To act is to live truthfully, and in order to live the fullest truth, you often have to do something ugly. Life is not always beautiful after all.
This is one of my biggest struggles as an actress. I want to be seen as someone who is beautiful. To be honest, I’d like to be a Disney Princess; graceful and elegant. Someone like Cinderella, who’s hair still falls in exactly the right way, even when she’s covered in dirt from the fireplace.
However, some of the most compelling scenes I’ve been drawn to as an actress are ones of extreme ugliness. Characters that are incredibly difficult to watch and would be even more difficult to play.
In the previous editions of Ugly Actor’s, we’ve explored several of my favourite ugly actors. With the new release of Mary Poppins Returns, I want to hone in on one great “ugly actor”: Emily Blunt.
Let me be blunt
Emily Blunt is an incredible actress. From her performances in films like The Devil Wears Prada, to Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, to last years A Quiet Place there’s no doubt she’s got a long career in front of her.
Each time she graces our screens, her characters come to life through Blunt’s strong choices and willingness to be ugly.
One of my favourite examples of this is the Baker’s Wife, from Into the Woods.
She’s a simple woman, who always wants more. For the first half of the film, it’s the desire for a child of her own and her willingness to go to any length in order to see this happen. For the last half it’s her desire for a better life. When she happens across the Prince, she enters into a tryst with him.
All in all, she does some incredibly ugly things to get what she wants. I mean she rips someone’s hair out for crying out loud.
Sometimes, we cheer her on. Other times we stay quiet, hoping she’ll make the right choice.
The scene below is a great example of this ugly acting in action.
In order for scenes like this to work, Blunt had to be willing to tell the ugly truth about this character.
It’s flattering to be admired by a prince, and there’s some obvious attraction there. At first, she struggles to make the right choice – to stay true to her Baker – but in the end, she allows herself to fall into the trap, and willinging goes with the Prince.
After the Prince leaves, her the struggle continues. Did she do something dishonorable? Or can she have a little more on the side?
In the end, I think she makes an incredible discovery, but that moment would have been lost if she hadn’t been willing to show the ugliness first.
This Generation’s Meryl Streep
In an interview with Today’s Kathy Lee and Hoda, Emily was described as this generation’s Meryl Streep. Hoda stated that when Emily becomes a character, you don’t see her anymore, but you see the character. She “morphs” into the role.
I have to agree. Which made watching her act with Meryl Streep in Mary Poppins Returns was a pure delight!
She’s played so many vastly different characters, and one I particularly enjoy is the off-beat character of Norah in Sunshine Cleaning.
Norah is a girl who’s still trying to find her place in the world. Struggling with the loss of her mother, she has no initiative to better her life. And is pulled into her sister’s new business of cleaning up crime scenes, which drags her into some really uncomfortable and ugly places. The ugliest attribute to this character is her constant whining and complaining.
She’s messy, but Blunt plays her with conviction.
A contrasting character to Norah is Rita from Edge of Tomorrow.
This is great “ugly acting” in action.
This is great “ugly acting” in action.
Rita is hard and jaded. In the span of twenty seconds she kills Cage (Tom Cruise’s character) five times and is constantly threatening to kill him again. Yes, it’s kinda funny to watch her “reset” their training, however what she’s actually doing to make that happen is quite ugly. She’s murdering a man.
On top of this, she’s pretty stubborn. Cage is constantly trying to save her, but she refuses to listen. This makes for some pretty ugly characteristics.
Even if the smudges of dirt seem to be perfectly placed on Blunt’s face, there are a lot of ugly qualities to this character. If they weren’t portrayed with strong conviction, they would have lost a lot of the conflict that moved the story along.
Emily Blunt is an ugly actress, because she’s willing to get dirty to show the truth of humanity.
I am excited to see where Blunt’s career takes her. She’s an incredible actress, who doesn’t shirk from the shame or ugliness of a character. She’s willing to show the truth, no matter the cost. I think this is why she’s seen as this generation’s Meryl Streep.
For more great ugly acting from Emily Blunt, be sure to check out The Devil Wears Prada – where her snobby character brings much needed conflict. The Adjustment Bureau – where she’s not afraid to literally get dirty and sweaty as she runs around with Matt Damon, and The Girl on the Train, where she plays Rachel, an alcoholic who’s lost her job and is struggling to get back her life back on track. She’s definitely an inspiration to actors everywhere.