Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan let the sparks fly in their first movie together, Wild Mountain Thyme.
The Ireland-set romantic drama from John Patrick Shanley, the Oscar-winning writer of Moonstruck, showcases the pair's crackling chemistry, which was on full display when they spoke with PEOPLE about the project, out this December.
In Wild Mountain Thyme, Blunt, 37, plays Rosemary Muldoon, a headstrong farmer with a yearning for her neighbor, Anthony Reilly (Dornan, 38). Unfortunately for Rosemary, he is completely oblivious to her feelings for him. With his father (Christopher Walken) working to sell the family farm to his American nephew (Jon Hamm), Anthony is inspired to pursue his dreams — and perhaps a romance with Rosemary.
The film is based on Shanley's own hit Broadway play Outside Mullingar, which received a 2014 Tony Award nomination for best play and starred Debra Messing in her Broadway debut as Rosemary.
In a PEOPLE exclusive first look at the romance, Blunt and Dornan discuss their love for Shanley's screenplay, mastering region-specific Irish accents and taking a break from blockbusters to tell a more intimate story.
PEOPLE: How are you two?
Emily Blunt: We're doing great. Jamie was just asking the question of… He literally was talking about what is nude these days and I was like, what do you mean? Is half nude considered nude? And then he got cut off by this really interesting fact he was about to tell me. These are the kind of conversations we seem to have. Pretty exciting.
PEOPLE: Jamie has a lot of experience with nudity, so.
Jamie Dornan: Oh, yeah.
Blunt: I have never seen him in those films. I only know him as the awkward and strange Anthony from Wild Mountain Thyme. I have never seen these films that you speak of.
Dornan: If you play your cards right, you'll be getting them for Christmas.
PEOPLE: Well, why don't we kick it off just with the chemistry you two obviously have? You two have good banter and you seem to be pretty friendly with one another. What was it like acting alongside each other and did you hit it off right from the start?
Dornan: So in my mind, Emily and I have met a couple of times before. I felt like we had connected in quite a strong way before and other real sort of meeting of minds, mutual respect. And then we arranged to have dinner. Emily's sister and my wife are very close friends, and we arranged to have this dinner when we knew we were doing this job together. And Emily acted like, and actually said, that she'd never met me before.
Blunt: But this is what's embarrassing is that he's presenting me as somebody who's senile, who has no recollection. And I know, I think I had met him briefly. But Jamie remembers things we spoke about, I have no recollection of. Admittedly, I do have a bad memory for faces. So yes, he had had meaningful conversations with me, I had had none with him, but yet I was so thrilled to work with him. And we were both just so taken with this script and I remember that dinner and talking about it, like why we were both so bewitched by it. And we were also sort of bewitched and a bit bewildered by why we were so drawn to it. It's the most beautiful, eccentric, strange poem of a film.
Dornan: I will echo everything that Emily says, but this is one of those jobs where so much of the movie hinges on the relationship between Rosemary and Anthony and the complexities of that relationship. And you need to be working with someone who's totally on board and on the same wavelength, and has the same passion and understanding of these quite peculiar people, and who's going to do it in a professional, but also very fun way. Emily was the embodiment of all of that for me. And we just had a real laugh, and we're so connected to these strange people from this strange part of a strange country. It was one of those wonderful jobs that you're very sad when they wrap.
PEOPLE: Did Jamie help you out, Emily, at all, with your Irish accent, given his own background?
Blunt: Well, Jamie's from Northern Ireland. So we were both sort of thrown in at the deep end having to do an accent that was unfamiliar. I'll admit, I'm sure I had a tougher time with it than he did initially, but he's not usually one to give people tips, he's the most unpresumptuous person ever. But he assured me that I sounded Irish and I'm going to believe him. So if he's wrong, I'm going to blame him for any backlash on my accent. He has assured me it was a great Irish accent. We'll see.
