The day Emily Blunt nearly broke her nose — smashed it so badly that an on-set medic had to stick two fingers up it to pop the cartilage back in place — she knew she was on the right track. She’d been up on wires practicing an aerial stunt for Edge of Tomorrow, a reported $140 million sci-fi thrill ride about soldiers at war with time-looping aliens. She had been wielding a giant helicopter-blade sword that her character, a grunt named Rita Vrataski, uses to fight off the invading alien army alongside Tom Cruise. ”It’s such an embarrassing story,” she says. ”Basically I tried to slash my sword through the air and it got caught on one of the wires, and I ended up hitting myself in the face with the butt of it. My eyes were streaming tears. But then Tom came into the makeup bus after it happened, and he was like, ‘Yeah! First stunt injury!’ He high-fived me as if it was my initiation. I was in the club.”
That would be the Summer Action Tentpole Star Club, of which Tom Cruise is the undisputed president for life. At first glance, Blunt, 31, seems an unexpected inductee. You’ve probably seen the smart, pretty British actress in The Devil Wears Prada, throwing withering glances at poor Anne Hathaway. You might have seen her in The Adjustment Bureau, dancing around a lovestruck Matt Damon. (You almost certainly haven’t seen her in My Summer of Love, where she plays a bi-curious rich girl, but you should. She’s terrific in it.) You know she has a 3-month-old daughter, Hazel, with hubby John Krasinski, who was so sweet on The Office. Why would a nice girl like that want to bust her nose, not to mention dislocate her thumb and pop two ribs out, for a film like this?
As it turns out, Blunt has an edge. ”Emily is not soft-spoken,” says Doug Liman, who directed Edge of Tomorrow. ”She’s that rare person that maybe hasn’t existed since Katharine Hepburn, who has that much strength and humor and beauty and confidence and intelligence — it’s actually sort of unfair.” Adds Cruise via email: ”Emily is a very intelligent actress able to convey inherent strength and vulnerability at the same time.”
Blunt says she loved duking it out (verbally) with Liman and Cruise over the finer points of her character, something they did a few times a week during the London shoot — often late at night in Cruise’s hotel room. ”There were some tense meetings,” she says. ”Sometimes we did crash heads, and that was okay. There were no feelings hurt because everyone was striving for the film to be the best it could be.” According to Liman, Blunt’s lack of action-movie experience was an advantage. ”At one point, I lost my cool a little bit and snapped at Emily about a suggestion she made. She was like, ‘Easy! I’ve never made a film like this before!’ And I fired right back at her, ”Well, I’ve never made a film like this before either!’ And Tom said, ‘That’s exactly why I’m so excited about this movie. We’ve never done anything like this before. Let’s see what we find out.”’
The actress also got a kick out of training for the fight scenes, which required her to run and jump in an 85-pound metal exoskeleton that makes her look like a fashion-forward Transformer. ”I was encouraged to study Krav Maga” — an Israeli martial art — ”because they wanted me to be as aggressive as possible,” she says. ”Maybe they thought I was just going to look like a pansy in the movie.” Instead she tapped into a tough side that even her husband hadn’t seen before. ”He works out at the same gym, and he would walk in and see me kneeing a bag repeatedly, as if I were kneeing someone in the balls. He was just like, ‘Oookaaay!”’ That story makes her laugh. It’s a smart, pretty British laugh. But one that makes you glad you aren’t that bag.