times you have to cultivate it – which is not as fun, but much harder. He made it very easy – very easy to love.
Q: And the river– is that real? Can we regenerate it?
EM: Yeah – The one that we swam in? Yeah it’s real. Imagine green-screening that [laughter]. We swam in it but it was freezing – because what happens in that desert climate, during the day it’s boiling and then at night the temperature just plummets and it’s freezing – and it was only two feet of water, and we’re having to pretend we’re swimming in this huge dam – and we’re scraping our stomachs across the rocks going “isn’t it beautiful?” [laughter] It’s one of those really weird moments of shooting a film. It was not the most pleasant experience, being in the water.
Q: In Toronto there’s a huge reaction to this film– people really loved it – as you’ve gone around the country I’m sure you’ve seen it – what do you think it is about this film that’s hitting people?
EB: I think it’s uplifting – I think it has a really lovely message of the impossible being made possible and I think it’s important to show that relationship between the East and West and a shared aspiration – I think there’s a really hopeful message in that.
Q: Do you know how to speak Mandarin?
EB: I only learned how to talk about sandstone walls and water pressure (laughter). I don’t know how to say hello my name is Emily – I only know how to talk about salmon. And I had to learn it – this lovely Chinese girl came around to my place – and she’d say it very rapidly and I’d say “ooh, that is fast, that is gonna be tough.” And we paced it up slowly and practiced again and again – and I played a prank call on my mom, I left a message on her phone in Mandarin. And I didn’t say anything, I left it for two days– and she called me and said, “I had the most extraordinary voice message” and I said, “Did you? What-what was it?” and she said “Well it sounds like Chinese!” and so I said “It was me!” she said “Oh I’m going to kill you.” She was so weirded out by it.
Q: What else are you working on now that you’re looking forward to?
EB: Last year I did three films, two of them very small. A film with Colin Firth, which is a very strange beautiful film about a couple of social misfits. I did a big comedy with Jason Segel called Five Year Engagement, which is very bawdy and very funny. And I also did this sci-fi thriller with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis called Looper – that’s very cool, I really like that one.
Q: This character is very complex– how did you prepare?
EB: Well I really– that’s what drew me to the part actually– the complexity of her situation– she’s ultimately grieving for most of the film but embarking on this hopeful aspiration– this ludicrous dream– and I thought it was an interesting juxtaposition for someone to be in– to be going through something very difficult and yet having to move forward tenaciously with this crazy project and I admired her spirit and her warmth, I think, I really liked that about the part. When I prepared- I really have no process– I read it and think and listen to music and try and identify with this person and her situation.
[Blunt lets the girl who asked the question give her her number]
EB: She just said ‘your husband’s gorgeous’ – that’s really why she wants to call – in the hope that John will pick up!
Q: Did you all have to learn how to fly fish? Is Ewan really good at it?
EB: He’s really good – he and Amr were very good, they had fishing lessons. I am not a good fisher… person. Fisherwoman? My first experience fishing was when I was about seven, my dad who loves the ocean took my sister and I out and we just vomited the entire way [laughter]– so I don’t really have the stomach for being at sea. Do you know what, I tried it in Jackson Hole which is the best place to do it because you just kind of drift down the state river and there’s oodles of fish in the river, a complete moron could hook a fish in there – you don’t have to be very good at it. But I found it really peaceful and it’s an extraordinary experience, you throw the line in and you’re watching this little inflatable ball at the end of the line, waiting for it to go ‘bloopbloop’ and your mind is just clear of anything but that ball waiting wondering whether or not it’s gonna go – and that was nice for me – not to be thinking of anything else but that – and you’re all probably thinking ‘that’s so boring’ – well I loved it [laughter].
MUSE: It seems like you’ve got a great setup for a sequel! Did you think about that?
EB: I didn’t actually…Salmon fishing in…where could we do it? (laughter) Wherever…
[audience member yells out “Boston Harbor!”]
