WORDS JENNIFER F. NETTO
Emily Blunt burst into our collective consciousness as the caustic and acerbic Emily Charlton in The Devil Wears Prada more than 12 years ago. Since then she has grown from strength to strength as an actress. Recently, she co-produced and co-starred in the hit horror movie A Quiet Place alongside her husband John Krasinski.
Hearing the Mary Poppins Returns star’s plummy English accent, one would never realise that Emily struggled with a speech impediment growing up. She stuttered. And she was bullied for it.
HER RISE TO FAME
Emily Blunt was only 23 when she was cast in The Devil Wears Prada. In a film helmed by the great Meryl Streep and anchored by the star-power of Anne Hathaway, Emily managed to hold her own and even walked away with a Golden Globes award for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture. Critics were effusive in their praise of her performance, commending her on stealing almost every scene she was in. Emily has never looked back since, playing a gamut of roles ranging from a young Queen Victoria to futuristic warrior Rita Vrataski who aids Tom Cruise in saving Earth from aliens in Edge of Tomorrow. Just recently in December 2018, Emily was our spoonful of sugar in Mary Poppins Returns.
BREAKING THE BARRIERS
Growing up though, Emily would have found it hard to say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. Emily Olivia Leah Blunt was born in Wandsworth, London where she lived with her brother Sebastian and sisters Felicity and Susannah. Emily’s mother Joanna was a teacher (also a former actress) and Emily’s father Oliver Simon Peter Blunt was a lawyer awarded with the “Queen’s Counsel” title. Despite her mother and father’s obvious facility with the spoken English language, Emily was plagued by a stutter while growing up. Later in life, she found out that her stutter was genetic and ran in her family. It was not due to anxiety or to a nervous disposition, as is commonly assumed. However, up to the age of 14, she was still struggling to manage it. While Emily credits her mother, Joanna in helping her, it was only when a teacher cast her in a play that Emily realized how to handle her stutter. It was the same way she stood up to her bullies. She became someone else.
Emily was bullied and made fun of for her stutter. Instead of getting upset or retaliating in kind, Emily made her tormentors laugh instead. She did impressions and spoke in funny voices. Her teacher heard her doing this and encouraged her to do the same in the school play when Emily balked at the opportunity citing her stutter. Thus it was that Emily’s greatest liability became her greatest asset.
Acting opened up a world of possibility to Emily. For her Sixth Form, she enrolled in Hurtwood House in Surrey which was known for its performing arts programme. Emily was reportedly discovered there and signed up with an agency. Emily’s debut in the world of acting was as the great Dame Judi Dench’s granddaughter in a play called The Royal Family. A mere 5 years later, she starred in The Devil Wears Prada. She is still good friends with her The Devil Wears Prada cast mates. In fact, Stanley Tucci who played the art director Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada became her brother-in-law! He met Emily’s sister Felicity at Emily’s wedding.
THE LOVE OF HER LIFE
Acting also brought Emily the love of her life. She was dating the singer Michael Bublé during her The Devil Wears Prada days, but they broke up in 2008. Shortly after that, she met John Krasinski through a mutual friend. John was acting in the U.S. version of The Office at that time and Emily, as a true-blue Englishwoman loved the U.K. version, of course. For John, she binge-watched the U.S. series. They were married in 2010 and have two daughters, Hazel and Violet.
John and Emily have one of the longer and stronger marriages in Hollywood. John not only adores his wife but encourages and supports her in her every endeavour. Since the end of his The Office days, John has increased his forays into writing, directing and producing. John co-wrote, directed and starred in A wrote, directed and starred in A Quiet Place, a horror film that did extremely well both critically and at the box-office. Interestingly, the premise of the film has to do with horrific creatures which hunt by sound. In looking for an actress to play his wife in the movie, John did not have to search very far and cast Emily. This was the couple’s first movie together, with likely more to follow.
In achieving so much success, both personally and professionally, Emily has not forgotten her roots or the impetus that led her to acting. She is a board member of the American Institute for Stuttering and talks openly about her difficulties growing up with a stutter. She especially highlights the genetic and biological component of stuttering in an attempt both to encourage stutterers and educate those around them. Emily found, strangely enough, that her stutter crept back in during her pregnancies.
TAKING ON MARY POPPINS
Emily aims to delight audiences everywhere with her portrayal of the iconic Mary Poppins. While Emily’s very Englishness and her singing prowess (as clearly evident in Into The Woods) may have allowed her to land the role, she confesses to not having seen the movie recently.
In order to make the character her own and not just be a carbon-copy of Julie Andrews who played the original Mary Poppins, she made it a point not to see it before her audition. Emily is joined in Mary Poppins Returns by a stellar ensemble cast which includes Colin Firth, Emily Mortimer, Meryl Streep, Ben Whishaw (the current Q in the James Bond movies) and multi- talented Lin-Manuel Miranda. Yes, Emily is also reunited with Meryl Streep, she who played the scary Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada.
Both The Devil Wears Prada and Mary Poppins share another thing in common (apart from Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep, of course), in that both movies are based on books. Mary Poppins is actually a series of eight books written by the Australian-born British author, P.L. Travers.Travers eventually sold the rights to her characters to Walt Disney after initially rebuffing his efforts to make a movie on Mary Poppins. For an understanding of how that happened, you can watch Saving Mr. Banks where Walt Disney is portrayed by Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson plays P.L. Travers. The story (believed to be more or less true to life) is that Walt Disney had pursued P.L. Travers and the rights to Mary Poppins for 20 years but she continued to deny him as she was worried how Hollywood would depict Mary Poppins. While accounts differ on whether Travers was actually happy with the final product, it is safe to say that generations of children everywhere are.
SERVING A NEW GENERATION
It is only fitting that Mary Poppins Returns for a whole new generation of children to be schooled in the magical nanny’s witty wisdom of using a spoonful of sugar to let the medicine go down. Mary Poppins Returns promises to be a colourful, musical and fun romp down memory lane for us adults and to introduce a new “fairyland” to the children of today. After all, she is portrayed by Emily Blunt the very embodiment of Mary Poppins’ encouragement to “Open different doors. You may find a you there that you never knew was yours”. HT
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