Emily Blunt shows her Edge against Tom Cruise

Emily Blunt on her physical transformation to play Rita Vrataski (above). -- PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE
Emily Blunt on her physical transformation to play Rita Vrataski (above). -- PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE
Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise (both above) don ExoSuits weighing more than 45kg each in Edge Of Tomorrow. -- PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE
Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise (both above) don ExoSuits weighing more than 45kg each in Edge Of Tomorrow. -- PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

Emily Blunt gets to beat up Tom Cruise in Edge Of Tomorrow and says it is pretty cool

Emily Blunt is a woman transformed. The 31-year-old English actress is best known for films such as The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and The Young Victoria (2009), though now, she is a full-on cinematic warrior woman as well. In her latest movie, Edge Of Tomorrow, she knocks seven bells out of action star Tom Cruise.

"To be able to beat the cr** out of Tom Cruise, that's pretty cool," she says, beaming, when we meet in a London hotel. The movie casts Cruise as a military publicist, a man more accustomed to talking than fighting, who is thrust into frontline combat duties after he offends a high-ranking general.

These duties involve a D-Day-style assault on alien forces which have conquered Europe. Blunt stars as a veteran special forces warrior known affectionately among the menfolk as "Full Metal Bitch".

"It was a really long and tough shoot and sometimes the way Tom and I got through it was just to tease each other."

How so, I wonder?

"I would tell Tom he was being a wuss and he would tell me I was a sissy, that type of thing."

Starring as warriors in a sci-fi action picture, both actors were required to wear metal ExoSuits which took 30 minutes to put on and weighed more than 45kg each.

"Tom and I would try to push each other over in the suits," says Blunt with a laugh, "and it would take three people to get us back up again. We were really mature, as you can tell. In fact, at one point, we all panicked that I might break Tom's arm."

Playing opposite an icon such as Cruise, she says, was unexpected. Back in 2005, when she was just starting out, Blunt went on record saying she would rather remain in low-paying theatre roles than to play a "spear-carrier in a Tom Cruise movie".

In Edge Of Tomorrow, Cruise is more the spearcarrier, playing second fiddle to Blunt's bad-ass soldier, Rita Vrataski, in the tough-nut stakes. 

"That's the great thrill of acting," says Blunt. "It is about embracing the unknown and, when this role came along, it was so unexpected."

The actress is not known as an action star, "though I'd wanted to do action for a long time", she says.

"It was a genre I hadn't explored and I wanted to do it, but I didn't want to play the doe-eyed girlfriend role.

"I'd find that really boring and I've seen it a million times, so it was exciting to be the most courageous character in the film, for her to be so empowered and so brave. That was unusual."

Directed by Doug Liman (Swingers, 1996; The Bourne Identity, 2002; Mr & Mrs Smith, 2005), the film is based on a novel by Japanese author Hiroshi Sakurazaka called All You Need Is Kill. It plays like a blend of Groundhog Day (1993) and Starship Troopers (1997), with Cruise's character caught in a time loop in which he must relive a brutal day's combat with aliens day after day after day.

"The combat scenes were exciting, but working every day in that ExoSuit was painful, depending on how long you had to be in it," recalls Blunt. "They had to give us breaks because of the sheer weight of the suit.

"You would step into it on an A-frame while it was still hanging up and then unhook it, and there would be this god-awful moment when the sheer weight of it just fell on you and you knew you had an hour in it before you could get it off."

Between takes, rather than take the whole thing off, she asked the engineers to hang the suit back in the A-frame.

"And I'd hang there like a metal puppet, just to take the weight off my shoulders," she says.

To carry the ExoSuit, and to look like an alien-slaughtering war veteran, Blunt bulked up for the role. She looks toned and muscled on screen.

"I wanted to look lethal, intimidating, and so I worked really hard and I wanted to transform myself as much as possible," she says.

"I love that shape-shifting nature of the job and I wanted to embrace it and be as physical as possible and to have the performance level really high. But I think by the end of it, I realised I needed to get a few of my lady bits back. My mum said to me, 'I don't like it. You look like an aerobics teacher!'"

Blunt's mother, Joanna, is a teacher herself (though not an aerobics tutor) as well as a former actress, while her father is a Queen's Counsel.

Blunt is married to American actor John Krasinski, who is best known for playing Jim Halpert in the American version of The Office. The couple recently had their first child, Hazel, who is now four months old.

She describes Krasinski, 34, as a doting dad and "diaper king" and says the two of them cannot quite believe they have created something they love so much.

"I have realised that hours go by when I am just staring at the baby," she tells me. "I just stare at her all day and I realise I have done nothing but that all day. The days fly by. But I think that is a good thing."

Given how quickly children grow up, she is wise to enjoy these halcyon days. "John and I spend a lot of time looking at her and agreeing that she is just ever so cute."

Her relationship with her own parents is strong, she says, and they supported her wholeheartedly when she took her first tentative steps on the road to A-list stardom. She has since gone on to rack up outings in films as diverse as The Wolfman (2010), Gulliver's Travels (2010), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Salmon Fishing In The Yemen (2012) and Looper (2012).

"Parents whose children want to be actors, I am sure it fills them with dread because the chances of it not working out are so incredibly high," Blunt says. "It is the most oversaturated business, so my parents were happy that I wasn't ardently desperate for it."

Her move into acting came more by luck than judgment.

"They were happy I was just going to give it a go and my mum said to give it a time limit."

She elected to "give it a go" at the age of 17. "I did a play in the Edinburgh Theatre Festival, really because I just enjoyed doing plays. I was going to go to university; I didn't necessarily want to be an actress. But an agent came to see the play and he still is my British agent now. He told me he thought I was good. It was very unexpected so I thought I would just give it a bash."

She was considering a career involving her well-honed language skills.

"I really loved modern languages and wanted to be a translator or something like that," she says.

"I used to understand a lot of Spanish and used to be really good." She laughs. "But now I am really rubbish at it."

Blunt says her nonchalant approach to an acting career has been a blessing. "I do think this business can be so crushing and so disappointing for so many people, and it definitely helped me that I entered it with a shoulder-shrugging attitude.

"Now, I am so immensely grateful that the agent found me,"she adds. "I love this job so much and it's brought me such a lot in life, a lot of happiness."

stlife@sph.com.sg

Edge Of Tomorrow opens in cinemas tomorrow.