TORONTO — Meet Emily Blunt, American badass.
That’s probably not where most moviegoers thought this actress was headed a decade ago, when she turned heads as the prickly assistant to Meryl Streep’s fashion mag editor in “The Devil Wears Prada.” She’s since played a queen (“The Young Victoria”), a cartoon gnome (“Gnomeo & Juliet”), a can-do business consultant (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”), and Matt Damon’s futuristic crush (“The Adjustment Bureau”), among other things. She earned additional sci-fi fan points in “Looper,” but it wasn’t until last year’s “Edge of Tomorrow” that “action hero” started looking like a legitimate entry on her resume.
With “Sicario,” opening here on Friday, Blunt takes another blockbuster dramatic leap that’s earning her critical praise, going deeper than most cardboard action-hero roles ever ask, especially of women. She stars as a sturdy FBI agent enlisted by a covert government task force to help bring down kingpins of the ever-escalating drug war in Mexico. As directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”), the movie is a gritty slow burn (shot by acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins) that aims to be exceedingly grim, and Blunt’s character is given few words to convey her mounting horror.
As for the “American” portion of her badass title, the London-born actress is a newly minted citizen, which she recently talked about on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” She expanded on that, and life with husband John Krasinski and daughter Hazel (who will be 2 in February), in an interview during the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month.
Q. Do you mind if I record this?
A. No problem. I’m also recording myself. I’ve just become one of you, the Many Recording Devices Country.
Q. Do you feel any different since taking on dual citizenship?
A. Do I feel half British? It’s complicated. I felt quite conflicted about the whole thing. It’s better for tax. It’s cheaper being an American.
Q. What appealed to you about “Sicario”?
A. I found the script shockingly spare and uncompromising, which I really responded to because I read a lot of scripts which are so derivative of others — you feel like you’re getting spoonfed every step of the way. So I enjoyed that this film was 10 steps ahead of me.
Q. It’s extraordinarily well shot.
A. It’s Roger Deakins, who every actor wants to work with. He makes everything look beautiful and he shoots very emotionally — he’s not afraid of things being revealed to the audience slowly.
Q. With Donald Trump beating the drum about Mexico and border security, have you been getting a lot of politically oriented questions on this press tour?
A. Some. The immigration issue and the war on drugs are two separate issues. We don’t deal with immigration in this film; we deal with the war on drugs. More people have died from the war on drugs than from ISIS. It’s right at the borders and yet we’re all sort of hush-hush about it. That’s what the film explores: the blurred line between right and wrong.
Q. You’ve played badasses before, many of them everyday women. Does it bother you when people don’t recognize that?
A. When I’ve spoken to journalists, the women are the ones who see the distinction between the badasses. It’s usually the male journalists for whom the definition of strength and toughness is me wielding a gun. But this character is very different from the action heroine that I was in “Edge of Tomorrow,” where she always knows the right thing to say and can kick anyone’s ass, including Tom Cruise’s. The reality of the situation [in “Sicario”] is that she is a female cop who’s not trying to act like the guys, but she’s in a masculine world and she’s in way over her head.
Q. What is it like to be handed a script with pages and pages of you saying nothing?
A. I love it! There’s too much dialogue in movies. The most cinematic thing is to offer people the power of suggestion.
Q. But is it scary for an actor? Or is it thrilling?
A. It’s so freeing because very often you’re saddled with a lot of expositional dialogue that is simply to explain to the audience what’s going on. It’s not the reality of what a character would say. The less dialogue the better.
Q. Tell me about the action in this movie compared with “Edge of Tomorrow.”
A. “Edge of Tomorrow” was like the deep end of action. So this was like a paddling pool, by comparison. Other than the SWAT team assault at the beginning of the film, and then the fight scene with Jon Bernthal, it wasn’t that action-y, if that’s a word.
Q. It is now.
A. I’m an American! I can make up words now! In a chest-beating way, right? [Laughs.]
Q. Do you intentionally switch-up the types of films you’re in?
A. I make choices based on what is dramatically different from what I’ve just done. I don’t want to necessarily be anointed Action Girl because I’ve been in two films where I have a gun. [I also want to] avoid having to be in the gym for all of my roles.
Q. A question that men don’t get asked much: How do you balance parenthood and all of this?
A. It is a juggle. It gets harder the older they get. And I’m sure it will be even harder when I hear the words “Mummy, don’t go.” So I think for me now it’s one movie a year, maybe, and it has to be really worth it for me to want to do it. I have to love it.
Q. Will you let Hazel watch your films?
A. Maybe not this one. [Laughs.] But “Into the Woods” I think she’d dig. And the animated films I’ve done. Certainly not films where mum is either getting it on with another man who isn’t dad, or spraying bullets everywhere, or getting almost killed.
Listen to Emily Blunt talk about husband John Krasinski and the Boston accent while at the Toronto International Film Festival in September:
Interview was edited and condensed. Janice Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.