For Florence Pugh, 2019 as been what people like to call, “a breakthrough year.” It started way back at Sundance when she received acclaim for the wrestling-themed true story, Fighting With My Family. Then all heck broke loose for Pugh after the release of Ari Aster’s Midsommar, a movie that is pretty impossible to not think about for months (maybe years, who knows?) after watching.
And now Pugh stars as Amy in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. When I spoke to Gerwig recently, she says of Amy, “Amy was the character that seemed to me to almost have more lines that were written in bright neon letters that I couldn’t wait to have someone say.” And, yes, Pugh says those lines with direct confidence. Gerwig continues, “By God this woman is fascinating, and also that she’s capable of completely standing inside of her own desires and wanting what she wants and never being ashamed of it, which for female characters is particularly exciting because usually in literary trips you’re just punished for wanting things.”
And then top all that off with the first Black Widow trailer premiering, showing Pugh going toe to toe with Scarlett Johansson. In the comics, Pugh’s character, Yelena Belova, becomes the new Black Widow. But not so fast, Pugh warns, because she doesn’t see Black Widow as being any kind of passing of the torch.
Before speaking to Pugh on the phone, I had texted my girlfriend, an entertainment journalist herself, to ask if there was any topic I should bring up with Pugh that I was forgetting. She responded, seriously, but in a “no way should you ask this” manner, “Ask her why she’s so cool.” But I did anyway, which led us down a road of practical tips that are very cool, in the kind of “cool” way The Fonz would explain why it’s cool to eat vegetables, or whatever. Anyway, yes, maybe Florence Pugh is the new Fonz.
How are you doing?
I’m good, thank you. Sorry about being late.
I’m in New York and it’s really cold out anyway, so I’m not going to go outside.
You’re not partying right now then?
I am not partying.
I mentioned to my girlfriend that I was talking to you and I was like, “What should I bring up?” And all she wrote back on a text was, “Why is she so cool?” So that’s all I have.
That’s not really a question I can answer because if I did I wouldn’t be cool.
Right. But if you can share that information, that would be a good tip for me.
Well, I don’t personally think I am, but some of the things that I do that make me who I am is: always have a travel size bag full of Yorkshire tea bags because you never know when you’re going to need them. Always have a sewing kit on you because you need needles more than you need anything else in your handbag. And also never answer the question, “Why are you so cool?”
I’m now going to title this piece “Florence Pugh explains why she’s so cool.” Because there are actually three answers. You wouldn’t expect one of them being a sewing bag, but that’s a great answer. There’s truth in that.
[Laughs] Oh, and a Tide pen. Oh my God! I’ve really gotten into Tide pens.
Oh, Tide pens are the best.
Yeah. I have become very cool among my friends because of Tide pens.
And if you happen to spill something on yourself, there’s no way you can be cool with a big stain down your shirt.
So you have to clean that up.
Right. How cool is that?
That is cool.
I have a tide pen in every one of my handbags.
All of them?
Yep. I do.
You don’t have to exchange them from bag to bag?
No, you just buy about, I don’t know, 10, and you put one in every room of the house, one in the kitchen, and then one in every bag and you should be good.
Where on Earth are you shopping that you get ten at once?
Yeah, I Google “family pack Tide pens” and you can buy 15. Sorry, this is so off-topic.
It’s fine, I want to learn about this deal.
You can place 15 in a pack, and they will come to you the next day and then you’re done.
So, the family pack is 15 Tide pens? Which is enough…
If you’re lucky.
Which is enough for every bag and every room?
And even giving a few out to your friends on a night out.
Maybe the title of this is Florence Pugh giving us just good tips for living…
Yeah, I feel like that’s probably the best way that I can answer your question.
I was looking at your Wikipedia page and under the section that says “early work,” that era only ended 11 months ago.
Wikipedia has decided 2019 was a whole new era for you.
Yeah, apparently so. I remember at the beginning, the saddest thing about being an actor at the beginning is that you have no credits whatsoever on your IMDB page. And sometimes I would just basically go into my IMDB page and just stare at it and hope that a few more would magically appear.
Like something would just pop up as you’re staring?
Yeah. I remember thinking every time I got a job, I was like, yes, that’s one more on my IMDB page! And it’s a big embarrassment because some auditions would ask you to bring your acting resume, I suppose. And I would print off one credit and they would all say, why did you print this off? And I said, because you asked for a resume! So it’s nice that they’re finally racking up. It’s a nice feeling. And every single thing that I look at on that page is work that I’m very proud of.
So, between the Tide pens and that story, what I’m learning about you is you’re very practical.
Also, if I’m you, I would have done the same thing because I’m going to follow the instructions. Because if that’s what they want, that’s what they want.
Also! You’re so desperate, you always wonder if you didn’t bring in that piece of paper, was that the reason why you didn’t get the job?
That’s exactly how I would feel. “I nailed that audition and I only didn’t get it because they wanted that piece of paper and I just didn’t do it.”
Exactly. We’re currently the same person.
No, that’s definitely not true. As we’ve discussed earlier, you are much cooler than I could ever possibly be. But I’m writing this stuff down for tips.
