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Emily Blunt Talks To R29 About The Girl On The Train

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Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Dear fans of the book The Girl on the Train: I have good news for you. Director Tate Taylor, the book's author Paula Hawkins, and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson have managed to achieve the elusive book-to-big screen adaptation that's actually as good as the novel. And I'm willing to bet readers and non-readers alike will find the story of Rachel, a blackout drunk who accidentally throws herself in the middle of a shocking mystery, both edge-of-your-seat thrilling and eerily alluring. It's an impressive feat considering the movie stays pretty darn close to the original plot. (Though I had one major gripe: It's been moved from the U.K. to New York. Sure, this story could've happened anywhere, but I felt like the book's setting on a suburbs-to-London commute was a big part of its identity.)

There's one main reason I was sold on the cinematic version of The Girl on the Train, though: Emily Blunt. I'll admit I was a tad doubtful that the gorgeous actress could accurately portray the brooding, disheveled Rachel I'd pictured while reading (as was Paula Hawkins, apparently), but her performance was so convincing that I felt it in my bones. In one scene in particular, Blunt's Rachel has a meltdown in front of a mirror that's so powerful, it gave me goosebumps. In early September, I sat down with the Golden Globe-winning actress to talk about what it took to get into the mind of Rachel, what the film means for women, and more.

After the success of the book, there was a ton of buzz surrounding the movie, which must've been intimidating. What was it about this project that made you say, "sign me up"?
"This was a part I’ve never played before. Rachel is very toxic, physically and emotionally; an incredibly tortured, self-loathing sort of person, and I thought it was thrilling to have a protagonist that's a blackout drunk. So it was a combination of the personal challenge for me and also the idea of this unreliable narrator, which I thought was so cool.”

Had you read the book before agreeing to do the film?
"I hadn’t read the book when I got approached about it. I'd just seen everyone reading the book on vacation or on the subway — the train! So when I was approached, I read it and very quickly saw why it was this phenomenon."

It's a pretty dark and complex role. How did you prepare to get into the mindset of an alcoholic?
“It was different bits of research, really. I read some books, I spoke to some friends of mine that suffered with addiction who were very generous and open with me about it, and I watched the show Intervention. That one was important because I don’t have an addictive personality whatsoever, and so to see it in action was helpful for me because I am having to physically portray an alcoholic, as well; it wasn't just about understanding the mindset. I had to figure out how to portray someone who is wasted drunk, because I think any time any of us have been wasted, you can’t remember what you looked like during it! Thankfully I don’t think anyone's ever filmed me when I was blackout drunk, so I had to really study that. I also couldn't actually be drunk while filming because I was pregnant. No method prep or hardcore stunts for me!"

I was struck by your physical transformation from Emily to Rachel onscreen. How did you guys achieve that?
“Well I have to credit Kyra Panchenko, the makeup artist. She really created the character physically for me. She pulled up every celebrity's drunk driving mugshot that we could find, so we had hilarious pictures of people — who will remain nameless! — all over the makeup bus, and we were trying to make me look like them. We really focused on what happens to the face when you're drunk; what it does to your skin, to your eyes. She created rosacea all over me, that sort of sallow, grey hue to the skin, and brought out every blemish I had. And for the really drunk stuff, I wore full contact lenses so I had a full bloodshot eye. It covered my whole eye, which was a pain in the ass to wear, but it gives that sort of glassy-eyed feel. I had different stages of drunkenness throughout the movie, so there were different lenses for each. I had pink eyes, red eyes, that yellow, hungover eye. Crazy!”
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Wow, I would've never even though about that as part of the physical transformation! When it comes to Rachel's mental state, one of the things I thought about while reading the book and watching the movie is that, yes, Rachel is a drunk, but as we learn at the end, her gut instinct was actually right. Do you think we as women are conditioned to not trust ourselves?
“I think we are. And I think that ability to trust yourself comes with experience and age. I used to second-guess myself all the time when I was younger and try and conform and worry so much about what other people thought, and now I don’t care at all anymore. But I think what this film really captures is how women can be taken advantage of in a domestic situation. All three of these women are used in some way, but it’s not to make them victims, because ultimately they do unite in a kind of empowered way.”