Q: That’s a stretch – Boston Harbor.
EB: So is the Yemen! But we made a film about it.
Q: Where’s John?
EB: John is shooting this show you’ve probably never seen called The Office (laughter).
Q: I know Five Year Engagement is coming up – do you have any funny Jason Segel stories?
EB: I have so many – probably none of them are appropriate to share though –he’s great though. If he came, he would charm everyone. That’s usually the way he loves to live life – charming the ladies! He’s great, I have many stories, none of them appropriate.
Q: I noticed how easily you go back and forth between American English and British English – I’ve heard you do the American accent flawlessly – is it an effort or is it some natural skill?
EB: It’s not – it gets easier as the shoot goes on. I mean, I think what I try to do is stay in it during the day and try not to break it too much. I live with an American, I’m surrounded by Americans, I think that helps a lot. I’m surrounded by the sounds and intonations. I have a great dialect coach called Liz Himmelstein who I work with and she gives me great exercises to do and its funny when she comes in between takes and she’ll say “ooh ooh youin”- like that – she’ll get me to make these weird sounds, it’s odd.
Q: There’s some Internet fodder that said you had a stammer as a kid?
EB: Not fodder! It was true. Yes, I had a really bad stutter when I was a kid – it was really bad between 8 and 14 and then it started to dwindle. I think it still comes back if I’m tired or if I’m on the phone for some reason. I think the need to communicate with only a voice is intimidating for stutterers. The phone is always an issue.
Q: Do you have any funny or interesting stories from the set of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen?
EB: I managed to hook Ewan McGregor’s dog while I attempted to fish. (laughter) Is that funny or cruel? (laughter)
Q: What kind of dog?
EB: He has this really sweet little dog that looks like a lamb– he’s such a sweet dog, he’s tiny– and I almost launched him into the bank. Ewan persuaded me to give fishing a go – and I tried once and hooked the dog and that was it. I was done. It’s an awful sound to hear– “arrrf!” oh–it’s the worst sound in the world.
Q: No animals were harmed during the filming…?
EB: No! Fake fish.
Q: I have a very serious question: is it difficult waking up every day being as beautiful [laughter] and talented as you are? I’m seriously curious.
EB: Is it difficult? [laughter] It is very difficult. Oh god! No! I do not look beautiful in the morning at all.
Q: I don’t believe that – [laughter]
EB: Ok you’re very nice – you’re very nice (dismissive).
Q: I imagine you are following your dream. I wonder with actors –when they’re developing really powerful stories– do the films that you’re in ever have paradigm shifting effects in your life?
EB: That’s funny, ‘cause I try never to take work home with me but I think it sort of– you have these wonderful experiences that are extraordinary and not really like anything else – and almost by osmosis, you learn a lot from the people that you play. I felt a lot of compassion for these characters and I think these moments in these movies; they stay with people forever. And you realize that when people talk with you about movies, and they say “Oh god, you remember that moment when he looks at her, or when he says this?” and that’s just imprinted on your brain forever – so I think I have really enjoyed that about working on films – they do kind of dwell in you after the experience. Maybe it’s subconscious, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot, I’ve grown a lot, I’m feeling very grateful for this job and what it teaches you— you get to explore the human condition every day— it’s really wonderful.
Q: What was it like working Ms. Streep?
EB: She’s tricky. She was quite abusive actually, but that was supposed to be the set-up for the scene. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but I repeated The Devil Wears Prada working for Ms. Piggy in the plus size department, and I think she was more abusive than Meryl Streep was. It was really fun.
Q: Is there any chance of a Devil Wears Prada sequel?
EB: I don’t know! I don’t know – do you guys say yes or no!
[General Audience]: No!!!
EB: I get a bit scared about sequels, because I think they sometimes negate what was so great about the first one.
[General Audience]: Yes!
Q: This might be the only place in America that boos the idea of a sequel– fantastic!
EB: You guys are classy.