Amy seems like the most difficult character in Little Women? But I love your matter of fact delivery after destroying Jo’s writing, “Well, I knew it would hurt her and so that’s why I did it.” See, that makes sense.
I know. I think that’s something that I’m always so fascinated by, especially as a kid. I remember saying sorry was one of the hardest things to do. And I remember it was hard because you didn’t really know what it was you were sorry for because, realistically, you still would have done what you did. And I think it’s always interesting when parents tell you to say sorry. You say sorry because they told you to do it because if you don’t, you’ll be in trouble. I always found that scene so wonderful to read because she’s being forced to say sorry. And as she’s doing so she’s explaining why she did it. She’s not saying she feels bad for it. She’s explaining that she felt so angry that I thought I’d burn it. And I think there’s a very wonderfully childish thing to her in that moment, and yeah I loved doing it.
When you and Greta are approaching Amy, what did you want to do because, I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s just something so much better about it?
I think I just wanted to make her fun. And I think whenever I read Greta’s script, there was a certain air about her that almost felt like, every single time she walked into a room, she expected everybody to be looking at her. And that’s how I wanted her to be. And that’s how, whenever I got into that child costume, I knew that I accidentally walked completely differently. I had a different posture and everything was very whiny and I just loved being that version of her. It happens when we go back for Christmas and we’re around our parents. We accidentally slip into that childish way of being. I think that being the youngest, it’s so easy for that to happen. I just wanted her to be enjoyable to watch because that youngest sibling has it easy in every family, the youngest sibling has it so easy because all the hard parenting is done on the first two.
I was just back for Thanksgiving and my mom makes this — I don’t even know what it is — it’s like this pink fluff, almost. It’s like marshmallow and something. But you’re 100 percent right because when she asked if I wanted pink fluff, I caught myself whining, “But I don’t want any pink fluff.”
I don’t know why I brought that up.
And here you are telling me that you didn’t want to eat your mom’s desert fluff. Oh my goodness.
A marshmallow treat.
And she spent days making that for you.
She did, and I did wind up eating it and it was fine.
There you go. See you sunk back into being the child.
I did. Oh, and Amy is fleshed out more.
Yeah. I think it’s so important to show the reality of what it was like for women to love back then. It’s so easy to appreciate Joe’s character because she represents everything that women today, and women since it was written, want to be like. They want to be in charge of their life. They want to earn their own money. They want to prove everyone wrong. And I think it’s so easy to be in full respect of her because of that. But I think something that Greta really allowed Amy to be was realistic. And to not get married was actually a pretty foolish thing to do. And to find someone rich was the safest way for you to, I suppose, survive.
People are still talking about Midsommar. Little Women is getting critical claim. And then the Black Widow trailer comes out…
Yeah, it’s been a busy, full year. I will say that.
Or is it one of those things where, to you, there’s all still distance between them, but it just seems like it’s hitting the culture all at once.
Yeah, you’re totally right. I think with Little Women and with Black Widow in the last year or so, and Midsommar, it’s definitely reached a new level. But I think it’s been a really wonderful year because I’ve been going and going for about three years now and they’re all coming out and it’s wonderful to see people appreciate your work. I think obviously being part of the Marvel Universe is a whole different thing and I’m aware of that. But so far the love has only been good and… [there are loud sirens in the background].
No, it’s good. It wasn’t for me, don’t worry.
I would probably have to change the headline again if it were.
[Laughs] That’s true. But my favorite thing about shooting that film was the involvement with the stunts — they were so open about how much you wanted to do. And that for me, ever since doing Fighting with my Family, I’m so interested in that whole world. I loved being a part of the physical stuff on set. So it was really exciting for me because the stunt guys were just so ready to teach me anything I wanted to learn. And being that physical, I mean, it’s pretty awesome actually. You get to learn how to fight, and that’s just like such a cool skill to learn on a job. And I got to do it with Scarlett Johansson, which is one of those bizarre things that you suddenly wake up in a scene and go, oh my God, I’m trying to strangle Scarlet Johansson against the kitchen sink. This is really weird, but it’s kind of amazing.
In the comics your character is Black Widow. So, is this a passing of the torch almost? Because we know what happens to Scarlett’s character in the last movie?
No, I actually will say when we were making it, it wasn’t anything like that at all. And I am saying it very honestly, it certainly didn’t feel like a passing of the torch kind of film when we were making it. And I think the direction and the feeling and the vibe behind it was genuinely just trying to make this complicated and painful story. And do it justice because a lot of fans have been waiting for her film. And also a lot of people I think will appreciate this story. Kate’s done an amazing job on showing these two girls and, I suppose, facing their history and facing their pain. The direction was more on that front. But I’m happy that people have appreciated the trailer and I’m looking forward to watching it.
I’m now going to order the family pack of Tide sticks.
Good, you have to give it to your girlfriend.
Yes, because this is good advice.
Tell her that I specifically told her to put them in every handbag she has.
And every room we have.
And every room you have. I give her that information!
‘Little Women’ opens on Christmas Day. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.