They do come together with [spoiler alert!] a pretty gory scene involving a kitchen utensil. What was that scene like to film?
“It was so fun to shoot. I won't give too much away, but poor Justin [Theroux] had to lie on the ground in the freezing cold. There was a lot of joking around on set; with this story, we were in and out of darkness a lot, so to stay sane we had to go toward the light sometimes. Ultimately you need levity... I don’t work well unless I’m really happy, and I don’t like to torture the people around me!”

Though a man is kind of at the centre of this storyline, the cast is mostly women. What do you think Hollywood can do to make sure there are more atypical roles for women onscreen?
“We have to keep making films like The Girl on the Train where you have three very multi-faceted roles for women. Sometimes I wish we would talk less about it and do more about it. There’s a lot of talk about it, which just cements the issue further rather than actually moving the needle. We need to be creating roles where you’ve got diversity, creating roles where you’ve got very multi-layered female characters, and I think we need to hire more female writers and more female producers. The problem often is that the people at the top of the game and the people behind the camera are the people who are influencing these rather derivative movies, so then we see derivative roles for women. We need more conscious people behind the lens, and therefore we’re going to have more people in front of the lens who are going to support this movement.”
Because there aren't as many multi-layered roles for women, do you ever see a culture of competitiveness in Hollywood?
“I think the media love to portray women as vying and watchful and contentious, and actually I’ve never had an issue with a woman that I’ve worked with in this business, ever. I’ve actually worked with a couple of diva men! But I’ve never had a weird situation working with a woman, I’ve loved it always, and some of them are still very good friends of mine. It’s not to say that there aren’t women out there that would be jealous or watchful or any of those things, but it hasn’t been my experience. I think women are the most openly admiring of each other...the way I talk to my friends is the way [my husband] John [Krasinski] would never talk to his friends. I’m like ‘Oh my god you look so hot, like, your tits, wow!’ Meanwhile, John would never say anything like that to his friends."

Speaking of John, I read that a few years ago you said that you'd like to act with him, but you wouldn't want to play each other's romantic interests. Is that still the case?
“No, I don’t think so. I mean, who knows? I never say never, but part of me would just prefer it to be, we’ll do a play together or a film together where we’re not necessarily, like, being judged on our chemistry on- and off-screen.”

What does a typical day in the Blunt-Krasinski household look like?
“We love to eat out, but both enjoy cooking; actually John just started. He's really good at it, he makes a really good coq au vin. It’s so him, though, to go from not cooking to cooking something so fancy. It's so him to go from one extreme to the other. I love cooking Italian food, but we all love sushi. I'm embarrassed to say that that's my 2-year-old's favourite meal. She's already a Brooklyn hipster.”

You're going from super-sad Rachel in The Girl on the Train to preparing to play Mary Poppins on Broadway. What's that been like?
“I am frozen with fear. My heart races when I think about it, actually. The music's fantastic, and the script is really magical, and we just did a workshop of it a few weeks ago and it was just awesome. So I’m slowly trying to figure out my own version of Mary Poppins. No one can outdo Julie Andrews, so it’ll just have to be my own unique version.”

I can't wait to check that out! And to wrap up, I have a lightning round of questions for you. First up: American accent, or British?
“It depends on the character. But it’s obviously easier for me to use my own accent!”

You're always switching up your hair colour. Red, brown, or blond?
“As I get older I think I look better with lighter hair. I quite like blond right now, like, I’m going to go even blonder. Just for fun.”

Playing the villain or the good guy?
“It’s so hard to sum it up. But I mean, bad girls have more fun, right?”

Last one: If The Devil Wears Prada's Emily and Miranda got into a standoff argument, who do you think would win?
“Miranda! Emily is desperate and terrified, so she would lose. She's not quite as acerbic as Miranda.”
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