Dornan: Most of the time it was. I mean, we did a little rehearsal. What were they called Emily? Cabins, I guess? We were staying in these kind of cabins very soon before we started shooting, we were just over doing sort of preproduction stuff and rehearsals. We did a read-through of a couple of the scenes with the director and a script supervisor, I think, and Emily and I. It was the first time anyone had heard each other do the accent. And I remember as soon as Emily started speaking —
Dornan: We were both terrified, I was like, no, we're going to be good. Yeah. Admittedly, a lot easier for me. I'm from 300, 200 miles from where the movie… I'm actually from about 120 miles from where the movie is set, and Emily, there's an ocean between her and where the movie is set. Or the Irish Sea, certainly. So, it was definitely easier for me, but she's amazing. And you're just great at accents, though, aren't you Emily?
Blunt: I mean, let's see! We're going to find out, aren't we?
PEOPLE: The two characters you both play, they're so far removed from where you both are in your lives and the international success that you've both met over the course of your careers. What was it like stepping into their shoes?
Blunt: Well, I think that's the beauty, kind of walking in other people's shoes and people who are very dissimilar from you, or certainly how you live. And Jamie likes to think of themselves as a natural farmer, but I know I'm not a natural farmer. I don't think I'm a natural farmer. And yet there was something about the spirit of the people and how they lived that certainly for Jamie and I coming from this part of the world, it was very true to life. I think so many people in England and Ireland don't say what they feel and I think it gets them into trouble.
What I loved most about Rosemary is that actually she is bonkers and she's really eccentric, but she just has this belief that Anthony is meant for her. And she literally cannot put one foot in front of another without making that known to him. And I think both of them have been driven a bit crazy by their isolation and loneliness. And for me, yes, it's always about stepping into other people's shoes that are not yours, but yet I always have to try and find something I really understand about them.
Dornan: Yeah, I similarly thought it was one of the joys of the job is inhabiting different lives, and different souls, and different environments. And for me, with Anthony, he has a lot of oddness and sort of a quite unusual way of being physically, and certainly emotionally. I feel that humans and definitely myself, and Emily will vouch for this, I have a lot of oddness and quirks and stuff. But I often, for the want of everyone, kept hidden when I work. And I loved that I was able to play a character where I could not only release those quirky tendencies or oddities but enhance them and let them sort of flourish with Anthony. And I felt that I had a real understanding of him and the world in which he inhabited.
PEOPLE: This marks a smaller project for the two of you who, in the last few years, have been known for your bigger studio fare. What was that like to return to a more independently-scaled project? And what are the advantages of working on something that's a little more performance-based than the bigger films?
Blunt: It's never mattered so much about the scale of it. It's just the quality of what's in it, and this is undeniably the most beautifully written script I read in a long time, and I think I have been very much wanting to do something more intimate. And usually the more intimate or smaller the film, the more that there's a willingness to kind of carve out new space for itself because you're not having to contort a film to hit a great opening weekend number.
So I guess what I'm saying, smaller films tend to be more interesting and nuanced and more eccentric, and a bit more left of center and a bit more true to life and take more risk when it comes to what they're saying. And so this film definitely came at the exact moment, because I think I had just finished doing A Quiet Place II with John [Krasinski], which is a bigger scale film, and it's a genre film. And I just kept saying to him, I just want to do something small and weird. And then just out of nowhere this script comes to me, and it was like someone had heard me and they were like, this is your small, strange script. And I was like, I'm in.
Dornan: On the smaller scale stuff, there's a real willingness to get the job done, and there's this sort of camaraderie that comes and people are like, we don't have a choice. We've got to get this made. We don't have the luxury of time or money to come back and shoot this next week if we don't get it today, and there's 45 minutes of light left. Everyone just mucks in and sort of kick bollocks scramble to finish every day. But that energy that creates on that sort of level of movie, I love.
Wild Mountain Thyme will be in theaters and on demand on December 11th.
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