Little Women star Florence Pugh opens up about coming of age
Aged 23, GLAMOUR’S latest digital cover star Florence Pugh has already played a 1970s spy, a Victorian governess and a wannabe wrestler. Now she’s taking on her biggest role to date in the feminist remake of Little Women. But being one of Hollywood’s most in-demand young actresses has not come without sacrifices she tells Josh Smith.
Photographer, Simon Emmett; Beauty Director, Camilla Kay; Styling, Michelle Duguid; Make Up, Neil Young; Hair, Dayaruci
We are barely a minute into our FaceTime call and Florence Pugh is already pulling her leg above her head to show off her jogging bottoms. “You love it, especially on video call,” she suggestively jests about her flexibility. It’s immediately clear that not only is Florence a born performer, but a joker, too. “I was always annoyingly loud,” she laughs, all the way from her Boston hotel room.
Florence’s very mobile approach – quite literally – to life is in stark contrast to the corseted constraints that were placed on Amy March, the character she plays in the latest remake of Little Women, by Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig. This modern twist on the classic 19th century tale of four sisters has already garnered the actress a Critic’s Choice Awardnomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Much like keen artist Amy, Florence has painted her own path from the outset. As we joke, it’s ‘roles before hoes’, for this actress. “When I left school, I was very aware that I needed to work hard straight away – you have to attack it and I knew people wouldn’t understand how much I wanted it,” Florence shares in her trademark husky voice.
“I was very much on a personal mission and I put my whole life on hold until my career got going. I was like that from the get-go, especially with relationships. I remember when I was 18 years old and I was so cut-throat about how everything had to be second to my career. Boyfriends I had at the time – bless them – were like, ‘but why?’ I just said, ‘This is the way it has to be.’ I remember thinking at the time they don’t get it, and it was really mean of me, but I had to do that in order to succeed.”
I heavily remember being at a gig when I was 12 years old and thinking that everybody was trying to kidnap me. ‘Why is everyone looking at me,’ I thought. But actually, they were just looking at me because I now had boobs and a bum! It was one of the oddest moments of puberty for me.
However, a sister can’t always do it for herself, and the girl gang Florence met on the set of Little Women – her onscreen sisters, Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen – became her support network off screen, too. When I ask her what the film has taught her about sisterhood, Florence replies instantly and true to form: “You can’t fake it. It’s real.”
Dress, Prada; Earring, Laura Lombardi
“We really were a tight sisterhood and we knew it had to be that way in order for it to be real and believable,” she continues. “Whether it’s on or off screen, you’ll never get anything like the power of that support system and that belief we had in one another. We were ready to go to war for one another. If one of us has something to say, then we all have something to say!”
Florence also found a wingman in form of her fictional lover and the internet’s number one crush Timothée Chalamet – whose performance in Little Women confirms him as the Mr Darcy of our generation. “Timmy was so involved with all the girls,” Florence says affectionately. “He was just as desperate to be a part of our gang as we were. He was instantly in with the jokes and the wrestling. Everything about that dynamic didn’t feel like we were welcoming a boy – it was really wonderful.”
While the March sisters grew up in conservative New England during a decidedly ‘unwoke’ period for women, Florence’s own coming of age story occurred in the equally secluded English countryside. Also one of four siblings, she attended Oxford private school, St Edward’s (where the alumni casually includes Emilia Clarke and Laurence Olivier). In a dynamic to rival the March sisters themselves, Florence and her siblings all chipped in at the family-owned Oxford Deli before they all ventured into acting. Her elder brother Toby Sebastian notably played Game of Thrones’ Trystane Martell.
Dress, Stella McCartney; Earring, Gogo Philip; Earring, Maria Tash
“I had a bloody hard time going from a child to a woman because I didn’t even know what was happening,” Florence confides, reflecting on her teens and her own graduation from womanhood.
“One of the most shocking things about growing up for me, was realising that my body was becoming a woman before I was mentally ready or prepared to be one. Suddenly you had to be OK with people looking at you or checking you out. It’s something that makes you grow up so quickly because as a young woman everything is forced to be so sexual, so quickly. I heavily remember being at a gig when I was 12 years old and thinking that everybody was trying to kidnap me. ‘Why is everyone looking at me,’ I thought. But actually, they were just looking at me because I now had boobs and a bum! It was one of the oddest moments of puberty for me.”
The next time Florence found her body under close inspection came at the start of her acting career – one which began at 17 years old starring alongside Maisie Williams in The Falling. “I did a job where it was made very apparent that I needed to lose weight [by the team working on the production] and when it was over, I was very aware I didn’t want to do that kind of work,” she sighs, keeping the gig in question a secret. “Because I was faced with that, I realised what I wanted to represent, and had that not happened, I may not have overcome my issues with my body at such an early age. I’m happy about that, but a lot of women aren’t that lucky.”
