Rian Johnson's Looper
makes an appearance at Fantastic Fest today prior to its US theatrical release. ScreenAnarchy had the opportunity to sit down with leading lady Emily Blunt in Toronto, as part of a roundtable interview following the film's world premiere, to talk about Johnson, the film, the strain of being mother to a fictional child and her apparent love of firearms.Q: You've had a career that is very hard to define
: I think I've been drawn to roles, have enjoyed playing within a role, lots of different things. No one's just one thing. No one's just drama or just ditzy. People are many things. I really enjoy coming across characters that when I read them I go, "Oof, how am I going to do this?" because you can't just box them in. I'm curious about your reaction to when this particular script came to you, because Rian has structured the script fairly differently from most. You're up front on the marquee but - without giving too much away - was there a point in reading it when you start wondering, "Where the hell am I?
You know, what's funny is that my agent had warned me that I was coming in in the latter half. So I was prepared for the lack of lines [laughs]. But I remember after the first twenty pages calling my agent saying, "I don't know what's happening to me reading this script, but I need to get in a room with this director." Hadn't even gotten to my part. He said, "What page are you on?" "Twenty." He said, "Are you in New York?" I said, "Yes." "Well, Rian Johnson's in New York." And I said "Get me in a room with him. Today."
I was stunned by it, really. It was such a singular voice. You never read scripts like this, they're all derivative of each other in some way. And it was just the most complex voice. I couldn't box it in. I couldn't categorize it. And the characters were so rich against the sci-fi background. Normally it's just one or the other, you never find the combination of the aesthetic and the rather intense emotionality that this has. He gives you a lot to do and not a lot of time. I think, until the end of the film, that you're emotionally the only adult in the film
When Rian and I met he said that. He said, "She's the heart of the film." The storyline of her and her child is the heart and what grounds the film. So I was like, "Mmm, that's a bit of pressure." But he's right. And in a funny way even though a lot of people will say that Looper
is along the lines of Blade Runner
, Rian and I talked about the movie Witness
, actually, for my section of the film. It's one of my favorite movies. I love that movie. That isolation and tension and someone coming into your world, rocking it and upsetting it, the starkness of it. That was the movie I drew from, more than anything else.It seems - unlike something like Blade Runner which implies a sort of predestination, that humanity is essentially doomed - that Looper is saying here's this chance. That love is the redeeming quality.
Well, I absolutely agree that love or nurture is the redeeming feature in all of us, for humanity to progress and prosper and learn from our mistakes. That's definitely something Rian and I talked about. But I think the movie is about second chances as well, I think all of us have looked back on our lives and wondered why we did something, or if maybe we hadn't done them, then things would be different. It's about embracing those mistakes as well. It's about a lot of things.I like that your character has taken on what is traditionally in film a male role. She runs the farm, she takes up arms, she defends the homestead. I found that really exciting.
Well, I did, too, because so often I read scripts where the character is just based on gender instead of an actual personality or character and you're having to conform to a gender, which I find really frustrating. I always say to writers, "Write me as a guy, just write me as you would a guy and I'll do the rest." I loved that about Rian, that he never thinks like that. He just wrote the most fantastic character for any girl to play and I loved that this character had this sort of fierce protectiveness and strength and also this past that she was so regretful of and so loathing. The ambiguity of this girl was so exciting, the unpeeling as you go through. And then you finally, in that monologue in the bedroom, find out why she's so regretful and guilt-ridden. I thought it was so beautiful when I read it. I loved it.Did you have much time with the young actor who played your son?
I spent LOTS of time with Pierce. It was the greatest moment when we discovered him, I can't explain what happened in that room. We read with a few boys they'd narrowed down this massive search to. He walks in, he was the youngest, he was five. This little thing suddenly took on this rather spooky intensity for the part. And what differentiated Pierce from the other boys is he really understood that he was playing a character. He's a proper actor.
And then what happened is when he got cast, I spent as much time with him as possible. We'd go on little day trips together, we'd have lunch together every day, we'd play games between takes. I was with him more than anyone else on this film because I just wanted him to feel comfortable with me and to physically feel it was okay to sit on my knee and put his arms around me and not feel awkward. That was really important for us, to have a bond.When the film is over how do you break up with a little boy?
It was ... I can't even talk about it, to be honest. It was one of the most devastating days. He was beside himself. It was awful. Awful. I really worried about him afterwards because I think it must just be so hard for kids. I mean, we
get so caught up in these things and it's so hard for us
to leave a movie, but for him ... he just didn't know what was happening and why he wasn't going to see these people again. It was so awful. He was so sad. It makes me cry just thinking about it. It was awful. Really hard. But we've stayed in touch. He sends me funny little emails and notes and presents, and I send him presents.Has he been able to see the film?
I think they're going to show him his part. It's too violent. I think they'll just cut together a sort of version for him to see. Bless him. Five years old.What does it say if a five-year-old can walk on set and take on the professional aspects of acting? What does it say about the craft?
Well, I will say that the person responsible for that is partly Rian but mostly his mother. He had the most incredible mother who prepared him for it in a way that ... she wasn't one of those stage mothers. She was really cool. She would explain scenes to him and why he felt the way he did. Rian never gave him a note where he said, "Pierce, you have to be sad here," or, "You have to be angry here." He would explain why Pierce would be this angry or this upset. And I think that was the difference. He really felt prepared, he wasn't just a kid making faces.Do you think people are born actors?
I do. I think you either can do it or you can't. I think you can really see it in its purest form in kids. There are kids who can do it and there are kids who can't. I think actors, when they're adults, can hide behind other things ... technique or The Process
, but you can either just do it or you can't.I've heard English actors in general have real disdain for The Process or The Method, that it's really just about hitting your mark and saying your lines.
I think so. I think all of the work behind it is not something to justify why you do things. It's really funny, I saw this really amazing episode of Inside The Actor's Studio, with Mike Nichols - who I've worked with and has been a really good friend to me - and you know how they let the students ask a question at the end? One of the students goes, "What do you look for in an actor?" And he went, "Hmm ..." And this whole audience of students leans forward like, "What's the secret?!?" And Mike Nichols went, "I'm going to be honest with you guys. I think it's great that you're doing this training and good for you if that's what you think you need. But on the day that I tell you that your father is dead on the floor I want to see that your father is dead on the floor. I don't care how you do it. I don't care how you get there. But that's what I want to see." And the entire audience goes, "Aaaaaaugh! There's no answer!"
It's purely based on instinct, this job. You've got to be really open and really loose and really interested in life. I think those are the best actors I have ever met, the ones who are so interested in you and you and you and they're soaking you up like a sponge. Because that's what it is. You've got to portray real moments and life is surprising. I don't know if you can fall back on technique in those moments. Are there things that you want to do that you haven't had a chance to yet?
I don't know, really. I don't know. Because I never really make any plans about what I want to do next. It just happens. I'll read something and go, "Well, this is it." I'll know immediately. It's black and white for me, I can say yes or no within twenty pages. But maybe a western.Would you be the girl in the frilly dress or ...
Oh, no. I'll never be the girl in a bonnet tied to the tree. There will be guns. Lots of guns. An obnoxious number of guns.