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Emily Blunt's quirky appeal

”The Young Victoria” actress talks about what it takes to make it in Hollywood

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Emily Blunt snirts when she laughs really hard. It’s not an accidental, oh-I’m-so-sorry guffaw, but a full-force, no-apologies kind of noise. It conveys who Blunt is in an instant: quirky, approachable, authentic. This is a woman who had no problem walking into the offices of Oscar-winning producer Graham King and demanding to star in his next movie, The Young Victoria, a love story about the early years of England’s Queen Victoria. ”Emily is determined,” says King, whose credits include The Departed. ”She sat down at the conference table and said, ‘I’m not leaving here till I get this role. How do I get this role?”’

That drive is very much on display in the 26-year-old’s work, particularly her breakout role as Meryl Streep’s cutthroat assistant in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination. (She won a Globe that same year for the BBC telefilm Gideon’s Daughter.) Now she’s generating Oscar buzz for her first starring role, in The Young Victoria, which opens in limited release Dec. 18. ”I really understood what she was about, and I loved her forthrightness and rebellion,” says Blunt of the 19th-century monarch. ”I literally felt bereft when that shoot was over.”

When Blunt was growing up in her native London, though, a performing career seemed unlikely — as a girl, she had a serious stutter. ”I spent a lot of my childhood just listening in,” she says. But a persistent teacher suggested that she try performing in a school play with an accent. ”I did what I thought was a northern English accent, and it was liberating,” she recalls. ”I wouldn’t say I ceased to stutter, but it unlocked something.” Since then, she has altered her voice with every character she plays. ”I usually try and change the way I speak in some way. Whether it’s the accent, the tone, or the quality.” Her Victoria is posher, clipped, and younger, while she describes her American accent in last spring’s indie Sunshine Cleaning as ”gravelly and awkward.”

Blunt has clearly found her voice in Hollywood. She landed her career-boosting Prada role over higher-profile actresses after just a casual meeting with Fox executives in early 2005. ”It was one of those classic cases where the one who was right for the role got the role,” says Fox 2000 executive VP of production Carla Hacken. ”We never even offered it to a name person.” The film’s success paved the way for a steady stream of small, memorable turns in movies like Dan in Real Life and Charlie Wilson’s War. ”Once you’re in a comedy and people liked seeing you in that,” she says, ”there’s much more range for you to choose from.” And like many actors, she still gravitates to supporting roles. ”It’s not like I necessarily aspire from this moment on to play leading parts,” she says. ”The character parts are usually more interesting.”

Regardless of the size of her roles, Blunt has certainly been busy. She plays a damsel in distress in February’s The Wolfman opposite Benicio Del Toro, and a dim-witted princess in next December’s Gulliver’s Travels with Jack Black. After she finishes shooting her current project, The Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon, the actress hopes to take a break. ”I’m gonna eat as much as I want and get off this diet,” laughs Blunt as she discusses the crazy cleanse she’s on while playing Bureau‘s ”badass” professional dancer. She will also be planning a wedding with her fiancé, The Office‘s John Krasinski. Though it’s easy to catch her gazing down at her stunning diamond ring, the actress is reluctant to give many details about their relationship, other than to say she won’t be taking any wedding tips from Jim and Pam. ”That would be a bit worrying if there was no divide between The Office and us,” she laughs. And she doesn’t rule out making another scene in a producer’s office if it leads to a gig like The Young Victoria. ”I needed to be ballsy enough to make an impression,” she says. Then, using a typically British term for scrappy, she adds, ”You’ve gotta be tasty in a fight in this town.”