How Emily Blunt Was Wooed By Dwayne Johnson For The “Jungle Cruise” And Why She Ghosted Him
As they prepare to release their $200 million-plus Disney tentpole, the newly minted BFFs now lean on each other for career guidance: “I go to him for advice because he lived in the trenches.”
At about 4 a.m. in the fall of 2017, after a tiring night shoot on Universal’s Skyscraper, Dwayne Johnson, arguably the busiest person in Hollywood, set aside some time to film a video for Emily Blunt. At the time, he was attached to star in Jungle Cruise, which various producers had been trying to get off the ground at Disney since at least 2004, after the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie revealed the moneymaking potential of a theme park ride reimagined as a film franchise.
Johnson, who had been taken with Blunt since The Devil Wears Prada, felt she’d be his ideal sparring partner in the film, which was envisioned as a two-hander. “I had always admired her as an actor, but also when I would watch her on talk shows, she had this personality that was effervescent, that was cool and very, very charming.” So far Blunt was proving impervious to what producer Beau Flynn calls the filmmakers’ “unilateral targeted attack.”
Looking to take a break after shooting Mary Poppins Returns and A Quiet Place back-to-back, she had declined to read a script and remained unmoved even after receiving a heartfelt letter from Sean Bailey, the chief of Disney’s live-action studio.So when Jungle Cruise‘s taciturn Spanish director, Jaume Collet-Serra, was planning to fly to New York to hand deliver a script directly to Blunt at her home in Brooklyn, Johnson wanted to send him along with the video as a kind of charm assist. “I must have shot it about five or six times because I had not communicated with Emily yet,” Johnson says. “I had not even met her. And I wanted to let her know via this video just how important she was to this movie and how I only wanted her in this movie. And it was great. And I … I actually never heard again from Emily. Didn’t respond at all. Just ghosted me.”
Says Blunt, with a smile: “I thought the video was sweet. Didn’t know you were going to be so sensitive.” Chalk up the misunderstanding to cultural differences — her British reserve versus his wrestling-ring-decibel enthusiasm. Eventually, spurred by Collet-Serra’s pitch that the film would be reminiscent of the Indiana Jones films and Romancing the Stone (and Johnson’s “sweet” video), Blunt did read the script and was won over, with the additional help of a generous payday.
Now the duo are on a soundstage in Atlanta in mid-July, where Johnson is in the final weeks of filming the Warner Bros. superhero movie Black Adam and Blunt has flown in from shooting a BBC/Amazon Western series in Spain to join him for Jungle Cruise press. The pair are seated in front of a lavish boat and jungle set, as crew around them arrange some prop shrubbery. With all the Disney promotional jazz hands deployed, this scene almost feels like the pre-pandemic movie business, save for the masks on the crew.Brought together onscreen for their odd-couple appeal, offscreen the duo share a business savvy.
As the film industry undergoes the most dramatic period of change in its more than 100-year history, battered by COVID and the rapid adoption of streaming, these two actors are navigating the moment with a shrewdness and an unusually hands-on approach to contracts, distribution and marketing. Where they differ is on their willingness to openly engage on such matters.
Periodically throughout the interview, Blunt seems to be trying to keep Johnson’s candor in check. When he starts to answer a question about their contracts, she’ll interject, “You’ll be quoted.” Some of this is a shtick they’ve adopted for the film’s promotion, but some is genuinely rooted in their DNA. As stars, Blunt, 38, and Johnson, 49, barely seem to hail from the same galaxy. “He said to me once, ‘I love that your debut was onstage with Dame Judi Dench and mine was in the wrestling ring cutting myself with razors,’ ” Blunt says.
This summer they’re bringing audiences a $200 million-plus, four-quadrant popcorn movie that would have seemed like an obvious profit engine for its studio in any other era. Instead, their movie, which will open in theaters and on Disney+ (for a $30 fee) on July 30, is the latest test of the moviegoing audience’s appetites a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic. Jungle Cruise is a family-oriented film coming out at a time when most children in the U.S. and around the world are not yet vaccinated and COVID cases once again are spiking globally because of new variants.
Despite the health news, there have been some encouraging signs at the box office, most recently with Disney’s July 9 hybrid release of Black Widow, which debuted to a pandemic-era best of $158.8 million at the worldwide box office, plus another $60 million on Disney+. (Black Widow dropped a steep 67 percent at the box office in its second weekend, prompting the National Association of Theatre Owners to blame the studio’s simultaneous release strategy for a “stunning collapse.”)