The part was intended for a professional dancer—or at least an actress with a background in dance. Emily was neither. But the ballsy star convinced writer/ director George Nolfi to give her a shot.
"I told him, 'I'll work my ass off for you,' " says Emily." 'I've never had a pair of ballet pumps on my feet before, but I will seem like I have.'" Nolfi was sold—especially after seeing her screen test with Matt Damon. "It's an ineffable thing. She had incredible chemistry with Matt," he says.
Their connection was evident on the day of the Women's Health cover shoot—the costars seemed more like giddy siblings than Hollywood heavy hitters. When asked what it was like to work with Emily, Matt simply says, "There are a lot of great actresses her age right now, but Emily is just f---ing unbelievable."
And as we talk, he shows an unusual trait for a walking franchise: reflexive, impenetrable humility.
"It's always hard to talk about yourself, but..." He stops. Redirects. "There are actors who are just movie stars, you know? They just are. You can't take your eyes off them when they're on the screen. I know what that thing is, and I see it in some of my friends, but that's just not who I am. My movies being really good or watchable always depends on everybody being really good, not just me. I'm particularly sensitive about making sure we secure the best possible people in each role because I am not somebody who can overcome if we don't."
Ask Damon about his success and he'll reply by describing how someone helped him. This is how he thinks. In Damon's world, everyone is the sum of what they've learned, so credit is due to the teachers, not the students.
"There's always a certain leap of faith you make when you start working with somebody," Damon says. But he tries to minimize the distance of that leap. Before signing on to a role, he sits down to talk about the director's vision of a film. By this point he's read the script; he has ideas on the matter. But Damon doesn't share them at first. He just wants to hear something thoughtful and new. He's exploring how the director thinks.
If he signs on, he then involves himself in the casting. Like, say, of Emily Blunt, who was fresh off her Golden Globe–nominated appearance in The Young Victoria. He wanted to work with her in The Adjustment Bureau. But that was an easy one: So did the studio and director. Done deal. (And then, a payoff from Coppola's lesson on being carefree: "I met Matt and he was lovely and very funny," Blunt says, "and instantly, I thought, 'Oh, we could be like teenage boys together. Just be weird and stupid and silly.' " And like that, chemistry is made.)
And she admits his fame actually caused problems when they stepped in front of the camera.
Blunt says, "It's actually a problem when you're shooting with someone like him because he's vastly famous. Wherever he goes, people are like... I feel like their brains melt. You know when you look at someone's face and you realise their brain's just melted when they see him."