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Emily Blunt on How She Overcame Her Stutter

Some celebrities walk the red carpet at fund-raisers to give a charitable boost to their public personas, or because they know that there will be cameras there. Not Emily Blunt, who showed up at the American Institute for Stuttering 5th Annual Benefit Gala at the Tribeca Rooftop last night because she's got a very personal connection to the subject: She used to be a stutterer, too. It may be hard to believe that an actress so facile with accents could ever have had a speaking problem, but as Blunt told Vulture, stuttering was a major issue for her while growing up — and in a way, she's got her acting career to thank for helping ease her out of it.

This cause has been a personal experience for you?
Very much, yeah. I'm actually on the board for the American Institute for Stuttering. They honored me about two years ago, and since then I've really been a very active member for it, because I think they're using revolutionary techniques to help people get through this really anguished struggle of having a stutter. I think they've had huge success with the methods that they've used. I wish to God I'd known about them as a kid, because I maybe would have avoided eight to nine years of it not being an easy time.

Up until what age?
I think it started to eke itself out; between the age of 7 and 14 was when it was really bad. And around 12 it was at its worst. Not an awkward age at all to be unable to speak. Some people can grow out of it. It's easier for girls, funnily enough. Genetically, it's more common in boys.

So what happened? Did you grow out of it?
It was a combination of a few things. One was just growing out of it. Another one was gaining some kind of confidence. I had a really amazing teacher at that age, when I was 12, and he was really kind and helpful and encouraged me to be in the class plays, which previously I had no interest in being in 'cause I couldn't talk. He said, "Well, why don't you try it in a different voice? Try to do a funny voice or an accent. Maybe that would help." But it really did, I was actually able to speak fluently. Once you're able to hear yourself speak fluently, albeit in a ridiculous accent, you gain the confidence to think this could happen again and again. It was easier after that night, of that school play. It all became a bit easier.

You saw The King's Speech, no?
I did. I absolutely loved it. It was the most authentic portrayal of a stutterer I have ever seen. I spoke to Colin about it and was in wonderment how he managed to do it. Apparently the screenwriter had also had a stutter, which was really helpful. He really managed to capture that hesitancy, that vocal-cords-locking-out syndrome that happens. What's exciting about what Colin did was he actually put a face to stuttering, actually opened up people's minds around the world to the plight of someone who has one. So I think a lot of stutterers are very grateful to that film and the awareness he brought.

Anything in particular you could relate to?
Yeah. Public speaking, that kind of thing. In a smaller way, I was asked to read out a poem to my class, which was terrifying. And it's all relative. I wasn't reading a speech to the entire country, but I was reading a poem to my class. But, equally terrifying, in a way.

And you're about to make a dark comedy with Colin?
This autumn, yeah. It's a very strange, beautiful film. Just me and him, effectively. [Laughs.]

What's it been like filming Five-Year Engagement in Michigan?
I like it! I mean, we're filming in Ann Arbor, which is a college town, so there's lots of fun restaurants and bars, and it's a sweet little place. I've actually really liked it. Midwesterners are very friendly. They're nice peeps.

Someone on Twitter saw you on a moped earlier today.
Out on what? Yes, yes! God, Twitter is terrifying. It terrifies me in that way! We did. We went and got meatballs on our Vespa. This place is amazing, we've just discovered. The Meatball Shop. The Lower East Side. The best. So good.

Photo: Patrick McMullan