Up until this week, all the attention around the sci-fi thriller Looper has been on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s transformation into a younger version of Bruce Willis. In the film, written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom), Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a mob assassin called a looper who kills off marks beamed back from the future. It’s a steady, well-paying, simple-if-brutal gig, until one day the mob decides to close your loop, and send back your future self to be killed off, severing all ties to the crime. Unfortunately for Gordon-Levitt, his older self is played by Bruce Willis, who escapes his assassination, forcing the younger Joe to try to chase down and murder his older self.
And that’s where Emily Blunt’s character comes in. It’s a part that’s been kept largely under wraps — all Blunt’s said publicly is that Joe’s pursuit of Older Joe brings him in contact with her and her family — but all that is about to change when the film premieres Thursday as the opening movie of the 2012 Toronto Film Festival. EW had a chance to talk with Blunt in July about the role; why she leapt at the chance to be in the film; the unusual training regimen she took on for the part; why she called Looper “the best movie I’ve ever been a part of”; and what it’s like to be directed by Johnson. Check out our conversation below:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your first reaction when you read the script?
EMILY BLUNT: More than anything, I felt like, “WHAT?!” [Laughs]
What does your “What?!” imply?
I think really that it implies that actually I’m programmed to reading a lot of generic scripts. So when one comes along that is unfathomably original and seems to have a very singular voice, and seems to be carving out new space in storytelling, it’s so exciting. I ran to that meeting [with] Rian and just sort of anchored there hoping I could strong-arm him into giving it to me. Because it was just one of the best things I’d ever read or been lucky enough to read.
You definitely seem to be taking on a role that’s much grittier than what you’ve done in the past.
For me, that’s the appeal. That was the draw, that I hadn’t done before, and I think the challenge of it was speaking to me in a big way. I admired this character a lot. She’s tough and protective and she has a secret. There was just so much to play with. She’s kind of a bad ass as well, and I think I hadn’t had a chance to play a character like that in a movie of this ilk, you know? I was more than anything drawn to playing that part.
We meet your character as she’s swinging an axe into a tree trunk for firewood, and I understand you had to teach yourself how to properly chop wood?
[Laughs] Yes, I did. I had logs delivered to my backyard in Los Angeles, and just learned how to chop wood. I chopped wood most days until I looked like I could chop wood convincingly, seeing as this something the character probably does every day. I didn’t want to chop wood like a sissy, you know?
What did your husband John Krasinski make of you constantly chopping wood in the backyard?
I think my dog was more disturbed by the logs, because that’s usually where he pees in that small section of lawn. But then, months after the movie wrapped, John was like, “We have to get these logs removed. At some point, they have to go.” I went,”I know, I know, I know. I keep forgetting!” The gardeners moved them. This was eight months after the movies wrapped, the logs were still there, looking a bit beaten up and sad.
You said before that you didn’t realize Joe was in make-up to look more like Bruce Willis when you first met him?
Yeah, which I think is a testament to the makeup. When I arrived on set, one of the PAs said, hey, do you want to meet Joe? So I went into his trailer, and no one had told me he was in his prosthetic makeup. In fact, I don’t know why I didn’t know this, but I hadn’t asked. I thought he just looked strange and different from how I imagined him looking. I was more just weirded out than anything else. And then I convinced myself, oh my God, I’m not talking to Joe, what am I doing, I’m obviously talking to his stunt man, someone has mis-guided me to the wrong trailer! All kinds of paranoid thoughts went through my head. [Laughs]
You also have a son in the film, played by Pierce Gagnon. What was it like working with him?
I just tried to spend every moment I could with him, so we’d have a bond that would show on screen, and he’d be comfortable with me physically — I could lift him around and hug him and he’d wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. So we’d hang out constantly. We had lunch together. We did a bunch of stuff together.
At Comic-Con, you called Looper “the best movie I’ve ever been a part of.” Of course, you are proud of the other work you’ve done, and for good reason, why has this movie earned that kind of praise from you?
That’s funny, when I said that, I realized that that sounded very absolute. I think more than anything what I feel — and it’s not to take anything from the other films I’m enormously proud of and happy to be a part of — it’s just that for whatever reason it was, everything fell into place. The script was unbelievable, the director was unbelievable. I haven’t seen this movie before. I think that’s a really rare thing. For me, I think, to be original and rare, that seems to be the best thing for me right now. Because it’s hard to find that.
You’re not alone in that pronouncement — Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have said similar things — but when I brought it all up to Rian, he got visibly nervous. I think he’s afraid that’s raising expectations for the film to an unrealistic level.
Oh no! I think I understand. I think he’s more embarrassed than anything else. I mean, it’s also a personal thing for us. Whatever Bruce said, whatever I feel, whatever Joe feels, that’s a personal thing for us. It doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to think that it’s the best movie that they’ve ever seen. But I feel that it’s probably that it’s the best film that I’ve been lucky enough to be in. I think more than anything, Rian is like, “What’s happening?!” [Laughs] His brain sort of melts when he hears stuff like that. Rian is the most unassuming, humble dude. He’s a very contained person. He’s not an arrogant guy who takes big swings. He’s a really humble guy who takes big swings.
What’s he like on set?
He’s f—ing remarkable. Even though he wrote it, he has a great belief in collaboration, which is a rare thing. Because often when people write something, it’s precious to them so they covet it from any change. With Rian, he was so interested with what we could bring to the part and to the scene, there was a real openness to any idea, however big or small. He also would give you really smart, fun notes. I had this big scene. It’s really the first time you meet the character, and I come out with a shotgun and try to scare off a vagrant. It’s this big monologue that the character has. Rian just said after a couple of takes, “That’s great. I just want you to think, like, Full Metal Jacket. Just do that now.”