There’s no real proof the following is true, and this sounds about impossible to research, but there’s a very good chance The Girl on the Train is the first film to change a character’s name because of the television show Friends, as Emily Blunt explains ahead. But let’s just say that when you announce her character’s name, Rachel, over a loud speaker in a public space, then announce a character named Monica, then Lisa Kudrow shows up – yes, that can cause some mass confusion. (And that’s why “Monica” is now “Martha.”)
Based on Paula Hawkins’ bestselling book, The Girl on the Train stars Blunt as Rachel, a woman who takes the Metro North every day past her ex-husband’s (Justin Theroux) and his new wife’s (Rebecca Ferguson) house – and the house of their nanny, Megan (Haley Bennett), and her husband (Luke Wilson). Things go haywire one evening when, in a drunken haze, Rachel gets off the train near her ex’s home. The next thing she knows, she wakes up in her own bed covered in blood and Megan is missing. Rachel must then try to piece together what happened that night.
We spoke to Emily Blunt early Monday morning about The Girl on the Train, which then led us to this delightful Friends story. And, of course there was no chance we weren’t going to discuss Blunt’s upcoming role as Mary Poppins. (Spoiler: She’s very excited.)
Your character has been called “unlikable,” but I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s more she makes people feel uncomfortable.
Well, I’m so happy that you say that because I think the word “likable” is filled with sort of necessities that she be sort of pretty and witty, whereas I think likable can be relatable as well, and can be credible. And so that’s all I wanted, was for you to understand her. And yes, I’m sure she’ll make people feel very unsettled and uncomfortable at times, but I felt for her when I was playing her, so hopefully that translates.
You capture “I’m very drunk, but I’m trying to keep it together” very well. Maybe not to her extent, but I think a lot of people have had one of those nights where they might have been overserved.
Hey, we’ve all been there. You said “overserved.” That is a classic drinker’s excuse. “I was probably overserved.”
“It’s not my fault. They just kept handing me stuff.”
“This guy was doing real decent pours.” It’s like, well, you drank it. So funny. That’s so perfect. “I was being overserved.“ I’m going to use that.
It’s the more delicate approach. As opposed to, “Oh yeah, I got really drunk last night.”
Oh, yeah. “I drank myself to total oblivion one night.” A little heavier-handed.
The Metro North, the train she takes, used to have a bar car. It only ended in 2014.
Oh, they did? My God, really? Rachel, that’s probably why she rode that train.
It was the last commuter train in the United States to have a bar car.
No way. I mean, I’m sure in like Mad Men days, every carriage had a bar in it.
There was a huge New York Times piece about the history.
It’s interesting, because I wonder when drinking, or seeing someone in a really messy state, became so ugly. Because I feel like in the ’60s and even going into the ’70s, but particularly the ’60s – those days where everybody was kind of like pregnant or breastfeeding with a martini in their hand; where it was acceptable for people to be messy and that they’d had too much to drink were men seen as just blowing off steam. Whereas nowadays they’re like, “He drinks way too much.” I don’t know, I’m just voicing it to you, like wondering when that all shifted.
I thought about that too, because if you watch Mad Men and Don Draper is drinking on the train, it’d be like, “Well, that’s normal.”
Clearly has a drinking problem.
He has a bar cart in his office. And in this movie, Rachel has drinks on the train and she’s shunned. You pose an interesting question.
There was a shift. But I mean, the thing is, I wonder in those days if you would have defined it as alcoholism, or was it just seen as like, “Well, everybody drinks,” you know? I’d actually never thought about it until talking to you. When you brought up the bar cars on the train, I was like, oh, they used to have them on every train, and it was just acceptable for people to be kind of lurching around on a train.
Then she wakes up and she’s got blood on her shirt and does not remember what happened. That’s terrifying. I’ve had mornings when I’ve woken up horrified, but it’s usually, “I bet I tweeted something stupid.”
Yeah. Was I rude? Was I at all rude to anybody? I mean, that would be the extent of it. But I think to wake up with your head caked with blood, with your underpants covered in piss, and your vomit all over the floor, and your iPhone and iPad smashed – I think that’s when you’re like, “something really bad went down.”
