The 23-year-old British actor has been popping up everywhere – even if you don’t know her name yet, you know her face.
She started 2019 as the lead of Fighting With My Family, a drama-comedy set in the world of wrestling and produced by Dwayne Johnson, and she’ll close it with a key role in Greta Gerwig’s critically acclaimed adaptation of Little Women.
In between Pugh scared the bejesus out of audiences in a highly visceral performance in Ari Aster’s Midsommar, a disturbing, unsettling horror movie about American travellers who join a Swedish cult for their deadly rituals.
She’s been compared to Kate Winslet for her versatility and intensity as a performer, and it’s clear from her meteoric rise since her visceral 2016 breakthrough performance in Lady Macbeth that put the industry and audiences on notice, Florence Pugh is a name you should know.
She is, quite simply, one of the most exciting stars to come along in some time.
Next year, Pugh will reach yet another level of fame – as a Marvel superhero in Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow.
As Amy, the youngest (and brattiest) March sister in Gerwig’s Little Women adaptation, Pugh found herself scared about the role. As a then-22-year-old, the idea of playing a young teenager was daunting.
While Amy is 12 years old in Alcott’s book, in the film, she’s been aged up at the lower end to 13 or 14 years old, and then as a 20-year-old in the later sequences.
“[Playing young Amy] was definitely something I was quite scared about,” Pugh told news.com.au. “I was scared about how that was going to look, but playing younger Amy was actually the most enjoyable thing.
“Everything about the process – finding who she was, what posture she had, how she spoke, how she walked, how she danced – was quite freeing. I got to completely let go.”
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Pugh’s grandmother read her Little Women when she was young and she remembered that “Gran would love it when Amy would do anything naughty”. She admitted that she too has always appreciated “cheeky children” in books or films and liked it when Amy acted out.
Pugh put on Amy March’s skin directly after coming off the shoot for Midsommar, a horror which required she plunge to deep depths of despair, so the timing was also perfect.
“It was the most enjoyable thing I could do [after Midsommar], being that kind of 13-year-old was bliss.”
Not that appreciating Amy’s childish antics meant Pugh was a naughty kid, apart from some ill-advised hairdressing attempts, which is the kind of pre-teen nightmare she flashed back to.
“Always thinking it’s a good idea to chop your own hair, and no matter how many times you YouTube ‘how to cut your own fringe’ and how many times it bombs and fails, you still think you’re a hairdresser.”
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Pugh had heard the previous year that Gerwig was going to make another film off the back of her five-time Oscar-nominated movie Lady Bird, and that the filmmaker would team up again with Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet.
“Then we found out it was going to be Little Women, and for about three weeks, every conversation was how Greta Gerwig was doing Little Women and how exciting that was. I didn’t for a second think I was going to be included in that.”
Then Pugh got an email to meet Gerwig, who asked her to do one take of young Amy and one take of older Amy, and by October 2018, she was on set in Boston with Ronan, Chalamet, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep.
Meeting the latter was a surreal experience.
“I think everyone in that room has looked up to Meryl Streep throughout the majority of her career and it was totally unbelievable we were in the same room and I actually got to share scenes with her,” Pugh said. “I think when you’re with that level of actor the only thing you can do is watch and take everything in.
“Occasionally, you forget you’re acting with her. But someone that good only brings you up.”
Pugh isn’t short of admirers herself.
Gerwig described Pugh as fearless on the Variety Big Ticket podcast, confirming she had cast Pugh because she knew she would be able to punch at the same weight as Ronan, crucial given the push-and-pull of Jo and Amy’s dynamic in Little Women.
Earlier in the year, while promoting Midsommar, director Ari Aster explained why he had cast Pugh as Dani.
“I was a big fan of her performance in Lady Macbeth and she felt like she was right for Midsommar,” Aster told news.com.au. “Ultimately she was incredible in the film and I’m really, really proud of her performance and really in awe of her talent. She’s a really great actress.
“Dani was a part that always required a certain kamikaze commitment and she really came to the table and did exactly that.”
When filming Little Women, Pugh grew close to her on-screen sisters and that chemistry really showed up on screen in Gerwig’s symphonic film, especially in the scenes where the whole March family are gathered.
“We all have similar senses of humour, and I think we’re all very similar types of actors,” Pugh said. “We can mess about and joke and play right up until Greta says action, so it was always has that kind of energy which meant that those big scenes, whenever we’re talking over the top of one another, we had that level of energy all day long.”
For an iconic American story, novels that are etched into the memories and experiences of generations of women and men, Gerwig took the unexpected route of casting all four March sisters outside of the US talent pool.
Like Pugh, Watson is English while Ronan hails from Ireland and Scanlen from Australia. Pugh said having all the different accents on set was “lovely” and they “found a middle ground”.
“And coming from different places didn’t affect our relationship at all, especially not with our body language. We all ended up morphing into the same family”
Little Women is in cinemas from January 1
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