March 7, 2011

EMILY BLUNT is a world class ballerina in The Adjustment Bureau

Emily Blunt made her film debut in 2004 in Pawel Pawlikowski’s dark coming of age tale, My Summer of Love, a daring performance that won her a British Independent Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer. She says it is the only one of her films she recommends people to see. It also happens to be the one in which she spends most time naked.

“I’m really proud of it,” she says. “It’s not like any other movie.” She thinks for a second and adds with a laugh, “I don’t know why I’m broadcasting my breasts to the world. It’s a bit worrying.”

Now there is The Adjustment Bureau, written and directed by first-time director George Nolfi. Based on a story by Philip K Dick, it asks whether we are in charge of our lives or whether unseen forces manipulate our destiny. Blunt plays Elise, a ballet dancer who falls for a charismatic politician (Damon) who is running for the US Senate. Agents of the shadowy Adjustment Bureau, led by Terence Stamp, are determined to keep them apart.
Nolfi had intended to cast a professional dancer in the role of Elise but, he says, “In one meeting Emily completely derailed my plans. I could tell immediately she was the one.”

Blunt was attracted by the script. “I’m not a fan of science fiction but Philip Dick does the sort of science fiction that feels close to home and creeps into your subconscious,” she says. “He targets that paranoia that we all live with. Are we being manipulated? Are we being watched? There’s something threatening about his science fiction that I really enjoy,” she says.

Her biggest challenge was achieving the precision and form of a dancer. “I had never danced in my life. I told George I’d work my arse off if he gave me the role but the training was unreal.

“I had eight weeks’ solid training before the movie and then throughout filming, anytime I could I was in the gym or the dance studio.”

How did you get the role of the dancer Elise Sellas?

It was virtually impossible to get a meeting with George Nolfi initially because he was only seeing dancers. Finally, 6 weeks after reading the script, I heard he was starting to talk to actresses, but when I saw him he made it clear to me that I was going to have a huge amount of training if I were to play this role. Then I screen-tested with Matt Damon and got it!

Did you have any previous experience in dancing?

Dancing was never really in the cards for me. I had no previous experience, so I found it very daunting.

Who helped you?

I trained with a revolutionary modern dance company called Cedar Lake that is brilliant. So, being treated with that tough love by a legitimate company, who didn’t want an actress misrepresenting what they do, helped me a lot. Before I knew it, we were shooting all the scenes. It is an amazing experience to do something every day that you are initially horrible at but slowly starts to come to you.

What did you learn about their lifestyle that you were unaware of before?

I learned that professional dancers live and breathe dance. That’s who they are. In this ballet troupe, they are an eclectic band of people from all over the world. I was surrounded by them every day and they really helped me figure out who Elise was.

In your eyes, who is Elise Sellas then?

She is a very self-assured and independent woman. She walks through life sort of batting away any intimacy until she meet David Norris.

What does she see in him?

She is immediately very intrigued. David is not fazed or intimidated by Elise. They instantly seem to have this kind of secret language. I truly believe they fall in love with each other in the bathroom when they first meet.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

Yes, I do. I believe you can have an instant connection with someone you desperately don’t want to let go of. I’m not sure if I would call it love at first sight, but I do believe a connection like that can happen in true life.

How does David change Elise’s life?

Before they met, dancing is who she was and how she identified herself. I don’t think Elise is someone who lets people that close to her. When David comes along, the fact that she is so drawn to him takes her by surprise. David fulfilled something in her life that was really missing.

How important is humor in the relationship?

I think it’s very important and a lot of their relationship is based on a shared sense of humor. A lot of the chemistry Matt and I had was through humor. We genuinely make each other laugh and that really translated into the scenes. You want the audience to be charmed by David and Elise as a couple.

What is Matt Damon like to work with?

Matt is the best! He is utterly authentic and laidback. He is very funny to be around. Matt is just such cool guy.

Did you improvise with him on set?

It was very helpful that George was not too precious with his script and let us improvise. He let us play with the dialogue and stretch scenes around to see what else we could find within them. And George is open to rewriting anything instantly, which is great.

You are also surrounded by quite an extraordinary supporting cast as the members of The Adjustment Bureau.

Yes, though Matt got to work with them more than me. They all made their characters believable.

This film marks George Nolfi’s debut as a director.

I knew he was a fantastic writer. It’s hard to believe this is his first film as a director. His greatest quality is that he is a collaborator. And having a previous friendship already with Matt really helped because he was very open to his ideas. There is a lot to learn if you are directing a movie for the first time, as you are usually on a set where your crew is much more experienced than you. George was like a sponge and soaked up all that experience. He was very willing to learn, but at the same time had a very clear vision of what he wanted the film to be. I see a bright future ahead for him as a filmmaker.

The Adjustment Bureau has a very unique look to it.

We were very lucky to have an Academy Award® winning cinematographer like John Toll as our director of photography. He gave the movie this great and very realistic look. It truly is like a love letter to New York.

Would you say New York is also a character in the movie then?

Yes, it is. I believe it was essential for it to be shot in New York. That added such a dynamic edge to the movie. There is something looming and ominous about the buildings that appear in the film that connect with the presence of the bureau.

How challenging was it to shoot through the streets of the city?

This film was exhausting for me to shoot, but I found the experience so rewarding.

What did you think of the film when you saw it finished?

I loved it! I liked the whole question of fate versus free will and the role of The Adjustment Bureau weren’t dealt with by George in a very heavy way, but with simplicity. The main thing I would like to hear from anyone that has seen the movie is that they were really rooting for this couple to succeed.

What is your opinion on the role that fate plays versus free will in our lives?

I believe I have experienced both. A lot depends on the choices you make, but then you also need some luck and magic out there too.

At its core The Adjustment Bureau is a love story.

It’s a fresh take on a love story. That’s what leapt up from the page at me when I first read the script. I thought it was really unique. I believe David and Elise, who before having met each other kind of felt lost and unfulfilled, find love in a few moments and nothing they have had with anyone else before compares to it.

And it’s also a film that is hard to box into a specific genre.

Maybe that’s what great about it and what makes it so unique.

“The Adjustment Bureau” is released and distributed by United International Pictures through Solar Entertainment Corp, Now Showing!

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