Sicario
Courtesy of Lionsgate

Emily Blunt will be honored with Variety’s Creative Impact in Acting Award at a dinner at the Hamptons Intl. Film Festival on Oct. 11. It’s a fitting location, as Blunt was named one of the fest’s Rising Stars a decade ago.

Speaking of Blunt’s career achievements, Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos notes, “Moving effortlessly and effectively between blockbusters like ‘Edge of Tomorrow,’ critically acclaimed comedies like ‘Devil Wears Prada’ and urgent, topical tales like this year’s awards season contender, ‘Sicario,’ Emily Blunt has quickly emerged as one of international cinema’s most versatile, accomplished and popular actresses.”

In “Sicario” she is so convincing in the role of Kate Macer, an idealistic FBI agent recruited by a shady government task force to infiltrate a drug cartel in Juarez, Mexico, that, she says, filmgoers have expressed concern for her on-screen safety.

“Because I’m kind of slight and not this exaggerated version of a female cop I think that’s magnified the violence for people,” says Blunt of her riveting lead turn in Denis Villeneuve’s nerve-wracking thriller. “People say, ‘I was so worried about you!’ (My character) looks so out of place.”

Of course, while there are scores of real-life female FBI agents dispatched on dangerous missions, we rarely hear about them, Blunt says. There was, in fact, pressure from the studio to make Blunt’s character a man — typically, movies with male protagonists field heftier budgets — but screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, she notes, “stuck to his guns and refused to make something derivative.”

“We see a lot of films with guys running around with guns and the war on drugs and this is a very different take on it,” says Blunt of the film, a gritty, dystopian glance at the horrors of the drug trade. “It explores the gray matter of the situation of the war of drugs so why not explore the gray matter of having a female protagonist in this masculine world? It is the reality. There are women — it’s just that we don’t make films about them.”

Blunt researched deeply for the meaty role, interviewing women who described their stints aiding the CIA in the war against drugs as “an absolute nightmare” and “a territory that was just insanity where you are dealing with people who are a little bit unhinged.”

To be sure, the world that Kate inhabits is not for the faint of heart. In “Sicario,” the Mexican-American border is a morally bankrupt minefield, a lawless and unpredictable “land of lone wolves” in which nothing is what it seems and no one is to be trusted. This especially holds true for Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a flippant, gum-snapping CIA agent, and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), his shadowy Colombian counterpart who lost everything to a Mexican druglord and will stop at nothing to get revenge. The scenes between Del Toro and Blunt burn hot with emotional and physical tension.

“He’s so surprising as an actor because you never quite know what new space he’s going to find for himself in the scene and therefore find for you,” says Blunt of her co-star. “I loved that take on the kind of menacing tender relationship he has with her. She does feel strangely protected by him. He is a sort of a mysterious and enigmatic confidant for her and someone that ultimately she’s betrayed by in the end.”

Next up for Blunt is Tate Taylor’s “The Girl on a Train,” a murder-mystery in which the actress plays an alcoholic prone to blackouts. “It’s very different,” says Blunt of the part. “She’s reckless, angry, mad— all of these qualities that I don’t see in Kate, who is a fairly together person. I’m going to be a big hot mess in this next one.”

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