Aaron Hicklin – The Guardian
Now postponed because of coronavirus, A Quiet Place 2 explores a world untethered by fear. Its star discusses parenthood, in film and real life, and her terror of doing SNL
Emily Blunt: ‘It’s about how far you’d go to protect your children. It turns out, you’d go a really long way.’ Photograph: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
Emily Blunt and her husband, John Krasinski, devised a rigorous self-care regime when the pair were making A Quiet Place, 2017’s harrowing self-isolation horror hit. “I always say that Macallan 12 sponsored A Quiet Place,” says Blunt. “John and I would just go home and drink a lot of whisky every night. And that sort of continued on A Quiet Place 2.”
You, too, might need a tumbler of scotch while watching the film. Blunt describes it as a “runaway train that grips you by the neck”, which is half-right. It also takes that neck and lays it on the tracks before running over it repeatedly. “I realised what an investment people had in this family from the first film,” says Blunt. “Everyone asked: ‘What happens next?’”
Now the answer is on the way. As if the audience had gone out for a two-year loo break, the new movie picks up at the very moment the first one ended — with Blunt’s wounded matriarch, Evelyn Abbott, and her three surviving children in the basement of their farm after fending off an alien attack. Try to imagine giving birth in such a nightmare landscape and you have the plot of A Quiet Place. Take the newborn out into the world, to face fresh dangers, and you have A Quiet Place Part 2.
“At its core, it’s about motherhood, it’s about parenthood, it’s about how far you’d go to protect your children,” Blunt says. “It turns out you’d go a really long way.”
Scotch is not being served in the New York hotel suite where we meet. Instead, there’s abstemious pots of earl grey and three sorry biscuits. Blunt contemplates a trio of jugs with a mix of curiosity and suspicion. “So many different milks here,” she says. “I think that’s the one I want. This is real milk, not fake,” she says approvingly, offering it over. “The idea of oat milk probably makes you feel a bit sick.”
Blunt has a ready – and pleasing – facility to make you feel noticed. It’s easy to see why she was such tip-top casting for Mary Poppins, though her daughters, Hazel, five, and Violet, three, prefer the 1964 original. “They’ve seen mine once and that seemed to be enough for them,” says Blunt. “Whereas Julie Andrews has been watched on a loop.” Her acting self confuses them, she says. Her first priority coming back from work is to remove her makeup so they recognise her.
Mary Poppins and A Quiet Place were released in 2018. In the former, she glides down into a picturesque London on the end of a parrot-handled brolly. In the latter, she gives birth alone, bloodied and terrorised, in a hell-blasted landscape. Both are about the promise parents make to their children to keep them safe; but in A Quiet Place, and its sequel, we see what happens when that promise can’t be kept.
“If the first movie is about parenthood, I think that the second one is very much about that idea of a fractured sense of community,” says Blunt. “It’s really diving into human beings and how they’re affected by a crisis, and who’s resilient enough to withstand this kind of thing and still extend your hand to your neighbour.”
It may be unintentionally ironic, but at the time of writing, A Quiet Place 2’s release has been postponed as the coronavirus crisis takes hold. Covid-19 aside, the sense of a world in freefall was always “very intentional”, says Blunt. Krasinski, who wrote and directed the film as well as starring in it, “just felt this untethered feeling in the world, in which community and the idea of community is under threat, led by our fears, by our fears of people who are different from us, by our own need for survival”.
The outsider this time round is one of the Abbotts’ neighbours, played by Cillian Murphy – himself a veteran at navigating post-apocalyptic landscapes. Murphy’s breakout, zombies-on-acid horror 28 Days Later hit cinemas in November 2002, just as Sars was exploding in southern China. In the early moments of A Quiet Place 2, we catch glimpses of news reports of mass casualties in Shanghai, a jarring reminder that today’s headlines often play like a movie despite real-world tragedy. “Everyone is walking around with a low level of anxiety about the state of the world, how we’re abusing it, and about the capacity of the people in charge,” Murphy tells me over the phone. “That’s why these films tap into people’s psyches and get under their skin.”
