Emily Blunt and James MacAvoy on the Terror of Gnomes

For stars Emily Blunt and James McAvoy, “Gnomeo & Juliet” represents less a flighty animated romantic comedy and more a confrontation of their worst, lawn-decorating fears.

“I remember my friend had garden gnomes, and I remember being kind of scared of them when I was very young,” confesses Blunt, who voices the titular femme in the love story inspired by Shakespeare, embellished with Elton John songs, and 3-D animated by Disney.

“I was always scared or skeeved out by anything that resembled people when I was a kid, like puppets and things like that,” Blunt explains. “Ventriloquist dolls were the depths of Hell for me.  I was a rather anxious child, apparently. I think I know someone who’s got a garden gnome of themselves, which is quite strange. But I wouldn’t mind having one – that could be fun.”

McAvoy, the film’s Gnomeo, also has a spotty history with the creatures: “I had two garden gnomes in my grandparents’ garden – one of them was bearing its backside, and the other one was looking kind of like that,” he says, imitating Gnome #2’s dubious sidelong look.  “I think they came as a pair.  But they were really grimy and covered in moss, and I always thought they looked a bit seedy, unlike the child-friendly ones in this film.”

Blunt says past stage experience with Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” when she was a teenager helped her find her way into the gnomey incarnation, a much more proactive heroin for a more enlightened generation.

“I had a really wonderful director who encouraged a different view of Juliet than I had taken from the text,” she says, “which is actually that she’s not a wilting, delicate flower – she’s actually hot-tempered just like her dad.  She’s decisive and rebellious, and very much not the reactionary role. It was really great to hear that [Disney] wanted to have like a tough little Juliet like the one that I had done on stage.”

McAvoy, too, used his Shakespearan experience to create a unique take on his pointy-blue-capped mini-Romeo. ”Gnomeo in this is a little bit of amalgamation between Gnomeo and Mercutio.  We don’t have that Mercutio character in this.  We don’t have that leader of the pack, which Romeo isn’t but Gnomeo is a little bit. So it was handy to have an appreciation of who Mercutio, not only to conform to what your family wants, but also to show off for your blue pals.”

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