ELLE UK – Florence Pugh is having a moment of intense pleasure. Slowly, elegantly, with the tantalising precision of Nigella Lawson, she slices into a glistening ball of burrata. ‘Oh my god! Did you see that…’ It sits in front of her, drizzled in pesto; its contents oozing onto the plate. ‘It was quite sexual, wasn’t it?’ she says. There’s a pause. ‘Don’t tell everyone I said popping cheese was quite sexual.’
But eating lunch with Florence Pugh is a sensual experience. Maybe it has something to do with our afternoon being filled with eyebrow-raising innuendo (hers, not mine), or the fact that Pugh’s laugh – a full-bellied growl (she calls it her ‘dinosaur laugh’) – bounces across the restaurant every few minutes. Or perhaps it’s just that Pugh is one of the great sensual artists – someone unfettered by PR fluff; possessing prodigious appetite, bountiful opinion and a rare openness that makes everyone who meets her want to luxuriate in her company.
[…] The restricted living conditions have also been a moment of self-reflection: ‘I was so surprised by how unkind I am to myself! Living in lockdown I found there’s no point or energy in being annoyed at yourself for not reading that book, writing that song or working out that day. I’m teaching myself to find joy as much as I can and ease in these open long days.‘ This means also staying away from Zoom: ‘I’m not in any way tech savvy…I did a live virtual play, In Our Youth a few weeks back and as I was logging in I got the meeting ID number wrong and entered a strangers meeting that THANKFULLY wasn’t starting for another 30 minutes!‘
When Pugh was a 17-year-old at private school in Oxford, she auditioned for Carol Morley’s film The Falling, about a group of girls who mysteriously keep fainting. Pugh, who excelled in the arts but was never academic, got a main role opposite Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams, who was then still relatively unknown. Despite never attending drama school, it was a star turn from Pugh, who played a promiscuous teenager bewitching all who met her.
During filming, Morley didn’t let the girls watch themselves back on the monitor: ‘I think she didn’t want us to act for vanity, or to know what we didn’t like about ourselves on screen,’ says Pugh. ‘She wanted to keep us as naïve as possible.’ This style of direction has no doubt helped as Pugh’s career has taken off. ‘I’ve never been bothered by the odd things that happen on camera, maybe because of that. I don’t mind my double chins, that’s not the acting part to me.’
Earlier this year, Pugh was Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actress, following her role as Amy March alongside Saoirse Ronan and Emma Watson in Little Women. Greta Gerwig, the film’s director, tells me that Pugh brought her familiar and playful energy to set every day: ‘She instinctively knows how to be in a big family group. She was always the first one in the play-fight, the first one telling a joke, starting a giggle-fest, eating the prop cakes. She had that bubbling-over energy of sisterhood.’
That sisterly closeness is something Scarlett Johansson, her co-star in Marvel’s upcoming Black Widow, also felt: ‘I don’t have a little sister,’ she tells me on the phone from New York. ‘But with Florence, it feels to me like there’s some elements of big sister little sister.’ With the latest Marvel film, Pugh is making her own mark: her newfound stellar status was confirmed in just 30 seconds in a trailer shown during the Super Bowl, watched by more than 100 million people. In it, Pugh was given equal airtime to costar and fellow Oscar nominee Johansson.
[…] Her decision to accept the role of Yelena Belova in Black Widow – a Russian spy who, like Johansson’s character Natasha Romanova, has been trained in the Black Widow programme – wasn’t an easy one to make. ‘When you think of Marvel, it’s big and daunting. Especially being a relatively small actor to look at it and go, “Oh! I’m going to be a part of this,” that’s a big decision,’ she says. But nothing could have prepared Pugh, who admits she wasn’t a Marvel fanatic growing up, for the huge global response. Last summer, the cast was revealed at San Diego’s Comic-Con, the annual superfan conference. ‘It was like a warehouse full of people,’ she says. ‘We went out and I’d never heard a roar like that.
‘What was really lovely was that we said hello, then went to the front of the audience and watched a clip. All this time, Scarlett had marched out like she was their queen,’ Pugh says. ‘She’s so amazing and effortless. Then we watched the clip and I was scared because my Russian accent was going to be out there and I didn’t know what it sounded like. I’m also playing a character who no one’s seen before but they’ve read about her; I didn’t know whether people were going to hate me. We both stood there and I instantly had clammy, sweaty hands. Scarlett gave me her hand and we squeezed each other, and she also had clammy hands! And then I was like, “Oh, this never gets old. This is just as powerful [for you] and you’re their legend”.’
[…] There have long been rumours that stars of Marvel films have to submit to gruelling workouts and exacting diets, which is interesting given Pugh has previously spoken out about bad body-confidence experiences she had in Hollywood as a teenager. ‘When I got the job, I wanted to know what the regime was,’ she says, tucking into a forkful of salt cod. ‘I wanted to know whether it was them or me calling the shots. That was a big deal for me. I didn’t want to be part of something where I was constantly checked on. And people making sure I was in the “right” shape. That’s not me at all.’
[…] She admits she approaches online life with a touch of amusement. ‘When I’m making marmalade, I don’t have pretty hair. There are moments in my life when I get dolled up and two amazing artists will come to my house and paint, pull and brush me for two hours. Then I go to the red carpet. That’s a two-hour event, then I go home and take it off. But when I make marmalade, I look normal,’ she says.
Social media is also where she’s hit back at snipes towards Braff. When paparazzi shots emerged of them holding hands trolls weighed in on the Scrubs actor saying: ‘You’re 44-years-old’, Pugh replied with the simple retort: ‘And yet he got it’. When she looks back on her reply, she says it was ‘necessary’. ‘Because people need to realise that it’s hurtful. I have the right to hang out and be with and go out with anyone I want to,’ she says, letting out a nervous laugh.
‘I’ve always found this part of what people do really bizarre. I’m an actor because I like acting and I don’t mind people watching my stuff, but people have no right to educate me on my private life.’ She is, however, aware that dating another actor might attract more attention: ‘I know that part of being in the spotlight is that people might invade your privacy and have opinions on it, but it’s bizarre that normal folk are allowed to display such hate and opinions on a part of my life that I’m not putting out there. It’s a strange side of fame that you’re allowed to be torn apart by thousands of people even though you didn’t put that piece of you out there,’ she says, suddenly serious. ‘I don’t want to talk about it because it’s not something I want to highlight, but my point to all this is that isn’t it odd that a stranger can totally tear apart someone’s relationship and it’s allowed?’
Pugh took her parents, not Braff, to the Oscars. ‘That wasn’t a diss on anyone; I needed them to be there,’ she says. She found the experience ‘so amazing, so strange, so weird’, but she had snacks to get her through the four-hour ceremony. ‘At one point, everyone stood up to applaud Martin Scorsese. I’d just got out a bag of M&Ms. As we all got up, a camera popped right in my face and I was waving this bag of M&Ms about. So I just had to drop it… on the floor. I thought, “I can’t be the girl who’s eating M&Ms while giving Martin a standing ovation.”’