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the star market

The Star Market: What Kind of Adjustments Would Make Emily Blunt a Bigger Name?

In The Adjustment Bureau, supernatural fixers in old-timey fedoras are determined to keep Emily Blunt away from Matt Damon; they say that her fate is to achieve enormous career success, but it will take several life adjustments along the way (including that lost love) in order for her to actually achieve that potential. In real life, the 28-year-old Blunt has also got a whole adjustment bureau at her disposal, but this one is the group of agents, managers, publicists, and studio executives who've recognized her promise since The Devil Wears Prada and want to elevate her career to the next level. Which path is this well-liked, critically acclaimed actress already on, and what little tweaks could make her even more successful? To find out, we spoke to industry insiders to answer the question: If Emily Blunt were a stock, should you buy, sell, or hold?

Stock History: Why is Blunt respected as one of Hollywood's great young actresses even when her recent run of films (Gulliver's Travels, The Wolfman, Wild Target) is fairly lacking? It may have something to do with her one-two-three punch of a first impression: After catching the eye of casting directors with her seductive performance in the 2005 same-sex indie My Summer of Love, she distinguished herself the next year by winning a Golden Globe for her performance in the TV movie Gideon's Daughter, then knocking 'em dead with her killer supporting turn in The Devil Wears Prada. It was apparent to everyone: The surging Emily Blunt was an actress with a capital-A.

But was she a lead? Blunt mostly played second or third banana in the films that followed (The Jane Austen Book Club, The Great Buck Howard, Sunshine Cleaning) and put in a few cameos in Charlie Wilson's War and Dan in Real Life. It wasn't until 2009 that she finally got the big part everyone was expecting from her: the title role in The Young Victoria, for which she was hand-picked by producer Martin Scorsese. Though the movie wasn't a breakout success, it at least replenished Blunt's critical bona fides for long enough to make it through the ensuing Gulliver-Wolfman doldrums; lately, she's picked better-looking projects, including upcoming films like Lasse Halstrom's Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, the rom-com Five-Year Engagement (where she plays the female lead opposite Jason Segel), and Lynn Shelton's improvised Humpday follow-up about two sisters. Blunt's got enough goodwill that people are willing to forget her more lackluster credits — the perception in town is that right now, she's on an upswing.

Peers: Anne Hathaway (28), Keira Knightley (25), Natalie Portman (29), Mila Kunis (27), and Blake Lively (23) — "she's definitely now hanging with all those girls," notes one insider.

Market Value: Blunt's first hit is still her biggest: The Devil Wears Prada's $124 million haul has at least doubled every other credit on her résumé, though the unexpectedly successful Gnomeo and Juliet may soon approach that tally. Still, it's clear that in this second phase of her career, she needs at least one big movie, be it blockbuster or indie. She almost got it when Jon Favreau cast her as the Black Widow in Iron Man 2, but 20th Century Fox used an option in her Prada contract to force her into Gulliver's Travels instead. (Still, it wasn't all for naught: Gulliver co-star Jason Segel has become an unlikely collaborator, giving Blunt her Five-Year Engagement lead and a cameo in The Muppets.)

What Hollywood Thinks: "She's been in some bad movies — The Wolfman comes to mind — but she hasn't had any bad missteps herself," says one top agent we spoke to. Unlike one well-known movie star in her age range "who can't act," the agent says that Blunt is "both gorgeous and a very good actress. I mean, in Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep was at her peak, but Emily Blunt stole every scene she was in."

One publicist suggests that if Blunt wants the major press that comes with a ramped-up career, she needs to figure out what "Emily Blunt" represents. "I have noticed that she's suddenly everywhere, almost to the point of overexposure," says the well-connected rep. "She has a big movie [The Adjustment Bureau] coming out, so I suppose it makes sense. But I'm a little unclear on just how they're trying to brand her. We know her as a character actress who's pretty and funny, and they're really trying to shift her branding [upwards]: She was just on the cover of Women's Health — this seems not really what I'd expect out of her. She's not really a cover model. I think people think of her as a really great character actor. So when you see her next to Jessica Alba, it just doesn't add up; it's not really the right fit for her."

The publicist recommends a refocusing on Blunt's actressy chops: "You hire Emily Blunt because she's very talented, not because she's just some pretty face. I think that's why it seems off-putting. She's a better actress than any of them. I think she should have taken more of a Cate Blanchett route, but I'm sure someone is telling her, 'This is our opportunity to break into the big leagues!' so it's time to put the square peg into the round hole."

The Analysis: Emily Blunt isn't a household name yet, but here's one encouraging thing: People who do know her root for her. That goes for her fellow actors, who adore her; for directors, who hope to add her class and ability to their films; and even for audiences, who can be notoriously hard on female movie stars. Hell, she even managed to pull off the tricky feat of marrying John Krasinski and still polling well with the women who fantasized about ending up with his character from The Office. That's got to count for something.

Now, though, it's time for her to be more selective. To be fair, bombs like Gulliver's Travels and The Wolfman weren't her fault — she was forced into the former by Fox and signed on to the latter when it was an arty horror film directed by Mark Romanek, then had to stay on board when the studio dumped Romanek for Joe Johnston and scheduled endless, deadening reshoots. Still, Blunt's got it in her to become a younger, more accessible Cate Blanchett, and she'll lose that veneer of prestige and versatility if she does too many bad studio movies. (Maybe she's already learned that lesson: She was Johnston's first choice for the female lead in Captain America, but this time when presented with the eye candy part in a Marvel superhero movie, she passed.)

The Bottom Line: "She should keep on doing what she's doing," said the top agent, who nevertheless encouraged her to aim higher: "She needs to find her own Devil Wears Prada, where she's the star instead of Annie [Hathaway]. Unfortunately, to really break out, she'll probably have to do some dumbed-down studio romantic comedy."

And if she decides not to? "I'm a fan even if she doesn't," gushes one talent manager. "She's lovely."

Buy/Sell/Hold: Buy

Photo: Patrick McMullan