Being a couple on screen has inevitably raised the profile of Blunt and Krasinski’s real marriage, but Blunt seems unwilling to play the celeb-couple game. When Graham Norton asked her in 2018 if she and Krasinski had a portmanteau like Brangelina or Bennifer, Blunt shot back: “Krunt.” She is not on social media, has no plans to be and ferociously guards the separation between her public and private lives. She and Krasinski named their first daughter Hazel after the Nick Drake song Hazy Jane, she says, but asked if she can recall the first time they listened to it, she replies – with a compensating smile – “I do and I’m not going to share it.” Living in Brooklyn helps. “No one bothers us, we walk around, we don’t have a car, it’s very manageable,” she says. “I don’t know many other neighbourhoods where we would find it as easy.”
Hazy Jane off the table, Blunt does tell the story of introducing Krasinski to her parents over Sunday roast at their house. “My father likes to present the beef sort of barely cooked,” Blunt says, and then lowers her voice a few octaves to imitate her father requesting his steak be served “bleu”, his doner kebab rare. Anyway, Krasinski, true to his Boston upbringing, made not a murmur of protest. “It is my lasting memory of how John coped with that situation, as someone who prefers things a bit more medium.”
Raised in Roehampton, London – not a million miles from the Reigate constituency of her uncle, the Tory MP Crispin Blunt – Blunt was privately educated and doesn’t mind saying her parents are properly posh. She studied recordings of Princess Margaret to nail Poppins’ clipped vowels; possibly a chat with her mother might have sufficed. The second of four children, Blunt says she was “the naughty one who wanted to go clubbing on holiday”. This was permitted only if her older sister, Felicity, went along too – which essentially kiboshed the plan. “She’d bring a suitcase of 10 books and read them all over two weeks,” Blunt recalls. Now a literary agent, Felicity keeps her sister’s bedside table stacked: Things in Jars by Jess Kidd is currently on top; below is Max Porter’s Lanny. “God, but it’s so good. Reading it was a visceral experience.”
As a child, Blunt aspired to be a translator, but fell into acting as a handy way to manage a stutter. A student production in Edinburgh sealed the deal; next thing she knew she was starring alongside Judi Dench on stage. She arrived on screen in My Summer of Love, Pawel Pawlikowski’s gorgeous coming-of-age tale. In the 16 years since, Blunt has made 32 movies; not many shy of Kate Winslet, the actor whose career – and no-nonsense charm – Blunt’s most seems to resemble.
“I’ve been lucky because the films that I built my whole career on, those $25m- to $35m-budget films like Sicario and The Devil Wears Prada, aren’t really being made any more,” she says. “It’s a shame because those films were really clever and beautifully crafted, and people ended up actually seeing them.” Her career has been marked by a succession of stretching new roles. “She doesn’t phone anything in,” says Tate Taylor, who directed her in The Girl on a Train. “You just lean into her when she’s on screen, and you have to possess that.”
Recently, Blunt wrote to Pawlikowski to thank him for “giving me instinctive tools. Working with him was so freewheeling and terrifying, because there was no script and it was improvised, so it’s a weird feeling of jumping off a cliff every day. All you had was instinct.” Blunt does a good impression of Pawlikowski scoffing at “Hollywood bullshit”, but the director’s scepticism found its mark. Working with him, she says, has “always encouraged me to stretch a scene around and to question it, and make sure you find the most interesting way in”.
Next, Blunt starts work on her first TV project proper: The English, a BBC western by Hugo Blick, the man behind The Honourable Woman. She won’t give details, save that she signed on immediately. “I literally called my husband and said: ‘I just read one page of a script and I’m doing it.’”
Actually, she has done some TV before: bit parts in Foyle’s War and Poirot and, four years ago, a turn on Saturday Night Live. “I’ve never been more scared in my life,” she shudders. “I get anxiety just thinking about it. The whole week was such a whirlwind because Violet was nine weeks old so I just wasn’t sleeping.”
There’s a reason there’s a vomit bucket just offstage, she says. “I mean, I didn’t puke in it, but it’s there. It was just this completely alternate reality. This amazing woman who has looked after the talent going in there to host it for years just wrestled me around the sets and stripped my clothes off. I mean tearing the clothes off me. I remember her standing by that door and they’re like: ‘Live from New York!’ and she’s rubbing my back very firmly and I’m moving with it, and she goes: ‘You’re OK, you’re all right, you’re OK, breathe, you’re OK, OK, you’re up.’ Honestly, it’s like a nightmare. The thought of it now, it makes me sweat.”
And a Quiet Place 3 just got its plot.
A Quiet Place 2 will be released later this year