There's an unwritten rule that all beautiful actresses must claim to have been total geeks in high school, whether or not they genuinely were, but Emily Blunt makes a far more convincing case than most. While growing up in a posh suburb of London, Blunt developed a stutter so debilitating that she could barely hold a conversation, let alone elbow her way into the limelight. "I was a smart kid, and I had a lot to say, but I just couldn't say it," she says during an interview at the Soho Hotel in London. "It would just haunt me. I never thought I'd be able to sit and talk to someone like I'm talking to you right now."
Then a teacher suggested acting lessons, and by age 18, Blunt was starring opposite Judi Dench in Peter Hall's London production of The Royal Family. (When she pretended to be someone else, Blunt says, "something lifted in me.") Today, at 24, she's one of those poised, silver-tongued Englishwomen who seems at ease in almost any situation, whether it's playing the catty assistant of Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada or lobbying for a chance to star as the young Queen Victoria in a new film produced by Martin Scorsese. With four movies due for release between now and the holidays, Blunt is at a juncture where she could easily transform herself into an Us Weekly mainstayshe's even got a celebrity boyfriend, retro-style crooner Michael Bubléthough lately she's been lying low in Bublé's native Vancouver.
Blunt credits most of her current career opportunities to her breakout role in The Devil Wears Prada, which she calls "the most important thing that has happened to me." During the shoot she often worried that she was hamming it up too much, though her doubts were somewhat soothed when she received multiple award nominations, including a Golden Globe and a BAFTA. ("Maybe it works, overacting," she jokes. "Maybe I'll do it for the rest of my career.") In fact, Blunt's take on the character was probably more nuanced than the script's. "I decided that it would be better to play her as desperate and vulnerable, rather than bitchy," she says. "She just defines herself by this association with her boss, and that's so sad."
In the new romantic comedy The Jane Austen Book Club, out in September, Blunt once again engages in some dignified scene stealing. Based on Karen Joy Fowler's novel, the movie is about a group who meet to discuss Austen's novels and begin seeing their own messy relationships reflected in the books. Blunt plays an awkward, uptight French teacher with a doomed crush on a hot acting student (Kevin Zegers). "She can appear imperious and snobby, but she's socially hopeless, and I liked that contradictionthat was me growing up," Blunt says.
The film's director, Robin Swicord, says Blunt's ease in drawing upon her wounded former self is a key to her appeal. "On the surface you see this beautiful and commanding woman with perfect posture," Swicord says. "You can cast that, or you can look underneath and cast the person that's in there, which is what I was going for." After Jane Austen, Blunt will share the screen with a trio of heavyweight American actors: Tom Hanks (the two have a raunchy scene in Charlie Wilson's War, directed by Mike Nichols), John Malkovich (Blunt plays his beleaguered publicist in The Great Buck Howard) and Alan Arkin (she's his daughter in the dark comedy Sunshine Cleaning).