Ladies and gentlemen, Emily Blunt can sing. Like almost of all of her co-stars in Rob Marshall's “Into The Woods,” she proves that not only does she have a lovely singing voice, but that she can pull off Sondheim as well.
The film hits theaters on Christmas Day and will wrap up another whirlwind year for Blunt. She gave birth to her first daughter in February, promoted the critically acclaimed “Edge of Tomorrow” for most of May and June (her first major action role), filmed the new Denis Villeneuve drama “Sicario” alongside Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin immediately afterward and is now in the middle of a long publicly (and awards) tour for “Woods.”
Blunt plays the role of The Baker's Wife in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Tony Award-winning musical and, along with the Baker (played by James Corden), her character helps connect the different Grimm Fairy Tales that form the film's storyline. This means the Brit has major musical numbers with co-stars Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine as well as her own solo number. It's not really the leading role it was classified as on stage, but it's expected success will only add to Blunt's increasingly impressive resume.
The “Looper” star took some time to chat about “Into the Woods” and the belated love for “Edge of Tomorrow” during an interview this past weekend.
[Warning: Some slight spoilers ahead.]
HitFix: How did you become involved in the production? Were you looking to make a musical?
Emily Blunt: Rob auditioned technically everybody, even Meryl Streep. [Laughs.] Not really. It was always hers, but everybody else who was kind of interested in it had to come in and sing. I was probably the most reluctant party to go in and sing and my agent told me I had to and that it would be fine. Because I found it frightening singing in front of people and he”s like a musical magician God, so that was daunting. But I went in and he just said, “Listen, sometimes music is emotionally complex and I want actors. I want actors who can make sense of it and delve in and discover it.” And he wanted people with humor and with humanity. So he said, “Stop worrying about making it sound prestigious. Just go for it.” And I did it and he gave it to me, thank God. Because it was such an exhilarating, beautiful experience.
Do you remember the song that you sang for the audition?
Oh yeah. I did “Moments in the Woods,” the one she sings after she has the fling with Prince Charming. And it”s probably the hardest song she has, you know? It”s a song that”s very complex. She had a pretty exciting time with the Prince and she was dreadful about it and then she's trying to rally herself to go back to normality with the Baker. And yet it was so amazing with the Prince so she”s sort of going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and ultimately she arrives at the realization that she has been foolish and that she has had this treasured thing all along with her Baker. And of course, for her, tragically, it sort of comes too late and she”s a character that ends up “popping her clogs” as we say in England.
Yeah. She has a fall. She has a little bit of a fall.
A gigantic tumble.
I”ve done a bunch of phone interviews with the cast today and Tracey Ullman was talking about all the rehearsals before filming began. Knowing Rob wanted the emotion to come through, what were the discussions about regarding the film's sometimes humorous tone? How did you guys know when to pull it back?
Well, he was such a wonderful conductor for us, Rob. He really was very delicate and careful in making sure we”d lost the sense of kind of the proscenium arch that you have in a theatrical production of this. He wanted it to feel intimate and dynamic. And so although some of these characters are larger than life and what they go through is very comedic at times and other-worldly and magical, he wanted to always make sure that there was great humanity there. So often, you throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what would stick. And that”s why the five weeks of rehearsals were so valuable, because we could mess up in there. We could go huge and then pull it back. And you could discover everything about this character. So you never get rehearsals on films anymore, ever. And you realize if you did they”d probably save a lot of money.
I apologize. I should have asked this earlier but had you had any musical theater training? Had you done musicals in the past, even as a kid?
No. I mean I played Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls” in school but I don”t think I was particularly great. I had fun doing it and I hadn”t had any singing lessons really. So when I auditioned I went and had a couple of singing lessons with this amazing teacher called Eric Vetro who I think also worked with Chris Pine. And Eric”s worked with everybody from Katie Perry to Whitney. I mean you name it, he”s worked with them. And so it was great working with him and he emboldened me and taught me a lot. But other than that, no, I hadn”t had any previous experience singing on film or on stage.
Some of the scenes were sung live on set and some of them were pre-recorded. I know one scene with you and Anna Kendrick that is in the trailer was recorded live. Did you have a preference either way?
