In the film Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Emily Blunt stars as the British rep of a Yemeni sheikh who wants to transplant the titular sport from the U.K. to his arid homeland. Ewan McGregor plays the fishery expert whom Blunt’s tasked with enlisting for the sheikh’s quixotic project. Lasse Hallström directed the screenplay by Slumdog Millionaire’s Simon Beaufoy, based on the popular British novel. (Blunt’s mother insisted she take the role: “It’s such a great book,” her mom said.) Blunt, 29, spoke from the Four Seasons in Boston—psyched, she said, because after talking with me she was going to have lunch.
I wouldn’t say I’m a natural avid fisherwoman. I just tried it in Jackson Hole, and we drifted really serenely down the Snake River. Your mind is clear apart from looking at that little ball which is on the end of the line, and as you see that bobbing up and down, you know you’ve got one. It’s quite nice to think of nothing but that.
Amr Waked, who plays the sheikh, said this was one of the nicer Arab roles he’s seen.
Yeah, I think it was a big deal for him to play a kind Arab in a Western movie. Normally he’s playing the terrorist or the baddie.
His Yemeni sheikh wants to bring in a Western activity to promote inner reflection in his conflict-ridden land. Does that plot thread play into the idea that the Middle East needs the civilizing influence of the West?
I don’t know ’cause I think there’s a lot of civility in the Middle East, and there’s a lot of people who are not fundamentalists. I don’t think it’s necessarily bringing a sense of something civil, but it’s a specific activity that he enjoys and that brings him great peace and reflection. He has this philosophical idea that if he were to introduce this to the Middle East, there wouldn’t be as much conflict because it just clears your mind; it eases tension.
Interesting timing for the film’s release, given everything that’s happening in Yemen.
Yes, and I know they have a new president now, and hopefully things will ease somewhat ’cause there’s been conflict for a long time, and it still is a country in turmoil. I think it’s the poorest Arab country. So it’s quite a good time for there to be a more hopeful movie out there about the Arab world.
You’ve done your homework.
Yes. Particularly when it’s in your film title, if you’re gonna get asked about it, you’d better know what you’re talking about. [Laughs]
It’s the poorest Arab country, but here it serves as the backdrop to two Britons’ romance.
Exactly, you can have romance in Yemen. It’s possible. [Laughs]
As a child, you performed in school plays to overcome a stammer. Do you feel you’re literally taking on someone else’s voice?
Yes, you are giving a voice to someone who isn’t you. That is why I was able when I was a kid not to stutter when I was doing a play or reading a poem. There’s a sense of performance that distances you from you.
Your mother gave up her own acting career to focus on being a mom.
Yeah, she had four kids. It was a lot of work, and she didn’t have any help, and so it was quite forlorn for my mom. I think she’s very happy and relieved that someone she loves is surviving this very hard business. I have many actor friends who struggle or live in constant fear, and so you’ve got to be prepared to [Laughs] be poor and unhappy if you want to do this job ’cause it’s very rare that it hits, and even then it’s a very precarious position.
You still feel precarious then?
Oh, yeah. I don’t think that ever quite goes away. It’s very overcrowded, this job.
You and your husband, John Krasinski, have been very private about your relationship. Did you learn from being more open earlier in your career, when you talked about dating Michael Bublé?
Yeah, I think so. It’s just better not to talk about that stuff ’cause then people still want to talk to you about it when it goes south, and you’re like, oh, I don’t want to talk about that anymore.
You and John just went to an Oscars after-party. How was that as someone on the outside looking in?
It’s much nicer looking in. Everyone looks so exhausted by the end of the awards season. They’re just desperate for it all to be over ’cause it’s that rather filthy feeling of self-promotion for months on end. There’s friends of mine who have gone through it who always breathe a huge sigh of relief and eat burgers and pizza for about three weeks after it ends, out of defiance probably.
Have you experienced that yourself?
I’ve done it a couple of times, like with Devil Wears Prada, Young Victoria. I did some of the award shows, and I can see the benefit of them, and it’s wonderful when people are rewarded for great work. But there’s just so many of them. This business is so overcongratulated.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen opens March 9.