If you're a director in Hollywood — or anyone really — who is still coming up with excuses for why women don't work in action roles, I'm gonna need you to come in here and listen to Emily Blunt explain how to succeed as a woman in a traditionally male role. And she'd know! I don't know if you've been paying attention, but Blunt is kind of the new go-to lady on the scene when it comes to those kinds of characters. She more than held her own opposite action veteran Tom Cruise in Edge Of Tomorrow , and recently proved her chops again as Kate Macer, an FBI Agent on the Mexican border in Sicario .
It's slightly embarrassing that the industry still operates under the assumption that it only needs one actress at a time for these sorts of roles, but luckily, Blunt shared some important advice on how to change our thinking on that in a recent interview with Vulture . The interviewer, Stacey Wilson Hunt, asked Blunt (Hunt and Blunt!) if it was tough to "find balance for Kate, who exists in a macho world but remains believably feminine," to which Blunt responded:
First you need a director who’s going to support your creation of a character, and [director] Denis [Villenueve] was so empowering in that sense. I told him in the beginning, 'She can’t be in this masculine world trying to act like a man.'
Yes! I think that's it, right there! That isn't how it happens in the real world, so why do we expect the portrayal to work out in films? If the character had started out as male, and the film team just switched the pronouns from male to female and named the character "Kate" instead of the original "Nate," they would have been doing a disservice to Emily Blunt, who wouldn't have been able to bring any subtlety or depth to the role. Instead, she would've been stuck trying to inject character into a broad, formless role that was originally intended for a man. There's more to being a woman, and specifically a strong woman, than being called "she" and being able to run in heels (side eye, Jurassic World), so we need to embrace that instead of shying away from it. Blunt continued:
The appeal of playing the part was that in the beginning, you have a character who’s highly skilled but then disintegrates at an accelerated rate over the course of three days. It had to be a delicate balance. I based her on one of the FBI agents I met while doing research. She was really shy, but also an incredibly resilient, steely individual.
In the end, Kate felt like a real, nuanced portrait of a real woman, and that's a credit not just to Blunt's acting or the screenplay itself, but Denis Villenueve's willingness to accept that "strong" and "feminine" aren't necessarily antonyms; you don't need to push all the way into "masculine" to come up with a believable protagonist, and Emily Blunt's portrayal of Kate Macer in Sicario is living proof of that. Take note, Hollywood!