Emily Blunt on how whisky got her through the making of A Quiet Place 2.
When Emily Blunt was making A Quiet Place, the horror movie with brains and brawn that pummeled the box office in 2018, she and her director-husband, John Krasinksi had a particular self-care routine that got them through the most harrowing shoot days. “I always say that Macallan 12 sponsored A Quiet Place,” Blunt says, a tremor of mirth animating her face. “John and I would just go home and drink a lot of whisky every night, and that sort of continued on A Quiet Place 2.”
You, too, might need a tumbler of whisky after seeing A Quiet Place 2. Blunt considers it, along with the first film, as the most personal project of her career. It’s certainly the scariest. Blunt describes it as a “runaway train that grips you by the neck,” which is only half-right. It also takes said neck and lays it on the tracks before running over it repeatedly and furiously. It must have taken a case or two of Macallan to get through it in one piece. What on earth persuaded Blunt to say yes — apart from the blazing success of the first one? “I realized what an investment people had in this family from the first film,” she says. “Everyone asked, ‘What happens next, where does she go with these three children, what does she do?’”
Now everyone has the answer. As if the audience had gone out for a two-year bathroom break, the new movie picks up at the very moment the first one ended — with Blunt’s wounded matriarch, Evelyn Abbott, and her three surviving children in the basement of their farm after fending off an alien attack. There is also a brief bucolic prequel of the Abbotts at a small-town baseball game, drenched in the happy noise of Norman Rockwell’s America. Watching it you have a jolting sense of all that’s about to be lost, but already it’s too late. As the extra-terrestrial predators drop in for a spot of lunch, everything quickly heads south. Try to imagine giving birth in such a nightmare landscape and you have the plot of A Quiet Place. Take the newborn out into the world, to face fresh dangers, and you have A Quiet Place 2.
“At its core, it’s about motherhood, it’s about parenthood, it’s about how far you’d go to protect your children,” Blunt says. “It turns out you’d go a really long way.”
There is no Macallan 12, alas, in the hotel suite reserved for our interview. Instead there is a tray set with abstemious pots of Earl Grey tea, and a plate of three sorry biscuits. Blunt contemplates a trio of bone china jugs with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. “So many different milks here,” she says. “I think that’s the one I want.” She pours a little into her teacup and passes the jug. “This is real milk, not fake,” she says, approvingly. “The idea of oat milk probably makes you feel a bit sick.” There’s a mischievousness behind her countenance, and a pleasing facility to make you feel noticed. It’s easy to see why Blunt made such an excellent Mary Poppins, though her daughters, Hazel and Violet, adamantly prefer the 1964 original to her own. “They’ve seen mine once and that seemed to be enough for them,” says Blunt. “Whereas Julie Andrews has been watched on a loop.” She has noticed that her acting self is still largely confusing for them. When she returns from set, or a promotional event, her first priority is to remove her make-up so they will recognize her.
Mary Poppins and A Quiet Place were released in 2018, within eight months of each other, and a more disparate pair of movies you would be hard pushed to find. In A Quiet Place, a bloodied and terrorized Blunt gives birth alone in a hell-blasted landscape; in Poppins she glides down into a picturesque London on the end of a parrot-handled brolly. Both are about the promise parents make to their children to keep them safe; but in A Quiet Place, and its sequel, we get to see what happens when that promise can’t be kept.
“If the first movie is about parenthood I think that second one is very much about that idea of a fractured sense of community,” says Blunt. “It’s really diving into human beings and how they’re affected by a crisis, and who’s resilient enough to withstand this kind of thing and still extend your hand to your neighbor.”
As we were talking, whole parts of the world were undergoing quarantine, airlines were going bankrupt, and the stock market was in freefall. A movie about fractured communities seemed on-point. “It was very intentional,” Blunt agreed. “John just felt this untethered feeling in the world, in which community and the idea of community is under threat, led by our fears, by our fears of people who are different from us, by our own need for survival. It’s about who’s resilient enough to withstand this kind of thing and still extend your hand to your neighbor.”
How desperate people react in desperate times is illuminated in the movie by one of the Abbott’s neighbors, played by Cillian Murphy, himself a seasoned pro at navigating post-apocalyptic landscapes. His breakout, the zombies-on-acid horror 28 Days Later, hit the cinemas in November 2002, just as SARS was exploding in southern China. In the early moments of A Quiet Place 2, we catch glimpses of news reports of mass casualties in Shanghai, a jarring reminder that today’s headlines often play like a movie despite real-world repercussions. “Everyone is walking around with a low level of anxiety about the state of the world, how we’re abusing it, and about the capacity of the people in charge,” says Murphy. “That’s why these films tap into people’s psyche and get under their skin.”
Murphy had wanted to work with Blunt for some time. After A Quiet Place he’d even written a fan letter to Krasinksi, but then deleted his email before sending it. When Krasinksi called him to do the sequel, he needed no persuasion. “It’s amazing when you’ve admired someone’s work form a distance and then you meet them and they’re just brilliant people,” he says. “Emily’s so self-effacing and disarming and has a wicked sense of humor, but is so rigorous about the work as well. It’s a lovely feeling to know those things can coexist — real genuine talent and authenticity as well.”
