Friday, March 2, 2012

Actress Emily Blunt Visits BMFI

Last Tuesday, February 28, BMFI was fortunate enough to host a members-only sneak preview of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, followed by a Q&A with Emily Blunt, who stars in the film. Unfortunately, not everyone who wanted to attend was able to secure seats, which we truly regret. However, you can get a taste of the delightful Q&A thanks to BMFI member Diane Mina Weltman's thoughtful coverage.

Gone Fishin’—in Yemen?
By Diane Mina Weltman, BMFI Member and Guest Blogger

Three things made BMFI’s screening of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen very special:
1. It was a sneak preview (the film opens nationally March 9);
2. It was free to members;
3. Actress Emily Blunt answered questions after the screening.

It appeared to be an act of movie magic to see the British actress walk down the theater aisle at the film’s end and take a seat next to BMFI President Juliet Goodfriend, ready to field questions. The full house applauded heartily not only for the actress, but for the film in which she stars opposite Ewan McGregor and Kristin Scott Thomas. Ms. Blunt’s visit was a very sweet digestif to the charming comedy.

Actress Emily Blunt signing posters promoting her new film, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, at BMFI.

Filmed in Morocco, Salmon Fishing pairs a visionary sheik (Amr Waked) and Dr. Alfred Jones (Mr. McGregor), a government fisheries wonk, to introduce salmon spawning in the Middle Eastern country. As the sheik’s PR consultant, Harriet Chetwode Talbot (Ms. Blunt) helps both men as the unlikely project becomes a reality. The film shows what the sheik’s seemingly bottomless wallet and the fishing expert’s understated knowledge can produce when they collaborate on the same dream.

Ms. Blunt explained how her preparation for this role, and others, draws first from the script. “This film is an adaptation from a book and I read about four chapters of it and then I was starting—as brilliant as it was—to find it unhelpful... I’ve done adaptations of books before, and I usually read a bit of the book and put it aside because I think you have to go off of the script more than anything,” she noted. As a teen in England, her acting skills emerged not from formal training but from a broader education that included experiential learning which included sending her to Tanzania to build classrooms. “The experiences I had were more relevant,” she explained. “I don’t have anything to compare with a formal acting education because I am not trained that way.”

On the heels of Meryl Streep’s recent Academy Award win, Ms. Blunt was inevitably asked about working with the famed actress in The Devil Wears Prada. “She’s incredible, generous and warm,” as she recalled her first table read with the cast of that film. “She told Annie [Hathaway] and me that, ‘I think you’re both very good—and that’s the last nice thing I’ll say to either of you.’” Ms. Streep remained in her steely character for the rest of the shoot. “She is lit from within—so authentic,” Ms. Blunt mused.

Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor star in Lasse Hallström's Salmon Fishing In The Yemen.

In Salmon Fishing, Ms. Blunt enjoyed the depth of her character’s spirit stating,” I admired how conflicted she was and how she persevered because grief can be boring to watch all the time.”

As for what makes her happiest about her job, the young actress explained, “It’s kind of like this Neverland that you exist in for a few weeks [when you’re filming], but really, the people—the actors, the crew—are what I take away from every experience.”

Having worked with some great actors, Ms. Blunt admitted to feeling it was “quite intimidating at first because you feel you have to do your best to keep up with them because they do such extraordinary things in every scene and every moment.” She added that the biggest lesson she’d learned from them is that “they have fantastic confidence, guts and they try something new every time and are open to everything.” She added, “The best actors are interested in life, in people, in soaking you up.”

Ms. Blunt’s warmth filled the theater as she encouraged someone with screenwriting aspirations to persevere even though “this is a most cruel business. What happened to me was incredibly lucky.” She stated earnestly that her agent “reads all scripts that are submitted.” The actress consistently seemed as open as the well-known actors whom she admires, confirming she is always a student, learning from the best.

There is an introspective moment in Salmon Fishing, in which the sheik confirms his unwavering belief in the project not due to an oversized need to spend his wealth, but from a spiritual interpretation of the finer points of casting a fishing line. The sheik, an enterprising angler, sees fishing and faith as cogent means to the same spiritual end when he explains why anyone fishes. “You persist because you are a man of faith; you’re rewarded for your faith with a fish.”

Tuesday night’s audience was not only rewarded with a smart film, but with some unvarnished insights from its leading lady who persists with a very open heart. We were all hooked.

Diane Mina Weltman is a BMFI member who enjoys attending performing and visual arts events and writing about them. Check out her blog, A Subject for Consideration.

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