(Lainey: we received a detailed question about Emily Blunt’s career a few weeks ago from a reader called Ngoc. Perfect for the Faculty of Celebrity Studies. Ngoc’s (abridged) email is below, followed by Sarah’s analysis. Should you wish a similar Career Prospectus about your favourite star, please submit and we’ll try to make it happen.)
I have a lot of questions surrounding my Emily Blunt, so I hope you can help me with their answer:
1. How does Hollywood exactly rank Emily Blunt? In a Vulture post back in 2011 Emily's peers are listed as Anne, Natalie, Keira & Mila (Blake was thrown in but it was an obviously lie forced by her PR team). Is it true? I believe Emily has as much talent as them, but the name recognition is not there. However, all those 4 are not yet box office draws - they appear in huge films but when they have to carry 1, most of them flop. The good thing is Emily doesnt have to carrry 1 yet and doesnt have an outright bomb but it won’t exactly boost her commercial profile. Sowhere exactly does Emily rank among those girls, plus Carey Mulligan etc?
2. All You Need is Kill? EB will be Tom Cruise's thankless girlfriend in this movie. I'M VERY DISAPPOINTED: she turned down the girlfriend part in Captain America 4 years ago and now do this in a movie that probably won’t make that much money given Tom's decreased bankability. For Emily's sake, WHY? The girlfriend part will get neither critical attention nor commercial advantage. Does it mean Emily's stock is starting to decrease and she no longer can pickily choose scripts, instead has to accept THIS - being Tom's gf :( ?
3. Passenger? Passenger is a famous Black List script that got Keenu Reeves attached to star. It was widely praised but never got made into a movie. However, the curious thing is Emily was confirmed by The Tracking Board as the female lead, but the news never got picked up by any other major outlet. Passengers production fell apart. So, do u have any idea if Emily was ever involved in the movie's production and can u give some update on it / EB's possible involvement?
4. Superhero? Is it over between Emily and Marvel now after she turned down the girlfriend role of Captain USA? Or the rumour that she will be Catwoman?
5. The next Julia Roberts? I am not talking of the bitchy attitude, but rather the "queen of romcom" title. Emily is one of the few actresses that have chemistry with ALL her costar. I felt so pissed that "The Thin Man" fell apart - she clearly wanted it. It felt like everytime she got thisclose to a prestige high-profile role, it just blew out. Where is that breakout LEADING role for her?
I love that you asked about Emily Blunt because there is no actress of her generation or caliber that provokes more crazy eyebrows from me. I just…don’t get her. So much talent, all the energy and personality you could ask for—and SO gorgeous—but she does seem to be floundering, doesn’t she? Her peers, as you called them, are all Oscar nominees/winners, with some (Portman and Hathaway) moving on to develop and produce their own projects. Blunt has a collection of Golden Globes and BAFTAs, but it feels like she’s still stuck in that phase they were all at in their mid-twenties—doing solid support and ensemble work but not fronting films of her own, certainly not developing properties for herself. So why is this? What has happened to Emily Blunt?
To the first question, we have to first get over this measuring stick of the “box office draw”. Actors are—but for a few exceptions, all of whom come from an older generation of star—simply not going to be capable of selling movies by themselves anymore. So that doesn’t weigh as much as other factors. Name recognition, however, is still important. People might not buy movie tickets just because So-and-So is in a movie, but actors are still famous. Fame itself is a commodity, maybe even more important since the box office factor is down. Celebrities leverage their fame over things like licensing and commercial contracts instead of studio deals, so having the kind of brand that can easily be married to a variety of commodities is more important than ever (none of the young actresses do this better than Scarlett Johansson).
Over the holidays I conducted a straw poll, asking around to determine who and how many could identify Blunt by name only. The answer? Nobody and not one. “The bitchy assistant from The Devil Wears Prada” got a few dim “oh yeahs”, and “Jim from The Office’s wife” earned a few more, but the fact that you have to go back seven years on the resume and that her celebrity marriage isn’t worth much (which really, is not a problem for me, but it is since we’re discussing her celebrity factor) is not encouraging. Blunt has all the industry credibility you could want, but her profile is sticking her firmly in character actress territory, destined to be a That Girl at best.
