Following her acclaimed role in The Devil Wears Prada, Emily Blunt developed her character of ‘Prudie’ in The Jane Austen Book Club. In an interview, Blunt describes her as a “very secretive, kind of geeky looking French teacher…
“It was challenging because I had to be very restrained. She was much closer to the person I was when I was growing up. I was much more vulnerable as a child than some of the characters that I’ve played which have been sort of fast-talking, kind of bitchy, mysterious people.”
She responds to a question about struggling with a stammer when growing up: “I couldn’t even talk,” Blunt said. “It was over the course of four years and it gradually just went away.
“My parents found it really hard because I was a smart kid and I had a lot to say, I just couldn’t say it. I still suffer with it sometimes, when I’m tired or stressed..” [Hollywood Life magazine, Sep/Oct 2007]
According to the Stuttering Foundation of America, about five percent of all children go through a period of stuttering that lasts six months or more, most recovering by late childhood, but about one percent have a long-term problem – more than three million Americans.
The foundation page Famous People Who Stutter lists Tiger Woods; James Earl Jones; Bruce Willis; Jimmy Stewart; Julia Roberts; Marilyn Monroe; John Updike; Lewis Carroll and many others.
Actor Harvey Keitel has talked about how deep a challenge dysfluency can be: “As a kid I was told to shush, and as a result it’s taken me a lifetime to be able to speak. … I had to hide it — you hammer it down until you can’t think anymore, you can’t speak anymore, and your inner world is in retreat.
“You can’t function, and you stutter, which I did as a boy. You will stutter not only vocally, but inwardly. You will hesitate, you will fumble, you will futz, and you will deny the truth because the truth is too difficult to handle. It’s hard to select which situations to run away from once you become a runner, so you hide from everything.” [From the page Early life.]
Carly Simon has been candid about her experiences stuttering as a child: “I became more embarrassed as kids made fun of me. I loved to read, but never out loud. I still can’t read out loud. I almost always couldn’t say H’s. Then there were some days that it was S’s and some that it was T’s.”
She goes on to note one of the positive aspects for her: “So I became this walking thesaurus. You learn to supply yourself with substitute words you won’t trip over.” [From interview in Ladies’ Home Journal.]
The article Right Brain Left Brain by Steven Gillman notes, “Stutterers find that they don’t stutter when they sing, because it is handled differently than regular speech.”
That is affirmed by singer Carly Simon: “Yes, I think it’s true of all stammerers. They can’t stammer when they sing. There’s something about the mind connecting differently to the vocal cords when you apply either rhythm or melody.”
Acting seems to provide another form of expression that helps with stammering.
Emily Blunt says she “overcame the speech impediment when I was on the stage, which was really interesting. Maybe, sort of, you transform into somebody else and it goes, or you kind of have to do it and so you just do it. I mean, it’s often, when you’re asked to do a stunt, I’d never freaking do it in a million years if someone asked me to do it in real life, but if you’re on camera you sometimes just kinda do it, you just put yourself in that place and you do it. So I think that was what it was like with the stammer.” [From And The Winner Is… interview by Scott Feinberg.]
Stuttering may relate to social anxiety or introversion.
Nicole Kidman has said, “I am very shy – really shy – I even had a stutter as a kid, which I slowly got over, but I still regress into that shyness. So I don’t like walking into a crowded restaurant by myself; I don’t like going to a party by myself.” [From A brief annotated profile.]
Our so-called dysfunctions, depending on severity, and other people’s reactions (and our own attitudes) can turn out to have positive value. Experiences including various disorders, learning differences and ADD/ADHD, even mood disorders like depression and anxiety, have all provided benefits to some people in terms of personal growth, and creativity enhancement.
As Carly Simon sees it, “So much of my life is compensation… You can think of any defect – or something that’s perceived as a defect – as being a new beginning. In retrospect, my stammering was an opportunity.”