Emily Blunt probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think of action heroines. Which is understandable: In movies like The Devil Wears Prada, Looper, and Young Victoria, her characters have inflicted plenty of pain — just not with fists. (Remember when she gut-punched Anne Hathaway in Prada with one well-placed “Shan’t”?)
That’s about to change. In Edge of Tomorrow (out June 6), Blunt plays Rita Vrataski, a super-soldier who teaches Lt. Co. Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) how to harness his time-looping ability in a war against aliens. It’s an intensely physical role that feels like an about-face for the British actress, though she says she’s spent years waiting for just the right action part to come along. “I’d always wanted to do something very physical,” she says. “But in most action movies, the woman is a damsel in distress tied to a tree.”
Nobody would dare try that with Vrataski, a sci-fi warrior in the vein of Alien‘s Ripley or The Terminator‘s Sarah Conner — with the biceps to match. Getting those muscles required Blunt to start an intense training routine in Los Angeles three months before filming. “I was encouraged to take up gymnastics, Krav Maga, weight training and sprint training,” she says. And Blunt also worked out in a weight vest to get ready for shooting in the movie’s signature exoskeletons, futuristic suits of armor that weighed up to 85 lbs. “I prepared as much as I could, and then the first day when I showed up and put the suit on, I just thought, “Oh god I’m going to start crying. And then you get used to it, and it becomes like second nature.”
Another bit of action-movie craft that didn’t come instinctively: firearm safety. Luckily, Blunt’s costar has had a bit of experience in the field. “I think there was a time where I was walking onto a set with a gun pointed toward the set, and Tom goes, “Whoa whoa whoa! You always hold the gun down with the safety on!” she says, laughing. “I was waving it in the air, and Tom was like, “Whoa, you gotta point it down. He’s so big on safety because I think he’s probably gotten injured a few times and knows how easily it can happen.”
For more on Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow, and other hot new summer projects, pick up the latest double issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now.