“I remember we went to see ‘The Nutcracker,’ ’’ Emily Blunt begins. “It was that year where you guys had tons of snow and it came down like crazy and we were driving very slowly into town so that we didn’t have a crash. After the show, we went to 75 Chestnut, which is my favorite restaurant here, and it was like something out of a Dickens book. I mean it was just blanketed in snow with these old streetlamps glowing and we were sitting in this tavern-type restaurant. I had to get a piggyback from my husband to get back to the car, because I was wearing heels.’’
As she speaks, you picture a scene not out of a Dickens book, but out of a big-screen romantic comedy - perhaps a remake of “Barefoot in the Park,’’ relocated to Boston. That’s partly because Blunt’s husband is the puppy-faced actor and Newton native John Krasinski, but it’s also because Blunt is a romantic comedy waiting to happen. She’s adorable without being conventionally pretty, and there’s an unforced quirkiness that invites you to expect the unexpected. She seems sharp and soft and capable and nutty all at the same time. And all of that is on display in her latest rom-com, opening here on Friday, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.’’
Adapted by “Slumdog Millionaire’’ screenwriter Simon Beaufoy from Paul Torday’s best-selling novel, “Salmon Fishing’’ has been labeled a crowd-pleaser since it pleased crowds at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. The film is directed by Lasse Hallstrom (“Chocolat’’) and costars Ewan McGregor. Blunt plays a consultant to a wealthy sheik who wants to introduce salmon fishing to his Yemeni countrymen, regardless of merit or cost. McGregor is the uptight British fisheries expert who bristles at the very idea. Spiritual metaphors abound, as do snappy dialogue and meet-cute romance, complicated by the fact that each of the characters already has a significant other.
Blunt, 29, who hails from South West London and was theatrically trained at a British boarding school, went on to star in films as varied as “The Young Victoria’’ (2009), “The Wolfman’’ (2010), and “The Adjustment Bureau’’ (2011). But she remains best known for holding her own in the company of Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada’’ (2006). As the prickly, neurotic, high-fashion magazine assistant, Blunt turned a number of important heads (Entertainment Weekly awarded her “best female scene-stealer’’) and remapped a career that at the time seemed destined to remain BBC-centric.
Blunt was in Boston recently to promote “Salmon Fishing’’ and to visit with the in-laws. There was no snow this time, and Krasinski was back in Los Angeles, taping “The Office.’’ So much for romance.
Q. Since the Academy Awards were just last Sunday, I have to ask . . . Does winning an Oscar still have relevance and heft?
A. I think it does. I think there’s a sort of reverence around people who can win an Oscar. And I think it’s actually really hard to get nominated now, because it’s hard to be in a movie that not only does well but that people really like you in. . . . [But] I also think it’s a business that seems to constantly have to congratulate itself. I don’t quite know why. My favorite show to watch every year is that “CNN Heroes’’ show, where you really see people who are making a difference.
Q. What do you consider when you choose which parts to take on?
A. I’m someone who prefers to exist moment to moment. I have a very visceral reaction to a script. And nowadays I will choose a script based on director and based on if I’m challenged or scared by the role. I don’t want to settle for one genre or one type of person to play. I’ve tried really hard to pick character parts, and that usually means I’ll end up in a lot of small films but I think they’re sometimes the best stories.
Q. Romantic comedy gets a pretty bad rap right now. What’s the secret to doing it right?
A. Chemistry. I think that’s the secret, because I think we’ve all seen the story lines and the outcomes, we’ve seen them done to death. What people love seeing is two people genuinely adoring being in each other’s company.
Q. Is it more of a challenge when you have a story with an arguably absurd premise, such as this one?
A. It’s actually smart to have a more ludicrous backdrop. Because I think everyone has seen the generic story line for a romantic comedy. The filmmakers need to find something fresh, and the actors need to make it personal.
Q. How important is the director in this equation?
A. He’s really important, because you have to allow those two actors to find their feet with each other. Lasse Hallstrom created this very atmospheric and freewheeling environment so that everything had a more unique energy. I don’t think you can be too rigid with a romantic comedy. You’ve got to allow play. We stretched the scenes around in many different ways.
Q. Do you prefer comedy to doing drama?
A. I do really enjoy comedy, but I try, as much as I can, to mix it up. I do think it’s nice, with a bigger movie like “The Adjustment Bureau,’’ if you can find some humor in it. In the scenes with Matt [Damon] and I, we try not to make them too earnest, because with that kind of high-end backdrop you’ve got to sort of counterbalance it by making the character more interesting. Films that are too earnest can sometimes really get on my nerves.
Q. You have a kind of quirkiness, an offbeat quality that reminds me of Joan Cusack.
A. Oh, that’s very high praise! I appreciate that. I love her.
Q. I like that I don’t always know, when you enter a scene, what you might do.
A. [Big laugh] I don’t think I do either! But I don’t necessarily try for it. I mean, I think that life is ambiguous and surprising. So, as much as you can try and enter a scene not quite knowing how it’s going to go and how you’re going to play it and how it’s going to be perceived, I think that’s a good thing.
Q. And if you can steal a few scenes from Meryl Streep along the way, that’s a very good thing, right?
A. Oh please. I just don’t know where that even came from. You can’t steal scenes from Meryl. It doesn’t even happen. That’s nuts.
Q. Does it annoy you that “The Devil Wears Prada’’ will probably always be a talking point?
A. I feel bad for people who get recognized for a film that was a bit mainstream and stupid. I think that must get annoying. But [‘Devil Wears Prada’] is a really great movie, and it changed my life. Before that film I don’t know if I would have been regarded as able to do comedy or character parts. As soon as it came out, that’s when I was offered that quirky part in “Sunshine Cleaning’’; that’s when I was offered “The Young Victoria.’’ If you’re in a movie that makes money, then you’re given the chance to play the bigger parts.
Q. Who’s on your wish list of people to work with?
A. I would like to work with [Steven] Soderbergh; I hear that’s really fun. And I love David Fincher’s movies - but that’s a stretch, because everyone wants to work with him. And actor-wise, I would really love to work with Gary Oldman, Cate Blanchett, Johnny Depp.
Q. You had a stammer as a child?
A. It’s a genetic thing that runs in my family. It started when I was about 7, got really bad when I was about 12, and then it started to slowly dwindle. I had a great teacher at school who said, “Would you like to be in the class play?’’ I think having someone have that confidence in me was quite emboldening. And you learn tricks for how to mask it. But I still have it sometimes.
Q. Have you mastered the Boston accent and sense of humor?
A. I’m not great at the accent. John’s really good at it. There’s a lot that’s shared between Bostonians and Brits in terms of humor. I feel like the whole way of approaching life and emotions is very similar, just as repressed. Don’t tahk aboutcha feelins, aboutcha muthah, aboutcha fathah. . .