There are plenty of stars who were music-video vixens before making it big: Alicia Silverstone was Aerosmith’s muse in the ‘90s, and Courteney Cox boogied with Bruce Springsteen pre-"Friends.” But few have turned as many heads as Emily Ratajkowski, the 24-year-old model who danced topless alongside the clothed Robin Thicke and Pharrell in 2013’s “Blurred Lines.”
Her provocative appearance helped make the video one of the most talked-about of the past decade — it’s been viewed more than 400 million times on YouTube — and jump-started her career. Within months, she landed her first film role, in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl,” playing opposite Ben Affleck as an enamored mistress. This month, the onetime Encinitas resident — who now lives in a loft in downtown L.A.'s Arts district — stars in “We Are Your Friends” as a 20-something who ends up dating the famous DJ who’s also her boss.
OK, be real: You weren’t at all bothered by the fact that in “Blurred Lines,” all the women were nude while the men were not?
We took something that on paper sounded really sexist and misogynistic and made it more interesting, which is why women love that video and why it became a viral success. There’s an attitude and energy there that goes beyond girls shaking their ass around suited men — a confidence that I think is refreshing. We don’t have any images of nude women other than in really beautiful magazines shot by great photographers that aren’t overly sexualized. And I think that “Blurred Lines” wasn’t overly sexualized, and that’s what made it interesting.
When you say you made it more interesting — did you have a say in the creative direction?
I said no to it originally, and then I met with the director [Diane Martel], who ended up doing the tour for Miley Cyrus. I laid it out to her up front: “I’m not gonna be naked and running around.” Then we had a really great conversation and hit it off as women and creative people and I think that’s how the video happened. ... I definitely think that no one expected me to have any ideas about it. When people asked me about it initially, I think they thought I’d be like, “It was just really fun and exciting.” I was like, “No, actually, here’s what I think about sexuality and empowerment and the way we look at nudity in our country and this is what bothers me and here’s a great opportunity, thanks for asking.”
Do you mind that you’re so still closely associated with the music video?
It’s a weird thing. Rick Springfield wrote “Jessie’s Girl,” and he probably gets sick of talking about “Jessie’s Girl.” The thing is, I didn’t write “Blurred Lines.” I didn’t direct the music video. I’m really happy for the success, but it is kind of a funny thing to follow me around.
How did you start modeling?
When I was 14, I had an acting teacher who was like, “She should think about modeling.” And my mom was like, ‘No, absolutely not. She’s too young, and I’m not going to put my daughter into an industry like that.’ At first, when someone approached me to say I should get head shots I started crying in the car because I thought they meant a needle to the head. I definitely didn’t understand it. I was too young.
Was it hard to be judged physically while you were going through puberty?
I’ve always been full-figured in a not-boyish way. So I remember them measuring my hips and being like, “What? I’ve never even thought about this part of my body before.” ... I developed very young, so I was more conscious of sexuality and being a pretty girl-woman. Having men look at you and really having no idea what sex is a very strange experience.
How did studio executives treat you when they learned you wanted to transition from modeling to acting?
Hollywood is a boys club, and that’s something I thought was a stereotype — and it’s not. That really shocked me. Still shocks me. Everyone’s helping their buddies out and pressing their buddies and playing tennis with their buddies and making movies with their buddies, and that grosses me out. I know that sometimes, I get in a room because someone has said, “I have this model — she was in the ‘Blurred Lines’ video? Oh, and ‘Gone Girl’! So she’s also a good actress.” I’m sure that’s there.
Your character in the film is a Stanford dropout, and you left UCLA after four quarters. Why did you decide to quit school?
I went in for the art department, which was really small, and I thought it’d be a school within a big school. But I didn’t really find that. I also find fine art education really arbitrary. Some of the conceptual stuff they were pushing I didn’t really agree with. When people are like – “College! Oh my God! Ultimate freedom!” -- I didn’t feel that way. My roommates were loving hitting the town, but I wasn’t as psyched about going to the frats.
I heard you’re going to be a contributor to Lenny, Lena Dunham’s upcoming newsletter for young women. What will you be writing?
It’s a little overwhelming, especially because it hasn’t been launched yet, so I don’t have any examples. It’s an amazing platform and I want to take it seriously and whatever I write to be fun and interesting but also really cover a lot.
You have almost 3 million followers on Instagram. How conscious are you of the pictures you post?
You get people who are like, “If you want to be taken seriously as an actress, don’t post any sexy photos.” And that’s.... You can do whatever you want — that’s what being a woman is. That being said, I definitely think there’s a performance side of it. It’s not me. I’m not posting my meal when I think it’s a great, delicious meal. I do factor in the audience and cater to them. You put on an act a little bit. I want to keep it going because I think it’s an important platform and a lucky thing you can have as an actress. Before, everything that was being put out in the world was being dictated by other people.