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The Adjustment Bureau – Emily Blunt working her ass off

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The Adjustment Bureau - Emily Blunt and Matt Damon
Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) and David Norris (Matt Damon) © 2011 Universal

In the last few years, British actress Emily Blunt solidified her career with such successful movies as The Devil Wears Prada, Dan in Real Life, The Jane Austin Book Club, Charlie Wilson’s War, Wolfman and Young Victoria.

In her new movie, The Adjustment Bureau, she stars as a New York dancer named Elise Sellas, who has a chance meeting with politician David Norris (Matt Damon) in a hotel bathroom just before he is to give a concession speech after losing an election.

Norris finds out later that their coincidental meeting wasn’t really by chance. It was set up by a mysterious otherworldly organization called The Adjustment Bureau – what wasn’t supposed to happen was David and Elise were attracted to each other, and now want to be together. That was not part of the plan, and the organization is determined to stop them any way they can.

How did you come to this role, especially as you’re not a dancer?

The Adjustment Bureau -  Emily Blunt
Dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) © 2011 Universal

I called my agent and said this is tricky stuff and an actor should do it. If that love [story] and that relationship doesn’t work, you don’t have a movie. That’s what I said to George [Nolfi, the screenwriter and director], rather boldly, and he agreed.

I was honest. I’ve never danced in my life. I met George, and I said, ‘I’ll work my ass off for you if you let me do this.’

How did the dance training go?

The training was unreal. I hurt every day. It’s one thing to say, ‘I’ll do it for you,’ but it’s another thing to actually do it. It was hell to learn at first, and then it became invigorating, and one of the biggest, life-expanding experiences I’ve ever had.

What was it about Elise that made you want to play the role so much?

The Adjustment Bureau -  Emily Blunt
Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) © 2011 Universal

George had written a feisty, strong, layered, complicated girl who can hold her own. She’s tough, but she’s vulnerable. There was a lot to play with; the dialogue was witty, and the connection they have and how they fell in love didn’t seem contrived.

David and Elise’s first encounter is unusual. The romance and the spark of the scene is fought against the backdrop of sinks and toilets. (she laughs) It sets us up with the situation that you can’t help whom you’re attracted do, and you certainly can’t help the situations or environments in which you find yourself attracted to this person.

David’s just about to go make his concession speech and he’s at a point where he feels like he’s lost it all. My character pumps him up and reinvigorates this passion for what he does. She encourages frankness in him because that’s what she has.

Has anything happened in your life that you felt was fate?

The Adjustment Bureau - Matt Damon and Emily Blunt
David Norris (Matt Damon) and Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) © 2011 Universal

I have one story which is pretty cool. I didn’t get into this very amazing school that my sister went to, and I wanted to be just like my sister. It’s called Westminster in London which is fiercely competitive. I remember at sixteen being devastated and my life was over, and I felt so inferior that I hadn’t gotten in.

So went to my second choice school, which has a good drama department. I previously hadn’t considered acting, but I did a play through my school which went to the Edinburgh Festival, I got an agent, he’s still my agent, and now I’m here with you. And if I’d gone to Westminster I wouldn’t be doing this job.  So I think that’s weird. At the time it seemed devastating and so sad, but really it was meant to happen that I never went there.

Is it hard to play a love story in a supernatural/sci-fi setting?

The Adjustment Bureau - Matt Damon and Emily Blunt
David Norris (Matt Damon) and Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) © 2011 Universal

To be honest, that was the tricky part for me. Those were the questions I had tonally of what the movie was, and George encouraged us and we actually decided to be very naturalistic. I always feel safer doing something natural, I think that it works for the movie, I think it lends itself to the relationship.

You’ve got to really invest in the relationship, you have to really make the relationship authentic, so Matt and I had a lot of fun with our scenes just because we wanted to find the right kind of chemistry for the characters in order for [the audiences] to go on the journey with them and root for them to be together, and also want to see them together. But I feel like I had an easier task in that my character is not aware of this expression of a higher power, the Adjustment Bureau, throughout most of the movie.

What was it like shooting in New York?

I [felt] like a kid to be able to shoot at the Statue of Liberty, but then the downfall of that is your have 400 random strangers watching you do a very emotional scene, which is pretty embarrassing. That was tough.