Emily Blunt has danced across London, sung her way through the woods, and given birth silently during an alien invasion. But nothing tops having to do an action scene in a corset, which was a frequent occurrence on her new Prime Video series The English.
"It's so awful," she proclaims. "It's so awful, especially because we shot in Spain in the summer and it was so breathtakingly hot. The corset acted as like a sort of oven on my organs. There was no breathing space."
The Western drama from creator Hugo Blick (The Honourable Woman) stars Blunt as Lady Cornelia Locke, an aristocratic English woman who teams up with a Pawnee ex-cavalry scout, Eli Whipp (Chaske Spencer) to cross the violent landscape of the American West in 1890.
As they journey closer to their destination of Hoxem, Wyoming, facing increasingly terrifying obstacles along the way, they edge closer to the truth of their intertwined history. In Hoxem, an investigation by local sheriff Robert Marshall (Stephen Rea) and young widow Martha Myers (Valerie Pachner) into a series of bizarre and macabre murders brings Cornelia and Eli face-to-face with their past and the future they must live.
Blunt also makes her debut as a producer on the project, which hits Prime Video on Nov. 11.
We talked with Blunt about why now was the time to take on a producing role, why she's always been fascinated by Westerns, and why Cornelia Locke is her most personal role yet.
Diego Lopez Calvin/Drama Republic/BBC/Amazon Studios
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You have done so many different genres and types of stories. But this is your first Western. What made you want to play in that space?
EMILY BLUNT: I've always really loved the Western. It's a very mythic story space, so you can get outside of a strict reality with it in some ways. You can do something really elevated, and it's a world that's built on power and identity and brutality. It's this really mythic landscape, and so I'd always been excited about the idea of playing within that. This offered a cacophony of reasons why I wanted to do it. It was so beautiful when I read it; it was so piercing. And yet, it moved like a chase thriller.
I would say Cornelia is not quite what we have seen before from women in this genre. Was that what appealed to you about her?
Very much. I found her really surprising. She's definitely not the damsel tied to a tree at all. She's a curious person because she arrives looking like the feminine ideal, and you just think, "Oh my God, you're toast." She seems to be in a situation where she's in way over her head. Yet she has this flare of vengeance running through her, and she arrives in this wild landscape of the West in order to enact revenge on the man she sees as responsible for the death of her son. She is far more capable and resourceful in matters of survival than any of us could have expected. That's what I really adored about her. And yet, even though she's someone who's suffered terrible loss, she's resilient and buoyant and positive and lives rather fearlessly. We discover why as we go along. I love a character with a secret.
You're also producing for the first time. Was that part of the package deal when it came to you? Or were you just so in love with the story that you decided to take on that extra role?
For a while now I feel like I've been playing that role and maybe not asking for the credit. And creatively I take great joy in developing projects and putting my fingerprints on as much as I can of whatever I've signed on to do. I adore the development of stuff. I love post production. I love all of it. I just haven't really asked for the role before, I guess. This came along as a pilot, and so, I signed on to it as a pilot. It seemed that I was going to be along for the ride from its most embryonic phases. I will just credit Hugo Blick — the man doesn't really need any notes because his scripts they're so extraordinary. I've never had so few notes on anything I've ever done in the development of it, and I felt great responsibility in making sure it got made. This is a project that might feel the closest to me. This is something that I am so proud of it and I'm so intimately involved with, so I can't wait for it to come out.
Would you say it's the closest because of that producer involvement, or is there something about Cornelia that made you feel that way?
It's all of it. Honestly, I find it hard to word the whole experience because it's been a really beautiful one. Certainly, this is the first time I've done this long-form storytelling in the wild. The sheer time that I lived with this character and with the project feels exponentially longer than other projects I've been a part of. It just dwelled in me for so long, and so, it feels like a part of me now.
I know you've done plenty of action scenes before but were there things that you had to train for or prep differently for this, whether it was handling the rifle or something else?
The rifles and stuff, I was more familiar with that sort of thing. When it came to the horse riding, I think everyone goes, "Oh, yeah, I can totally ride," and then you realize you absolutely can't. You actually start riding on the horse, and the horse is like, "You're the worst rider in the world." I basically trained — because it was the only thing I could do during COVID since we got delayed and pushed, delayed and pushed — and so I rode horses every week for months on end. It was the best. It was like an outlet for me when everyone was inside. It was the one time I went out, and it was the best part of training for this — really learning how to ride, like really ride, not just hold on for dear life.
Were there either real women from the historical West or characters from other Westerns that shaped or influenced your portrayal?
Not particularly, to be honest. I read some books on the time period that Hugo recommended. But I found the script to be so alive, and it was a script that really kind of kidnapped us, so I didn't tend to base her on another figure in history or some other character from another movie. Also, this show feels different from other Westerns. It doesn't feel old fashioned, or of one note or one tone. It is quite modern. And so, I approached her in quite a modern way. She just happened to be in a corset or wear a bonnet for some of it.
Can you elaborate a bit more on the relationship between Cornelia and Eli? Did you see it as two souls who recognize something in each other, or is it something born out of survival?
It's a bit of both. You've actually nailed the combo of what it's about, and she says at the beginning, "It was in the stars, and we believed in the stars, you and I." They came together like a couple of comets rather unexpectedly. What they find in each other is that all that matters to them now [is] that they survived. And it's a real gauntlet for them to survive, and they really need the other one to do that. But they do have this deeply tender love story. And it's an epic love story between two people. She's an English woman. He's a Native American. And they've both suffered terrible loss. They have a lot to learn from each other.
It's also still rare to see a Western that gives us this Native perspective and actually has Indigenous actors in the roles. From a producer's perspective, how important was that and how embedded was it in the DNA of the show?
It was vital to us to find our Eli. This is one of the first times in film history or television history that you have a Native American character who is basically Paul Newman. He just happens to be Native American. For Chaske, and I must let him speak to it more because it's his subject matter to talk about, it was really exciting and emboldening for him to play a role like this. I feel Native Americans can be constrained to certain identities that are not fair. It's not freeing and it's not expansive. All that matters to [these characters] is that they survive, and they need each other to do that. She doesn't see him as anything other than this bright light that's going to get her where she needs to get to, and he is the first kind man she's ever met.