Emily Blunt on ‘Mary Poppins Returns,’ ‘A Quiet Place’ and ‘Edge of Tomorrow 2’

Emily Blunt knew immediately that John Krasinski needed to direct “A Quiet Place.”

As soon as her husband finished describing the story, which centers on a family struggling to stay alive in a world in which lethal creatures hunt down anyone who makes noise, Blunt was convincing him to slide behind the camera, as well as star in the picture. After reading his re-write of the script, she realized that “A Quiet Place” should be their first on-screen pairing. She wanted to play Krasinski’s wife in the film, a pregnant mother desperate to keep her kids safe in a menacing world. But there was a catch.

“I read his version of the script and after previously saying he should cast a friend of mine, I was like, ‘you probably should call her,'” remembers Blunt. “I need to play this part.”

Critics loved the finished film, praising its thrills and scares, and audiences agree. “A Quiet Place” dominated the box office last weekend, picking up a mighty $50 million. Two weeks before the film premiered, Blunt braved a storm to sit down with Variety in New York to talk about the film, her upcoming role in “Mary Poppins Returns,” and how she’s navigating Hollywood in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Why did you want to play the part?

It represented my deepest fears in real life. It was something incredibly close to home for me, being a mother. I’m scared of being in a brutal world and not being able to protect my children.

Do you like horror films?

I never watched them. John did his research. He watched so many, and I was like I will not be watching any of them. I watched most of “Get Out” and then I panicked and couldn’t watch any more. I loved it, but films like that keep me up at night.

This is a nearly wordless performance. What are the challenges of doing that type of acting?

I’ve always responded so much to the unspokenness of scenes, the kind of inner dialogue that goes on. Sometimes we’re led to believe it’s more impressive to have an exchange with rapid fire dialogue. It’s not necessarily the thing that grips me — lots of dialogue. It’s more about the space between people.

This family suffered a great loss. They really need to communicate and they can’t. There’s so many elements of regret and need for forgiveness and anger and loss and love. There’s so much need between these characters. They haven’t been able to resolve anything because they can’t talk.

Were you worried about being directed by your husband?

John and I are always quite protective of the projects that we do together. We were asked to do a number of things together, but it was never the right fit. We were looking to do something where the concept or the story would be bigger than the fact that we’re a married couple. People have just embraced “A Quiet Place” as an experience and a film and said, “oh yeah, they’re also married.” That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want our marriage to overshadow that this is a big, ambitious filmmaking move for John.

You don’t know what it’s going to be like to work with each other. We always hear about each other’s work experiences as sort of a supportive second hand receptor. It was so collaborative and so exciting, because we don’t have any of the sort of diplomacy that sometimes gets in the way of getting to the truth of what works and what doesn’t work for you. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as valued as a creative entity as he made me feel. We had this trust.

Did you ever feel like you couldn’t get a break from work? Did you try to make any rules about not talking about shooting at home or anything like that?

You do inevitably talk about it at home. We would drive home together, listen to music, and drink a lot of whiskey. That how we got through “A Quiet Place.”

What didn’t you like the projects you’d been offered to do with John before “A Quiet Place”?

They were like a cute romantic comedy. The cool thing about romantic comedies is seeing the two people meet. Everyone knows we’re married, so no one is going to fall for it. It was always too cute or too head on.

Are you looking for other films to do together?

We’re not necessarily looking, but if he wanted to direct again I’d ask if there was a little walk-on for me.

You watch the news and it’s all about trade wars, terrorism, school shootings, and frightening stuff. What’s it like to raise kids in this atmosphere?

It’s really scary sometimes. Where we live in Brooklyn is a safe, cool environment. It’s a cosmopolitan, diverse environment where I feel they’re getting an injection of something special every day. There’s a lot of pressure at the moment to make sense of it all with your children. The world is so fragile and it’s brutal. My kids are still young — they’re four and 20 months — so I think explaining things will get more difficult as they become aware of everything.

What drew you to “Mary Poppins Returns”?

[The director] Rob Marshall called me a couple of years ago and pitched it to me. The script hadn’t been written and they hadn’t written the songs, they were just crafting a narrative. He explained that this was much more in the same world as the books. It’s set in the ’30s during the Great Depression, which is when P.L. Travers wrote them. It was the idea of having a darker backdrop in which hope could reappear from the skies. I loved the idea and I love and believe in him.

What he did for me was huge. Having somebody like Julie Andrews, who is iconic, play somebody like Mary Poppins, who is also iconic, it could have felt like I was rolling aside this huge boulder. But Rob made it feel so intimate for me and empowering for me, so I could have my own version of her. I didn’t watch the original during the process. I had a memory of the movie seared into my brain from when I was a child, but I didn’t want the distraction of the amazing Julie’s version of her. I just read the books. This is my interpretation of Mary.

Did you reach out to Julie Andrews?

No, but Rob said she was very excited and gave it her blessing. I hope she comes to the premiere. I think Rob will show it to her at some point.

What’s your take on Mary Poppins?

She’s really eccentric in the books. She’s kind of batty and vain and rude. And she made me laugh so much. It’s hard to sum up exactly what my interpretation was, but it’s whatever leapt off the pages of the book to me.

What was it like to work with Lin-Manuel Miranda?

This is really his world. When we do the big numbers Lin just comes alive. He has such effervescent charm about him.

Is this a big musical production?

We rehearsed for eight weeks, which is unheard of. That’s how Rob works. When you show up on the day you feel completely at ease, because he runs it like a play to see if the scenes work and sizzle. We rehearsed the big dance numbers and did two and a half weeks of pre-records and then started shooting. The whole thing took about a year.

When I saw Cherry Tree Lane for the first time it was overwhelming. How ever incredible the first film is, I hope this one will be allowed to stand on its own. It’s magical, but it’s so grounded as well. There’s such a beautiful story running through it.

What do you think about the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements and their impact on Hollywood?

I’m not going to add anything to the conversation that hasn’t already been talked about, but ultimately I hope what comes out of all this is that voices have been heard and now action needs to follow.

Are you noticing changes taking place?

Yes. When it comes to your contract we’re fighting for everything our male co-stars are being afforded. That comes with pay, with flights, with accommodation. We are now all feeling we’ve been given the opportunity to not shy away from the importance of being ambitious. To reclaim that word as a positive for women is important because it’s been used as a cloying, unpleasant term. It’s seen as a powerful thing with men, but it’s frowned upon with women. You can be aggressive in making a good deal for yourself without being labeled difficult.

Was the issue of pay disparity a case of sexism on the part of studios? 

It’s sexism on the part of studios. People tend to crunch numbers on what kind of films make money. There was this idea that a film couldn’t make money unless there was a man at the center of it. That’s quickly becoming a myth as we’ve found out with films like “Wonder Woman,” “Bridesmaids,” “The Devil Wears Prada.”

Frances McDormand advocated adding inclusion riders to contracts in her speech at the Oscars as a way of requiring productions to make a good-faith effort to hire more women and minorities. Is that something you are going to include in your contracts?

It’s funny, because I realize that I don’t want to talk too much about what I’m feeling and what I want in my contract because it’s also quite private, as well. That’s a private decision for me to fight for or not, but I think that it’s an exciting idea.

Do you want to do a superhero film?

Not particularly.

Do you enjoy action roles such as “Edge of Tomorrow”?

I do. I mean it’s hard. I have had two children since “Edge of Tomorrow.” I think it will be a slightly different kind of grind to do the sequel, but I think they do want to do a sequel at some point.

I do think it’s important to see girls kick some ass. If I’m invited to do that, I’m going to keep doing it.