Acting Helped Emily Blunt Overcome a Speech Impediment

Emily Blunt, the British actress just sweet enough to play the reimagined Mary Poppins, is not only a delight on-screen but off-screen as well. Despite her skyrocketing success after her breakout role in The Devil Wears Prada, she hasn’t stopped caring deeply about an issue close to her heart: stuttering.

Emily Blunt is active with the American Institute for Stuttering

Emily Blunt
Emily Blunt | Pascal Le Segretain/WireImage

The American Institute for Stuttering (AIS) was founded in 1998 and aims to provide “effective stuttering therapy for all ages.” AIS has been holding its Annual Benefit Gala event since 2007.

Blunt regularly attends the gala and has hosted several times. In 2009, Blunt was awarded the Freeing Voices, Changing Lives award, a distinction shared by several others, including actors Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.

In a recent piece in Marie Claire, Blunt was interviewed by a very special friend: Sammy Blatstein, an 11-year-old boy with a stutter of his own. Blatstein is the son of the magazine’s former Editor-in-Chief, Anne Fulenwider, who has brought Blatstein to AIS on and off for years.

What followed in the interview was a sweet and honest conversation between two fellow stutterers that just melts your heart. 

Emily Blunt shares stories of her childhood with a stutter

Blunt began stuttering at six or seven but said it really felt ingrained by the age of 11 or 12. She hated being called on in class or having to call friend’s houses.

She shared with Blatstein that she had wanted to share her poems in class but knew that she couldn’t.┬áBlatstein asked right away if Blunt still has a stutter, to which she replied: “Once a stutterer, I feel, always a stutterer.”

When she was around 12, one of her teachers, Mr. McHale, encouraged her to do the school play. She refused at first and he pointed out that when she does accents or silly voices, she doesn’t stutter.

With that push, she tried it out and used, as she put it, a “really bad” northern England accent. This was a lightbulb moment for her.

“Suddenly, I had a fluency. The removal of yourself from yourself, in some ways, was freeing. I agreed to it, and I did speak completely fluently,” she said.

Not stuttering during the performance helped her to realize that this was a problem she could overcome, but that didn’t seal the deal for her love of acting just yet.  

Emily Blunt hadn’t planned on pursuing acting

At the age of 16, Blunt began attending a boarding school during the school days and returning home on weekends. During her time there, she participated in a school play that went on to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A teacher who was also acting in the show was so impressed with her, he called in a friend who was an agent to watch her.

Blunt had originally planned to study Spanish and eventually work for the U.N. Much like with accents, she didn’t stutter in other languages. Since acting wasn’t her goal at the time, when she began going on auditions with her agent, her detachment gave her a bit of an edge on the competition in a strange way.

She explained: “I had a really casual attitude toward it, and that maybe is no bad thing. It’s such a competitive sort of soul-devouring business. I enjoyed auditioning because I didn’t have any pressure; I didn’t need to win.

That initial casual interest developed into her “falling madly in love” with acting. 

What does Emily Blunt want people to know about stutters?

Part of Blunt’s work with AIS reaches beyond helping those who want speech therapy and into educating the general population. She wants to raise awareness of the true causes of stuttering and combat negative stereotypes about people with stutters.

Blunt summarizes the causes of stuttering succinctly: “It’s not psychological. It’s not that you’re nervous, it’s not that you’re insecure, it’s not that you can’t read, it’s not that you don’t know what you want to say. It’s neurological, it’s genetic, it’s biological. It’s not your fault.”