Being a couple on screen has inevitably raised the profile of Blunt’s and Krasinki’s off-screen marriage, but in spite of being one half of that dread tabloid commodity, a celebrity couple, Blunt seems defiantly unwilling to play the game, and shudders at the thought of her marriage being a #couplegoals meme. When Graham Norton asked her, on his show in 2018, if she and Krasinksi had a portmanteau like Brangelina or Bennifer, Blunt archly shot back, “Krunt.” Although technically a millennial, she is not on social media and has no plans to be. The separation between her public and private lives is fiercely guarded. She says that she and Krasinksi named their first daughter Hazel after the Nick Drake song, Hazy Jane, but asked if she can recall the first time they listened to it, she replies with a compensating smile, “I do and I’m not going to share it.” She thinks living in Brooklyn helps protect what privacy they have. “No-one bothers us, we walk around, we don’t have a car, it’s very manageable,” she says. “I don’t know many other neighborhoods where we would find it as easy.”
Although Hazy Jane is off the table, Blunt does tell the story of introducing Krasinski to her parents. It was for Sunday lunch — roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, so all very classic and English. “My father likes to present the beef sort of barely cooked,” Blunt says, and then lowers her voice a few octaves to imitate her father in a restaurant requesting his steak be served “bleu.” He is, apparently, the sort of person who would go into a kebab shop and ask to have his doner rare. Anyway, the beef came to the table still kicking, and Krasinski, true to his Boston upbringing, made not a murmur of protest. “It is my lasting memory of how John coped with that situation, preferring things a bit more medium,” she says.
Blunt’s parents, as she doesn’t mind saying, are properly posh. Although she studied recordings of Princess Margaret to get her Mary Poppins clipped vowels, you suspect her mother’s voice would have done just as well. One of four children, she characterizes her teenage self as “the naughty one who wanted to go clubbing on holiday.” There was a catch. Her parents would only let her go if she was accompanied by her older sister, Felicity, who never played ball. “She’d bring a suitcase of ten books and read them all over two weeks,” Blunt recalls. “She’s extraordinarily bright.” Felicity grew up to be a literary agent, and is now married to Stanley Tucci (the two met at Blunt’s wedding to Krasinksi in 2010), and keeps her younger sister steadily supplied with reading matter. Currently on her bedside table: Things in Jars by Jess Kidd. She is also heavily pimping Max Porter’s Lanny, which Cillian Murphy gave her as a gift after wrapping A Quiet Place 2. “God, but Lanny is so good,” she says. “Reading it was a visceral experience.”
Blunt herself grew up thinking she might study languages and become a translator, but fell into acting as a practice for managing a childhood stutter. A student production in Edinburgh sealed the deal. “Those foundations that you experience as a kid of having to overcome something, and really everyone has something and that happened to be my thing, informs so much about your character and how you go forward,” she says. In A Quiet Place 2, much of the action is driven by Millicent Simmons, who plays Regan Abbott, a young deaf girl who figures out that her disability is also an advantage. Blunt’s stutter had its own upside “I was a really observant child because I couldn’t speak very fluently,” she says. “So, I’ve always been interested in the unspoken between people and the idiosyncrasies and nuances of everybody.”
Blunt’s arrival as an actor with serious chops was My Summer of Love, the strange and gorgeous coming of age movie with a Goldfrapp soundtrack by the Polish director Pavel Pawlikowski. It was her first big screen role, but it was obvious to everyone that it wouldn’t be her last. Blunt is 38 now, and has made 32 movies in 16 years. That’s not many films shy of Kate Winslet, the actor whose career Blunt’s most seems to resemble, in part because both have established an enviable repertoire of character roles on the big screen, even as such roles have migrated to television. “I’ve been lucky because I realize that the films that I built my whole career on, those $25 to $35-million dollar-budget films like Sicario and Devil Wears Prada, aren’t really being made any more,” says Blunt. “It’s a shame because those films were really clever and beautifully crafted, and people ended up actually seeing them.” It helps that she chose wisely, gravitating to projects that stretch her in new ways each time. “She doesn’t phone anything in,” says Tate Taylor, who directed her in The Girl on a Train. “You just lean into her when she’s onscreen, and you have to possess that.”
Recently Blunt wrote to the Pawlikowski to thank him for shaping the trajectory of her career. “Because I didn’t train I didn’t ever feel like I had the tools to fall back upon, but what Pawel gave me were instinctive tools, really,” she says. “Working with him was so freewheeling and terrifying, actually, because there was no script and it was improvised, so it’s a weird feeling of jumping off a cliff every day. All you had was instinct.” Blunt does a good impression of Pawlikowski scoffing at “Hollywood bullshit,” but the director’s skepticism found its mark. “I think he laid the groundwork for me that things don’t always have to be what they seem, and people are never really just one thing, and a moment is never just one thing,” Blunt says. “I think it’s always encouraged me to stretch a scene around and to question it, and make sure you find the most interesting way in.”
This summer Blunt starts work on her first proper TV project — “The English,” a six-part western for the BBC by Hugo Blick, the writer and director acclaimed for hewing drama out of serpentine, often opaque conflicts such as Israel’s occupation of Palestine (The Honorable Woman) and the Rwandan genocide (Black Earth Rising). Although it has been a long time since she was in a TV show — back in the early aughts when she had bit parts on Foyle’s War and Poirot — she did a turn on Saturday Night Live in 2016, and says she had never been more scared in her life. There’s a reason guest hosts get provided with a vomit bucket just before they got pushed into the spotlight. “I mean, I didn’t puke in it but it’s there,” says Blunt. “I actually get anxiety just thinking about it.”
Details on The English are scant to non-existent, but it’s safe to assume that a Hugo Blick western will not resemble any western we’ve seen before. Nor will she need a sick bucket. Blunt is clearly excited by the project, and ready to see what the TV revolution has wrought. “Talk about brilliant writing,” she says. “I literally called my husband and said, ‘I just read one page of a script and I’m doing it.’ It’s extraordinary. I cannot wait to start.”