ARUN RATH, HOST:
Now for the latest installment of our series My Big Break about career triumphs big and small. You know Emily Blunt from "The Devil Wears Prada" and "The Edge Of Tomorrow." She also stars in Disney's "Into The Woods" coming out on Christmas Day.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INTO THE WOODS")
EMILY BLUNT: (As the Baker's Wife) Beans - oh, no, we musn't give up our beans. Well, if you feel that we must.
DANIEL HUTTLESTONE: (As Jack) Beans in exchange for my cow?
BLUNT: (As the Baker's Wife) Oh, no, son, these are no ordinary beans. These beans, they carry magic.
RATH: A natural on screen, you'd never guess that as a kid she could hardly say her own name. Blunt grew up with a severe stutter.
BLUNT: It sort of started to dominate my speech by the time I was about 7 or 8. And then I think, honestly, got to its most prominent point when I was about 12 or 13 - is when I started to feel so mortified talking to people that I talked a lot less, virtually not at all. You know, kids can be so merciless, can't they? Because most of them speak so fluently and they can't possibly understand why you can't. They're like, well, why can't you speak? Why can't you speak? That's what I'd hear a lot. And all I could say was oh, I stutter. And they said, well, why? And I said I don't know.
A stutter can be like a straitjacket. I struggled with vowels, so to say Emily was like the depths of hell for me. (Laughter) It was hideous. And I still, to be honest, it is the one thing that still trips me up when I'm calling and they say who's speaking and I have to say Emily Blunt. But I have it in my head that I'm not going to be able to say it.
The misdiagnosis is that I was a tense child, and I wasn't. I was desperate to speak. I wanted everything. I didn't want to miss anything, and I felt like I was missing out. So what I was, more than anything, was just immensely frustrated. My parents tried everything. I went to relaxation therapy. I listened to dolphins squeaking at me at night.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOLPHINS SQUEAKING)
BLUNT: The woman on a cassette tape talking to me and saying, you know, you're on - you're on a (laughter). Oh, God, I've got to laugh because I remember her voice so well. You're on a beautiful beach with white, white sand. It was that kind of thing, you know? It didn't work for me. It just annoyed me. I was like I'm not tense. I then felt more tense.
It just sucked, I guess, is the simplest way of saying it. I think my big break was this amazing teacher and his name was Mr. McHale (ph). He said you want to be in the class play? And I said no. And I could barely even say no, so I just shook my head. He said, well, I've seen you outside with your friends and you do silly voices. And he said I've seen you doing impressions. And he said you never seem to stutter, so why don't you try it in a silly voice? Which is just extraordinary that somebody who is not a stutterer would have that kind of insight to say be somebody else, remove yourself from yourself and try it.
And I know it was something to do with time travel and going back to a medieval village and I was the contemporary modern kid. And I spoke fluently for the first time in a long time doing a stupid northern accent that, you know, helped me.
To get through a whole play and not trip up once, you know, I think it was probably more emotional for my mom, you know, who watched. I think that was huge. So much of it becomes about your confidence, about the mental mountain of overcoming it, and you learn tricks. You just learn all kinds of tricks. And you can get over it.
I get many moments most days working were I go, God, this is amazing. And I think I'd get a little bit overwhelmed if I think about the odds of this not working out. This job found me. I'm someone who never thought I would end up in a career where I had to speak fluently. And here I am.
RATH: Actress Emily Blunt. She stars in the new film "Into The Woods" in theaters this Thursday. You don't have to be a movie star to have a big break. Send us your story to mybigbreak@NPR.org.
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