Emily Blunt's new movie "The Quiet Place" is about a family that tries to live silently, lest terrible things befall them. She won't speak much, which is a tad unusual for the British actress. Her roles usually display flawless vocals, via her American accents ("The Girl on the Train," "Sicario") and singing ("Into the Woods," upcoming "Mary Poppins").
So it's difficult to believe that Blunt spent her childhood bullied for a nearly debilitating stutter. But maybe that helped launch her acting career.
On the cusp of her teenage years, Blunt was mocked relentlessly by her classmates. As a defense mechanism, she recently told People's Jess Cagle, she essentially hid herself in characters.
"I used to do a lot of funny voices and funny accents because I could speak more fluently if I didn't sound like me," Blunt said.
Her parents enrolled her in various therapies and relaxation classes, but nothing took until she began acting.
A "fantastic teacher" overheard Blunt's impressions an funny voices and asked the 12-year-old to enroll in a school play despite her stutter, a suggestion she greeted with vigorous objections.
"This is kind of remarkable for someone who's not a stutterer, that he had this instinct. It was so special," Blunt recalled.
Bitten by the acting bug, she eventually conquered her stutter, but it never will disappear completely.
"It still comes back and flares if I'm really tired. Or when I was pregnant, it was really prominent again," Blunt said.
Stuttering is a surprisingly common affliction in Hollywood, a place generally unkind to those with disabilities, despite a main tenet of acting being flawless line-reading and enunciation. Several big-name actors managed to enjoy a lucrative career regardless. Here are a few.
- James Earl Jones: "The Great White Hope" actor became one of Hollywood's more famous voices, lending it to "The Lion King," "Star Wars" and CNN. But Jones stuttered so badly that he spent eight years of his childhood barely speaking to anyone except his family and the animals on the farm where he lived.
But he loved words, specifically the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. One of his high school English teachers noticed this and had Jones read poetry in front of the class, forcing him to work on his stutter. He eventually learned to keep it enough at bay to make a living with his voice - though it never goes away entirely.
"I don't say I was 'cured,'" he told NPR. "I just work with it."
Jones' story inspired so many that in 1987, he became the first recipient of the Annie Glenn Award, which honors those who positively affect people suffering from communication disorders.
- Marilyn Monroe: From "The Seven Year Itch" to "Some Like it Hot," Monroe's breathy voice was as much a star as she was. But it didn't always roll off her tongue so easily. She stuttered from an early age, and a speech therapist suggested she adopt the throaty tone to overcome her disability. That voice became her trademark, but she never fully stopped stuttering.
"It was terrible," she once said of it. "I don't know how it happened. I just stuttered."
It followed her throughout her career, inciting the wrath of a director at least once when she stuttered a line-reading.
"The director was furious. He said, 'You don't stutter,'" she recalled. "I said, 'That's what you think!'
"Oh, it's painful," she added. "Oh, God."
- Bruce Willis: The actor is the epitome of cool on-screen, but throughout his childhood, he battled a stutter that led to such relentless bullying that, as he said, "I had to fight my way out."
His remedy, much like Blunt's, was to become someone else.
"It took me three minutes to complete a sentence," Willis once said. "It was crushing for anyone who wanted to express themselves, who wanted to be heard and couldn't. It was frightening. Yet when I became another character in a play, I lost the stutter. It was phenomenal."
He didn't see a speech therapist until an acting teacher in college encouraged him to do so. Now he's an outspoken advocate for people who stutter.
- Samuel L. Jackson: That booming, often expletive-laden voice once cracked, stopped and started with regularity, and it still does from time to time.
"I stuttered really, really, really bad for a long time . to the point that I stopped speaking for, like, almost a year in school," Jackson told Howard Stern in 2016.
As a young man, it even led to fistfights. "I won," Jackson assured Stern.
He would go to the library to read about stuttering, therapies, breathing activities, anything he could find. While it helped, the panacea to his stutter came in an unusual manner - saying a word very much associated with Jackson, but that cannot be printed in a family newspaper.
"I have no idea" why it helps, Jackson said. "But it just does. It clicks a switch that stops the d-d-d, b-b-b-b-b."