It depended on the situation. I mean I think with that song with Anna it”s all reactionary and it”s quite conversational so we didn”t even do a prerecord of that. We just sang it on the day. It was the only song we didn”t even prerecord. And then for “Moments in the Woods” half of that was live and so we would do it to the prerecord and you kind of mime along to it and it would play blaringly out of the speakers, which was so helpful. And then that moment that you kind of dread is when Rob goes, “OK, let”s do one live,” and you”re given a tiny little ear bud to put in your ear, which is playing the music, but none of the crew hears the music. They”re just hearing you clunkily make your way through the song a cappella. But I do think with “Moments in the Woods” we captured some really spontaneous moments because that song is rapid and conversational and she”s just talking herself out of this trench she”s dug for herself. So, I think we needed to do a lot of that live because the song, you could stretch it around quite a lot.
I know you”ve worked with Meryl before, quite notably in “The Devil Wears Prada,” but did she surprise you here? Because I have to say I did not expect – I mean it”s Meryl Streep, she”s always going to be great – but she really sort of surprised me here.
I think I”m always surprised by what people do. That”s what I love when you”re watching someone and you go “How do they do it? How do they do it?” It”s what I love when I watch somebody do something brilliant. Yeah, so I think her voice and the power of it was the thing I was really surprised by. Like that song “Last Midnight,” she blew my hair back with it when I heard it the first time. And I think she is ever shape-shifting, so she always kind of surprises people. I”m hoping she knows her whole bag of tricks.
Well, with all the great people in this cast, was there one number or sequence that you remember having the most fun with?
I mean I had a blast doing the number with James Corden, but I really did love doing that number with Chris Pine and then into the solo that I was just talking about. Because that scene with Chris Pine made me laugh so much. You know I always thought about that, how Rob and I talked to each other [about my character] like “you”re a Midwestern housewife who”s never left her little town.” She”s a bit bored and miserable and George Clooney knocks on the door and goes, “Do you want to make out?” Like it”s sort of what would you do? That”s how I tried to think of it as a woman who reads US Weekly every week and suddenly he”s here and he fancies her, you know? It was wonderful to think of it in those terms. So we had a lot of fun with it and Chris Pine is unabashedly hilarious in the scenes.
Speaking of your co-stars, one of them is about to take a huge new gig on late night.
Has he already been calling about a guest appearance on his show yet?
I”ve told him I will never over my dead body come on that show. I”ve told him “I know you think we”re all your friends but when you call Meryl and me and Chris Pine and Anna Kendrick, everyone”s going to pretend they have something else to do.” [Laughs.] “They”ve got a hip operation, they”ve got to go to the dentist, they”re busy.” I, of course, would be honored and he”s going to be brilliant. He keeps telling me how he thinks it”s going to be a dud, going to be a complete disaster, and it won”t be. He”s so funny.
Before we go I just wanted to ask you quickly about “Edge of Tomorrow.” So many of us loved it when it originally hit theaters and it didn”t do as well in the US as people thought. Now, however, I keep running into people who”ve now seen it either on VOD or on DVD or whatever and they just are sort of blown away by it. Have you had any experiences with that yet?Of people discovering it later than you would have expected?
I will tell you it happens every day now. It happens every day. People come up to me and say they”ve just seen it and they”ve loved it. But at the end of the day I feel like as much as it”s disappointing that it didn”t do better – that movie surprised people. I think they thought it was going to be something else and then it surprised people. You know, Tom is just so brilliant in it, like that hilarious coward. And so I do have people coming and speaking to me every day and that”s, at the end of the day, all I care about, because you can stress about it as much as you bloody want to think that a movie's going to do something or it”s going to be something or it”s going to make you something. And it”s never ever what you think it will be. All I care about at the end of the day and all I have control of is trying to do my best in a film. If people love the movie, that”s what I really care about, because we”ve worked so hard on that film. It was such hard work. It was so complicated and I credit Doug Liman pulling off just an impossible task. Like a literally impossible task in making it entertaining. So of course I”m disappointed it didn”t do better in the US but people are seeing it now and it doesn”t matter.
“Into the Woods” opens nationwide on Dec. 25.