Which goes to the second question, about Blunt taking the Thankless Girlfriend part in Tom Cruise’s All You Need is Kill when she turned down the role of Peggy Carter in Captain America, which was a BAD decision. Peggy Carter is the best-written female role Marvel has produced yet, and with Joss Whedon now overseeing the Avengers universe, the women are only going to get better and more interesting. Blunt could have potentially played both WWII-era Peggy and her modern-day descendant, Sharon, but even just the one appearance would have done a lot to raise her profile. But she didn’t take it and now she’s Thankless Girlfriend in one of Cruise’s generic thrillers, which doesn’t seem to be doing much for Rosamund Pike (Jack Reacher).
That decision has to go on Blunt, but the role of Black Widow in Iron Man 2, and by extension The Avengers, isn’t entirely her fault. She signed a contract with Fox in the wake of her Prada success and they pulled rank on her in 2009, forcing her into Gulliver’s Travels and keeping her out of Iron Man 2, which is a piece of extraordinary bad luck. I have heard that contract wasn’t unbreakable, so she could have gotten out in theory, but I also heard she didn’t put up much of a fight. If she really has Leading Lady dreams—which I debate based on her choices (see also: Captain America)—she’s going to need a franchise. If not Marvel, then DC (they need a Wonder Woman), or hook up with one of the budding video game franchises. But she’s going to need a highly identifiable character to bolster her profile, especially since her own name has virtually no cache in the public marketplace.
Still, Gulliver’s Travels did put her in Jason Segel’s path, and he went on to bring her into Five Year Engagement. Though that didn’t pay off, being connected to Segel, and by extension the Judd Apatow set, is a really great place to be, full of potential. The thing about Blunt is that people like her. Everyone likes her—male or female doesn’t matter, she’s one of those rare performers who is relatable across the board. You and your significant other can enjoy Blunt, be into her even, without it devolving into a screaming match about that bitch Kelli from spring break in ’02. She has that Audrey Hepburn-ness about her, that universal appeal that invites everyone in.
Looking forward for Blunt, she has only two confirmed projects: the aforementioned Cruise flick due in 2014 and Engagement Games, a wedding-themed comedy stuck in the scripting phase. Projects do have a way of going south on Blunt, but she is consistently picking plum jobs with the best people. Passengers isn’t dead yet, but Marc Forster, the man currently murdering World War Z, is on shaky ground, and if WWZ doesn’t deliver—in box office, if nothing else—he’ll likely be off Passengers, setting back development once again as producers search for a new director. I wouldn’t bank on that one doing anything for Blunt in the short term.
As for being the next Julia Roberts, I think that’s exactly what Blunt needs to avoid doing. Since The Five Year Engagement bombed, she can’t afford to become “that girl that makes all the sh*tty rom-coms”. That’s a career killer—just ask Katherine Heigl or Anna Faris. Blunt has charisma and charm to spare, sure, but she’s better off in character-driven pieces like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen than in generic rom-com schlock (not that Engagement was that bad, it just wasn’t particularly good). At this point, maintaining an air of exclusivity is the second-best thing she’s got going for her, behind her talent, but she actively works against that by taking on crap studio fare. Since Prada, none of her studio projects have panned out, financially or critically, except for The Adjustment Bureau, which did merely okay.
Plenty of industry people want to see Blunt succeed. She’s popular and has an enviable selection of celebrity friends—she and Krasinski are down with George Clooney, Matt Damon and now Jennifer Aniston, too—it’s not like she doesn’t have connections out the wazoo. It’s just a matter of building up her brand. I’m not sure what kind of message is being conveyed by passing on franchise roles but being open to Thankless Girlfriend work; part of her problem is that it’s virtually impossible to identify what she represents to the public. She’s not a fashion girl, she’s not The Funny One, she’s not strictly a character actress, and there’s no big, pre-branded character on the slate either. Who is Emily Blunt? Unfortunately, right now, she’s the one getting left behind.
Attached - Blunt and Krasinski arriving in New York yesterday.