This story is very dark and depressing. And people love this book…
I think the underbelly of domestic life is interesting to people. You know, the cookie cutter perfection that’s those white picket-fenced houses and the darkness of what’s going on behind closed doors. And I think it’s rare to have very flawed female characters. It’s rare to see women having the right to be bad in a movie.
You always have interesting opinions on this. When I spoke to you for Sicario, you were talking about how you had concerns about the way people talk about “strong” female characters.
Well, I think the word “strong” is overused when you’re talking about a female character that seems to have a spirited opinion, or at least a trajectory that’s interesting and sort of powerful. I think then, no matter if they’re an alcoholic or if they’ve lost a child and they’re going through something, I feel like that word is still applied to those characters…
And now you’re saying “flawed,” and it’s a really good point about how you don’t always see that.
Well, you just don’t. I mean, I think that there’s a certain feminine ideal that women are protected within, usually written by male screenwriters, to be honest. And I think that, particularly in the domestic environment, we’re supposed to be sort of witty and pretty and supportive, even if the guy you’re married to is kind of a drip and unfaithful or whatever. And so in this case, I think that the tables have sort of been turned.
Do you think there’s a correlation between the way people present strong female characters and flawed female characters, or the lack of representation of that? Because I think a lot of male screenwriters might even be scared to write a flawed female character because they don’t know how to do it.
I agree. And so the thing I often say if I’m working on a script with a writer, or we’re sort of developing a scene and I make a suggestion and I can see they’re a little hesitant about it, I eventually just say, “Look, write me as you would a guy, and I’ll do the girl stuff,” and that seems to be an easier switch for them. Just to stop worrying about the girl stuff, and would a woman really do that. I think we’re programmed into thinking that women aren’t messy or aren’t as messy as men, and I think that’s not right.
There’s a scene when Lisa Kudrow’s character calls you Rachel and I thought of Friends for a split second.
[Laughs.] We did have a hilarious moment where, well, we changed Lisa Kudrow’s name to Martha once we realized the connection between all of them.
It was originally Monica in the book, right?
It was originally Monica, and so we were filming in Grand Central with like 300 extras, and then we had the real commuters coming in and out and sort of passing our film crew by. And they heard on the loudspeaker, “Rachel,” they heard the name “Monica,” and they saw Lisa Kudrow – and two people had literal aneurysms. And they were like, “It’s the Friends reunion!” Like that. They thought that the Friends gang were back together.
So then someone decided, “Change Monica to Martha.”
We changed it to Martha because it just seemed less of an issue, I think.
You’re Mary Poppins. That’s amazing.
Oh, I’m so excited. I’m glad people think it’s great. I’m relieved. She’s such an iconic role, and Julie Andrews is an icon as well. And so it’s certainly an undertaking.
When that was announced officially, what do you do? Do you read the internet and go, “Well, what do people think about this?” or do you just kind of like, “I don’t want to know”?
I don’t want to know. I do not want to know, but I hear people say to me, actually during this press tour, people have been very positive about it, which has made me feel good.
Because if people weren’t happy, they probably just wouldn’t bring it up.
[Laughs.] Well, you’d hope, yeah. Maybe people are all just gushing at me in a kind of phony way. Hey, I’ll take it. I need all the confidence I need for this part, so it’s fine.
No, I remember social media right when it was announced and people were very happy.
Okay. Well, that’s nice. Thank God.
How much do you re-watch the original in preparation? Is it a lot or none? I could see either.
Do you know what? I mean, last year, I did watch the original and I watched about 20 minutes of it. And then I thought, I can’t watch anymore because I know ultimately I’m just going to have to do my own version of her, and nobody can out-Julie Julie Andrews. There is just nobody who can do what she did in that role. And I don’t want it to be a sort of cheap impersonation of what she did. And so I just kind of dived into the books instead. And I think books are so wonderful because they allow for such a potent personal imagination, and I think you’re allowed to come up with your own version of these characters. And so, that’s what I did instead so that I could take a detour from the movie, you know?
And you get to work with Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Oh my gosh.
And I know that’s the second “statement” about this I’ve said to you as opposed to questions. I’m just excited for this.
No, but he’s incredible. He’s incredible. Oh, we’re so excited and we workshopped the script a few weeks back and it was just heart-racing, the whole thing, to be very honest.
Well, I can’t wait.
Thank you for your “statements.” I appreciate them.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.