A Cool Customer

Emily Blunt and fashion first got to know each other on the set of 'The Devil Wears Prada'. Now a red-carpet regular with three movies in the pipeline, Blunt models some of this season's boldest looks for TIME

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PETER HAPAK FOR TIME

Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquière black silk gazar hat with paillettes, $3,250; similar styles available at Balenciaga New York; silk Ottoman top in plaster, gray and black, $4,850; silk parachute dress in marine, $3,650; déformé bracelet in clear orange glass, $525; little burst bracelet in clear glass, $595; grande déformé bracelet in dark orange glass, price upon request; all available at Balenciaga New York

Emily Blunt has a crush on President Obama. There’s no other explanation. Meeting famous people is part of the actress’s day job, but when she met the Commander in Chief, she lost it. “I just laughed hysterically in his face,” she says. “That’s all I could do.” Blunt and her husband John Krasinski of The Office — they married two summers ago at George Clooney‘s Lake Como villa in Italy — were introduced to the First Couple after the Kennedy Center honored Meryl Streep in December. The President mentioned that he liked Blunt’s work. Things went downhill from there. “I got ushered away gently by someone, removed from his presence,” she recalls. “John said he’d never seen me fall to pieces in the way that I did.”

Falling to pieces is not Blunt’s signature attribute. Her two breakthrough roles were a too-cool customer and an icy control freak, respectively: the devious, bi-curious rich girl in the British indie My Summer of Love and the high-strung fashion-magazine assistant she played opposite Anne Hathaway and La Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Her characters rarely lose their composure, whether she’s portraying a corseted royal (The Young Victoria), a chronic troublemaker (Sunshine Cleaning) or a dancer pursued by secret agents (The Adjustment Bureau). Blunt, 29, guesses at her reputation among casting agents: “From lesbians to bonnets, she’ll do it all!”

Almost all. She’s not nuts about playing a sex kitten. Blunt smoldered in a shirt and not much else as a sexually forward young woman in Charlie Wilson’s War, but she didn’t feel all that sultry. “I was embarrassed,” she says. “There was something about it being in front of Tom Hanks. There was a grownup watching.”

Blunt was born in London, the second of four children of a prominent barrister father and a schoolteacher mother. As a child, she suffered from a stammer, which she began to overcome at age 12 when a teacher proposed that she perform in a school play using a northern English accent — her first acting job. She still uses accents and role playing to solve problems; recently, she admits, she put on a posher-than-posh British accent to talk her way out of a speeding ticket.

Notwithstanding her aversion to playing coquettes, Blunt’s in three romance-themed movies in the next few months: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, as Ewan McGregor’s love interest; The Five-Year Engagement, as Jason Segel’s love interest; and Your Sister’s Sister, as one corner of an extremely unlikely love triangle. Salmon and Sister are small and quirky; the latter was shot in just 12 days for $80,000. But Engagement, the antic story of the hijinks that force a couple to keep delaying their wedding, carries all the comic and commercial expectations of any Judd Apatow production. If it hits, the movie could help vault Blunt into the Witherspoon-Bullock tier of actresses who can open a rom-com.

But that’s not why she did it. “It was something I don’t think has been done before, where the girl is not playing the pill of a girlfriend,” says Blunt. “She’s got as many hilarious set pieces as the bloke.”

Blunt’s fashion choices are as eclectic and spontaneous as her taste in parts. She might show up at a premiere in a romper or a crisp white dress paired with opaque black tights, or she might pick something more classically red-carpet, like the one-shouldered, vibrant green Oscar de la Renta couture gown she wore to this year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards. “In general, I like more edge rather than something too girly and straight,” she says. “I don’t like flouncy, and I don’t like boring. I’d prefer to go for something a little sleeker and more defined.”

She admits that her appreciation for fashion grew after she made The Devil Wears Prada, not only because of the Vogue-like setting of the film but also because dressing up is a required course for every rising young actress. “I’m not necessarily someone who goes to fashion shows,” she says after a day of shooting the ensembles on these pages. “But something weird happens to you when you put on clothes like these. It’s very visceral.”

As her career has landed her at more and more style-centric events, she has decided that honesty is the best policy. “The only way to work with fashion is to just wear whatever the hell you want to wear. If you try to morph into something you’re not, you’ll look like an idiot and you’ll get found out.”

Perhaps it’s Blunt’s straight forward attitude that gives her such sublime poise and composure — and perhaps she can draw on that if she ever meets the President again. Or if all else fails, she could always try putting on an accent.

PHOTOS: Emily Blunt’s Style & Design Photo Shoot

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