2019 will go down as the year of Florence Pugh, for in quite a short time, the Oxfordshire, UK native has blown us away with quite a range. Some have called a Florenaissance. It’s a breakout year reminiscent to when Edward Norton strode into the 1996 award season with Everyone Says I Love You, The People vs. Larry Flynt and Primal Fear, the latter which scored him his first Oscar nom. Back at Sundance in January, Pugh demonstrated her kickass in the MGM Dwayne Johnson production Fighting with My Family in which she played real-life British wrestler Saraya Knight. That morphed into playing the anguished and tormented teenager Dani in Ari Aster’s absurdist Swedish folk horror Midsommar in July, and is climaxing this Christmas in Greta Gerwig’s revisionist remake of Little Women in which Pugh dons puffy satin Parisian dresses as Amy March, the privileged sister to Saoirse Ronan’s Jo March. Pugh got Aster and Gerwig to work it out a schedule so that she could walk from one film to the next. Oh, and did we forget? Pugh plays sister assassin Yelena Belova to Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff in Marvel’s Black Widow next May. Pugh tells us how she pulled off the last year.
DEADLINE: How did this chain reaction of roles start? After Fighting with My Family, did your co-star Dwayne Johnson make a ton of phone calls recommending you?
FLORENCE PUGH: I actually did Fighting with My Family years ago when Lady Macbeth was coming out. So, it’s funny that it only came out this year. It’s funny how films work like that, but that one I did about two or three years ago. People are always fascinated about what the big boom was, but in actual fact, I’ve been busy for the past four years, and they’ve all just come out. So, it’s not necessarily an overnight thing for me. Ever since Lady Macbeth and Family, I’ve been going back-to-back for about four years now.
DEADLINE: How did the role of Dani in Midsommar speak to you?
PUGH: As an actor, reading a script like that, and having a director that wants you to be the character, it’s one of the best feelings ever. It’s also one of the most terrifying feelings, because I have a big connection with all these characters that I play, and I really feel like, as an actor, it is your right to know whether this is your role or someone else’s, and I’m a firm believer of that. As exciting as it is for someone to offer you a role, you have to make sure that the character’s going to get justice with you playing it, and if it doesn’t, you have to be brave enough to let someone else do it. So, when I read Midsommar, It’s every actor’s dream to have that much journey and that much arc. But ultimately, I was very apprehensive, because I can’t stand watching films when you can see someone doesn’t know how to feel something. The hardest thing to do when reading Dani was, I was so aware that she needed every single emotion that was being written down, it couldn’t just be faked, it couldn’t be imagined, it couldn’t be something that you thought that’s how they would feel. In all honesty, I was scared, because I’d never come close to any sort of grief like that in my entire life. I didn’t know what that looked like, I didn’t know what that sounded like, and in a film where that is heavily based around anxiety and grief, it would almost be rude to wing it. I was aware that I didn’t know if I had her in me, and I accepted the part because I thought maybe I did, and I did a tape for Ari, which was one of the first scenes with Christian and Dani, when he gaslights her. So, yeah, it was tricky, and I imagined every single member of my family in a coffin, which got all the noises that you see in the film out of me. I’m sure many actors would say that’s totally ridiculous, but unfortunately, I can’t cry on cue. So, I had to really just destroy myself for an entire three months, but I was happy with the work. Everything that the audience sees, it’s exhausting to watch it. I mean, I’ve watched it twice and every time, I’ve come out of it feeling completely hungover, and just dead.
Coming off Midsommar, Amy March in Little Women was the best therapy for me. She was amazing. I got to prance around in petticoats, and essentially flirt with Timothée Chalamet every day, and then punch and wrestle with all the sisters. It was great.
DEADLINE: Tell me about prepping to play Amy in Little Women. The character has often been dismissed by readers as bratty, but perhaps has more nuance in Greta Gerwig’s film.
PUGH: She’s been like that all along in the book, but I don’t think people wanted to like her, because she burns Jo’s book. She’s the youngest, and she ends up with the guy that no one understands why she’s ending up with him. But I think what’s so wonderful about Greta’s version is that it always felt sure that Amy was always there. It’s just, no one wanted to like her, and I think what Greta did was she essentially pulled out these lines that Amy does say; what’s so fascinating is that everybody’s so shocked that Amy actually has a brain, and she has a plan.
But ultimately, she had that plan in the book as well. I think we’re so ready, as modern people and modern women, that we are so excited to champion and to cheer for a woman that says they want to earn their own money and not get married. But actually, back in that era, that was probably one of the most reckless and silly things for you to do, and want. Aunt March had trained Amy to plan for ‘If you marry well, you will be safe, and you will have children, and your children will be safe.’ And if you marry into a rich family that has a lot of money, you are essentially surviving, and I think that’s something that we forget, as, like, modern people, that during that time, women didn’t have any choice. They didn’t own anything, and they didn’t own their children, and they didn’t own any money. So, actually, this girl that we’ve all hated for so many years in this book was probably one of the smartest as well.
DEADLINE: Greta Gerwig mentioned that she gave you your ‘women and marriage’ speech to Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) at the last minute to memorize. Were there a lot of on-the-fly moments like that on set?
PUGH: I will definitely say that you are totally expected to learn your lines — the script is the Bible– and then if Greta has something that she wants to add, she’ll tell you in the morning. And that day, obviously she gave me that whopper of a speech on that day, and every given five minutes, I would just go into the corner and look mad and go over it so many times. She’s very specific and precise with her script, and lines will be written on top of one another, and you’ll be expected to come in on the exact word that your line is written, and if you don’t, she’ll come in and tell you that you didn’t come in on that exact word. So, it’s supposed to be loud, it’s supposed to be chaotic. You’re supposed to not hear the cue that you’re coming in, and it’s obviously the most stressful thing ever, but it’s very exhilarating. Every single scene you see with, like, eight people, it was the biggest mission to shoot, because everybody had to be on their cues, and hot, like, really, really hot.
DEADLINE: What can you tell us about playing Yelena Belova in Black Widow?
PUGH: I think Fighting with My Family is so crucial for every single action thing that I ever do for the rest of my life, because it taught me that I really love it, and actually, I’m not that bad at it. I love getting in there, and I hate it when I have to give a job to my stunt double, because that’s always the saddest part, when the cooler version of you steps onto set and can do everything, and you’re like, “Oh no!”
After getting the job for Black Widow I was in a big warehouse for a month, just learning from these amazingly magical people how to kickbox, fight, butterfly-knifing, and how I would chop up a human if I was fighting them. It’s totally nuts. I think that everything about this industry is already so bizarre, but the most amazing thing about it is when you do stunts, you meet some of the most unique, talented people that have quite literally run away with the circus. And all the people that you learn from grew up on the streets in Bulgaria, or grew up in Thailand, or had to learn how to knife-throw to protect their family. It’s like learning how to be an assassin 101, right? It’s mind-blowing.