Emily Blunt proud to be in a film with real, flawed women characters

Actress Emily Blunt stars as Rachel, an alcoholic divorcee investigating the disappearance of her ex-husband's nanny, in The Girl On The Train.
Actress Emily Blunt stars as Rachel, an alcoholic divorcee investigating the disappearance of her ex-husband's nanny, in The Girl On The Train.PHOTO: UIP

Actress Emily Blunt likes that The Girl On The Train breaks gender convention with unlikeable women characters

Actress Emily Blunt hopes her new film - a psychological thriller told from the perspective of three women - "puts to bed the idea that we should make films only for teenage boys".

Opening in Singapore tomorrow, the story casts the 33-year-old English performer as Rachel, an alcoholic divorcee investigating the disappearance of her ex-husband's nanny. Rachel suspects she may have had something to do with the woman vanishing, but cannot remember because she drank too much and blacked out.

Blunt spoke to The Straits Times and other press in New York about the film, which is already generating Oscar buzz - in part because of its similarities to the 2014 thriller Gone Girl, a critical and commercial hit also based on a best-selling book involving a missing woman and an unreliable narrator.

She notes how rare it is to find flawed female characters anchoring a major studio film, an imbalance she describes as "a bit of a double standard".

You see a lot of films with men doing unlikeable, flawed things and I think it's more of a rarity (to see unlikeable women).

ACTRESS EMILY BLUNT

"You see a lot of films with men doing unlikeable, flawed things and I think it's more of a rarity (to see unlikeable women). That's why I'm so proud to be in a film that sheds light on women scr**ing up every day and being human beings."

The women in question are Rachel, a raging alcoholic who will not leave her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) alone; Tom's smug new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson); and Anna's troubled nanny Megan (Haley Bennett).

Besides breaking gender conventions, the movie disrupts narrative ones, toying with both the characters' and viewers' sense of what is real and what is not.

Blunt says: "I had to play somebody who couldn't remember what she'd done, had a skewed reality of what had gone on and no accountability for what she did.

"And I love that idea of what we see and what we don't and the line between that becoming blurry and easy to manipulate."

The movie is based on last year's international bestseller of the same name by Paula Hawkins, who was hailed for examining the dark side of married life and domesticity as well as how some people are exploited by their partners.

"There's a reason why people love the book - it doesn't shy away from the underbelly of domestic life, it doesn't shy away from the brutality," says Blunt.

"And I believe that the reason this book is a huge success is because people could see aspects of themselves in these women.

"These women are being taken advantage of in the beginning. I think that is quite common in domestic life - you hear about that. I hear about that from my friends and I've had moments when I experienced that myself," says the actress, who dated singer Michael Buble before marrying John Krasinski, the actor from the American version of The Office (2005-2013).

The gloomy narrative does have its uplifting moments, though.

"Ultimately, I feel that these women - who are sort of pitted against one another and made to feel incomplete by the situation they're in - do unite."

And the actress is heartened by what she says is a growing number of complex roles being written for women these days.

Blunt may have benefited from some of these herself, emerging as a bit of a dark horse in the dramaticactress stakes after a string of wellreviewed performances in recent years.

After early turns in comedies such as The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and The Five-Year Engagement (2012), she snagged heftier dramatic roles in movies such as last year's Oscar-nominated crime thriller Sicario and the thoughtprovoking science-fiction adventure Edge Of Tomorrow (2014).

But she believes there is a long way to go before women enjoy the same opportunities as men on both sides of the camera.

"I don't know if we've had a tsunami-like change, more like a gentle, baby wave. But I think this is a topic that has entered the Hollywood vernacular and I hope it sticks around because I think women are proving time and time again that they make money and that's really a lot of what Hollywood's geared towards.

"It's sort of like art versus commerce now and there's a bit of a stand-off between the two. But I hope this film puts to bed the idea that we should make films only for teenage boys."

It is not enough to just talk about the problem, however. Blunt says the industry needs more female film-makers such as Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary, 2002), who penned the screenplay for this film, which was directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, 2011).

"We've got to keep supporting great roles for women and female screenwriters are inevitably going to be more sensitive to writing interesting parts for women.

"So we need to create better programmes for women wanting to go into the film industry, to support the female sensibility and perspective."

Blunt says this is the most emotionally taxing role she has played. Making things doubly difficult was the fact that she was pregnant with her second child, three-month-old Violet, during filming.

The actress - whose first daughter, Hazel, is two - managed to get through it by taking a lot of breaks, which also gave her a much-needed respite from the character.

"The first trimester of pregnancy is riddled with nausea and fatigue, so these were the only things I sometimes struggled with.

"I don't tend to torture myself with a part that I'm playing and I would've found it fairly impossible to live with myself if I was in Rachel's headspace all the time.

"So I just had to keep finding ways to detach and shut off and I became the queen of power naps. They were like, 'Emily, you've got 10 minutes', and I was like, 'I'm going to my trailer!'" And then she pretends to pass out and snore. "For seven minutes. I loved it".

But being pregnant meant she could not unwind with a drink at the end of the day, which would have come in handy after some of the more emotional scenes, she says with a smile.

"Yeah, I would've really loved a glass of wine after work with this role."

•The Girl On The Train opens in Singapore tomorrow. See review.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2016, with the headline 'More flawed female roles, please'. Print Edition | Subscribe