It’s become rather difficult to gauge what to expect from an Emily Blunt performance. She carved out an early niche for herself playing deliciously sinister schemers, from a coquettish coed in My Summer of Love to an icy fashionista in The Devil Wears Prada; achieved Serious Actress status with period piece The Young Victoria; and made for a surprisingly convincing badass in Edge of Tomorrow and Sicario. Perhaps it’s in the eyes, which can transmogrify from icy to engrossed at a moment’s notice. Whatever it is, her latest role reveals a side of the actress that you’ve never seen before.
In The Girl on the Train, she plays Rachel—an alcoholic tormented by the failure of her marriage to Tom (Justin Theroux) who, after learning that she could not bear children, cheated on her with a decidedly more fertile real-estate agent (Rebecca Ferguson). So Rachel, though unemployed, spends her days taking the train from the suburbs to New York City, getting plastered, and fantasizing about the relationship of her former neighbors, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans), who appear to be a paragon of domestic bliss.
Things take a drastic turn, however, when Rachel wakes up one morning after a night of drinking covered in blood, with absolutely no recollection of what transpired the night before. And Megan, the nubile object of her envy, has gone missing.
The Daily Beast spoke to Emily Blunt about playing her most “flawed” character to date, her own dream marriage to actor John Krasinski, and much more.
It must be pretty difficult to play a convincing drunk onscreen. Seems it’d be easy to go overboard and turn in an exaggerated performance. I think it is very difficult and I was concerned I’d fall into the pitfalls of it being comedic, or like a drunk uncle lurching around. This is a very serious disease that she’s suffering from—it has its claws in her—and it’s a dangerous place that she’s in. I just wanted to try and capture that authenticity of someone who can’t put one foot in front of the other without needing a drink. Rather than watch how other actors portrayed an alcoholic, I read a lot, spoke to friends who are recovering, and watched endless documentaries on it to see the reality of it. You didn’t troll bars late-night to observe in person? I did all of that in my twenties. I probably was one of those people at the bar.
The drinking culture is different across the pond.
The culture is very different in the U.K. It’s part of our DNA—alcohol—so it’s more acceptable that you see people staggering around in bars in the U.K. than it is here.
I’m curious what you think the film says about the gender dynamics of men and women. For me, it seemed to serve as a metaphor for society not believing women.
There are a lot of subversive messages about society, about how women are viewed when it comes to motherhood and in a marriage, and about the striving for “domestic bliss”—whether that makes people unhappy. All of these women look at motherhood differently and look at their lives differently and they pit themselves against each other. So you could say that all of them are victims in some way; all of them are being taken advantage of by the men in their life and are emotionally abused in some way.
But ultimately I do find it to be quite an empowering film for women because I think it’s one of the first mainstream films in a while that allow women the right to be bad, the right to be flawed, the right to fuck up and do the wrong thing. Women are so often held in a feminine ideal—especially in these types of Hollywood movies—and required to be witty, and pretty, and supportive, and the perfect wife. This is truer to life for a lot of audience members. I think they’ll see aspects of themselves in these characters.
What do you think The Girl on the Train says about men through its antagonist?
He’s obviously a sociopath. We don’t want to say who it is, but he likes to trivialize women in the sense that, “Oh, they’re just crazy! What’s the deal with you crazy women?” when he’s the master manipulator who has damaged all of them.
Many of the men in the film also treat the women like possessions.
Absolutely. And I think that’s very common as well. There’s that scene with Haley Bennett and Edgar Ramirez, when she’s with the shrink, and she says, “He checks my emails and he’s really jealous and I think that’s kind of sexy,” and he says, “No—that’s a form of emotional abuse.” That’s a very poignant moment that I think will resonate with quite a lot of women because we’re made to feel like, “Oh, I guess he cares then. It’s good that he’s jealous because I mean something to him.” But it’s about possession. It’s about insecurity. I think often when a guy is incredibly jealous and incredibly possessive it is because they are afraid of their own capabilities and so they project them onto you.
You and your co-star Justin Theroux go back, don’t you?
We go back! We go way back. Justin was there the night I met my husband. Isn’t that crazy? He and John [Krasinski] have been friends for like 13 years, John and I have been together for eight years, and the night John and I met he was with Justin.
How did this go down? I never talk about it! But Justin was definitely present at our first encounter. And now you two are at each other’s throats in a big Hollywood film. What was it like to have this contentious relationship on film with someone you know so well in real life?
I know! It’s crazy. It’s wonderful to have people you know so well around you when you’re working with dark material because [Theroux] brings so much levity to the set, is so fun, and such a great friend. It was great to have him as a confidant and someone to bounce ideas off of because he’s also a great writer. But I’ve always been able to detach when I’m playing a part from my personal relationships with people.
At the same time, do you want to avoid falling into the trap of making a movie with your husband? Because in Hollywood that seems like a recipe for disaster. It’s the Shanghai Surprise curse. [Laughs] I don’t know! I think for me and John [Krasinski], it would have to be the right thing. We don’t necessarily want to play people who are romantically involved—a romantic comedy would be the last thing we’d want to do. But how cool was that when you had Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas in Traffic in the interweaving narratives, rather than one-on-one with each other? We would like to be part of the same project together—whether it’s a play, he directs me in something, we’re not sure. It could be any number of things. But we are up for risking disaster. Did you, like so many Americans, fall for John by watching The Office prior to meeting him? I actually had not watched the American Office when we met—this is a joke that people enjoy. I was obviously a loyal fan to the British Office, and so when we met I thought that I should watch it, so I just binge-watched it and I absolutely loved it. It’s completely its own entity. You can compare them, but the longevity that the American Office had is pretty incredible, and it still remains a show that people mourn for and pine for.
Do you ever experience moments where you’re like, come on man, you’re giving me that Jim look to the camera right now.
[Laughs] No, we do not!
What was it like occupying the mind-set of this troubled character for so long? It’s not a sunny mind-set. I gather you weren’t going Method here and boozing. If this were Daniel Day-Lewis, he’d be having serious health problems right now.
He might be in rehab right now. [Laughs] It’s not a process that works for me, and I have the utmost respect for people like Daniel where it works so well for them. I don’t tend to torture myself particularly with a dark part like this—partially because I have a toddler at home, partially because I was pregnant, and partially because that’s not how I work. It was a dark mind-set though, and it did require plenty of energy to play someone as emotionally tortured as this, but I tend to come in and out of it. I commit fully in the scene, understand that person at their very core, but they’re not me so then I can shake it off.
Wait—you were pregnant when you filmed this?
I was! That only added to my fragile state. And I was playing someone who can’t have a baby so it was sort of ironic. I’ve now done two films being pregnant where I’m playing someone who’s desperately wanting a baby and can’t have one—Into the Woods and this. It’s surreal!
I wanted to go back to what you said about portraying “flawed,” messy women on film. For so long, the happily-ever-after narrative has been drilled into women’s heads through movies, but now we’re starting to see more films that examine the flip side.
I think it’s very important to leave things open-ended. I think it creates a better conversation. Sometimes when you tie everything up with a bow you’re going to feel cheated as an audience member; it’s not going to feel genuine. To leave things a bit more melancholy and open-ended is an important lesson for people to be a part of, because that is life—it’s not always simple, and it comes with shades of gray.