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INTERVIEW: Emily Blunt on Sicario

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The Oscar buzz has started for Emily Blunt, whose role as an FBI agent on the hunt for drug cartels in Sicario garnered plaudits on the summer’s festival circuit. The British actress talks to ShortList about her recent penchant for playing a girl with a gun

This is a seriously dark role…
I love the subject matter; I thought it was a really fantastically crafted comment on it. I liked that I was playing a character with a big moral dilemma. She knows that doing things by the book is the right way – but is it actually making a difference? So you have a character who’s caught up in this rather incoherent world of the CIA and the cartel and their way of doing things which is totally out of bounds and illegal. Yet she knows she’s not scratching the surface doing what she’s doing.

You’ve actually played a lot of women who are very good with guns recently – Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, Into the Woods. Do you enjoy it?
I only wanted to be carrying a gun! No, it’s not that. I’ve always been drawn to strong female roles, but I think people make the mistake of thinking that the only strong female roles are the ones with a gun. The character I played in Into the Woods is someone who’s a bit scatty and a bit crazed but she is somebody who ultimately is desperate for a child and she’ll do anything in her power and cross anybody in order to get what she wants.

There do seem to be more tough roles for women…
I mean, look at like Scarlett Johansson in Lucy and stuff like that. It’s really exciting that people are showing up to see characters like that who happen to be girls.

Were you like that at school at all?
Yeah, I was kind of one of the boys. I really didn’t like pink and, yeah, I always enjoyed sports and stuff. But I was also one of these kids who was scared of a lot of things ¬ Father Christmas and balloons and weird things like that. But I’ve never been a girly girl.

Do you think there’s a shift in Hollywood in terms of roles that are typically more male but now are played by a woman – like action heroes?
I do feel that there’s a turn happening. Hollywood seems to be the more positive place for women than it was five years ago. Movies like Bridesmaids made a gazillion dollars and it was all women – and men went to see it. But you still have to sift through a lot of c*** to find a great female character and they’re often in the independent movies, which is why I’ve ended up doing a lot of those.

Where do you see the shift? Is it the audience turning up or studios wanting those films?
It’s a combination. I think that the studios have been emboldened by some success that the female-driven movies have given. But also that there’s a demand from audiences that we’re not just making movies for 14-year-old boys. My mother for example wants to see a movie like Sicario.

Did you spend any time with any FBI to research?
I spoke to a lot of FBI girls and they’re very matter-of-fact. None of them, out of the five I spoke to, have relationships, which I thought was really interesting. I asked does it work that way for the men in the FBI as well? And they went, no, because they have a wife who lives at home usually and takes care of the kids. But the women either had bad relationships or tried to be with someone else in law enforcement.

What kind of things did you ask them?
I asked what they did to decompress, what do they do after they’ve raided a house, someone’s been shot or a kid has died. And a lot of them said they just go home or go for a drink with a friend who’s not in the industry. One woman said she goes home to watch Game of Thrones and The Office. I said I’ll tell my husband [John Krasinski]; he’ll be really happy to know that he’s your outlet!

Does it give you a new respect for law enforcement?
Definitely. The FBI girls said the most frightening thing they deal with is the moment before they walk through the door because they don’t know what’s on the other side. That takes a huge amount of courage.

Did Tom Cruise ever give you any advice for these action roles?
Not necessarily for going for roles.  But he was incredibly encouraging when it came to the stunts in Edge of Tomorrow. He single-handedly transformed the way actors do stunts because we all really want to do them deep down. And I did learn a few moves on this one as well! I could probably take a person down.

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