Coat, Jeremy Scott; Earring, Jennifer Fisher
It’s made Florence all too aware of the current “body shaming” on social media – something she labels the most pressing issue facing young women today. “I’ve always seen social media as a bit of a joke,” Florence tells me. After all, she takes a jovial approach to Instagram, detailing everything from popping spots – something she called the ‘closest thing I have come to the feeling of childbirth,’ in one Instagram story – to her sheer disbelief at working on Marvel’s <Black Widow>. “Excited about our little indie we are shooting atm,’ Florence commented when posting the movie’s poster on Instagram.
I was very much on a personal mission and I put my whole life on hold until my career got going… especially with relationships. I was so cut-throat about how everything had to be second to my career. Boyfriends I had at the time – bless them – were like, ‘but why?’
“But I have a sister who’s seven years younger than me and it’s made me acutely aware of the negatives of social media. The impact it has on her life at every stage of the day is unbelievable,” Florence adds. “The idea that life doesn’t stop when school ends, it continues into the night and your issues continue too, is awful. I’d hate growing up like that. Seeing that has made me more conscious of everyone’s constant impulse to have whatever is on their phone so I try not to add to that as much as I can. It’s pretty gross at times, right? Everybody has an impact because everyone is adopting a pretend persona on Insta and it’s terrifying. The problem is that social media is based around insecurity and it wouldn’t work unless everyone is insecure.”
Florence does, however, seem refreshingly secure. She has no time for trolling comments – “you just have to move on,” – and she never overthinks an answer for the entire interview. Everything Florence says feels like it comes completely from her gut and doubtful thoughts are quashed with self-deprecating humour. “I can’t stand to watch anything I am in until two years later,” Florence jests when I ask about her insecurities, and she is equally casual about her talent. “I can pull off a lot of hair colours so I think that’s what saved me,” she retorts.
Dress (just seen), Gucci
But a rare ability to pull of multiple hair colours (jealous, much?) won’t land you a role in the Marvel universe alone. And for her neck-high kicking trick, Florence is starring alongside Scarlett Johnson in Black Widow as the title character’s native Russian sister, Yelena.
In typical Marvel style the storyline – other than it explores how <Black Widow> became the badass she is – is shrouded in mystery and that’s something Florence, who I sense could have a conversation with a brick wall, has struggled with. “I’m always terrified when I talk about it,” she says seeming a touch panicked.
“I’m not bad at keeping secrets, it’s just that you don’t know what you can and can’t say. I can say it was epic on all levels. It is very unique and special to be in this era of superhero films with Scarlett [Johansson] and all these women who have been desperate to make a story about this character for so long – I got to see <the> Black Widow in action!”
Jumper and necklace, Both Dior
If the trailer is anything to go by – which just dropped at Comic Con in Brazil earlier this month – expect to see Florence change gear again, into full Sporty Spice mode as she goes toe to toe with the formidable cast that also includes Rachel Weisz. “I really enjoy stunts,” she expresses, beaming with excitement. “I wanted to do as many stunts, so straight away I learnt kickboxing and knife training!”
Gurl has clearly got some serious skills. Then again, you’d need them when you are going up against the OG Marvel maven Scarlett – with whom there was little room for pleasantries. “I’d only known her for a week when we started beating each other up,” Florence laughs.
This experience, along with the varied roles Florence has undertaken in recent years – most notably playing the reluctant spy in BBC‘s Little Drummer Girl and a Victorian governess in Lady Macbeth, which earned her a BAFTA Rising Star nomination – has taught her to finally have faith in herself. “Last year I realised I was working with such big people who were genuinely interested in what I thought.” Florence tells me, referencing starring alongside the likes of Meryl Streep in <Little Women> and having a mentor in the form of Emma Thompson. “At the beginning I was just eager to please, and it was a wonderful moment to realise, you’re good at something and they need you. That’s when I could start giving myself some appreciation,” she concludes.
Being in demand (Florence squeezes her GLAMOUR cover shootinto a single day off in her filming schedule for Black Widow) has come at a price, however. “This year is the culmination of everything I have been working on for over four years, but what comes with that is the low of being on the road all the time and you are never in one space,” she says as a person of no fixed address.
Caught firmly in the eye of her own storm, Florence has also had to learn to look after herself. Something she discovered while filming this summer’s breakthrough horror movie, Midsommar, where Florence’s Dani skips off to a Swedish music festival only to find herself submerged in a cult she can’t escape from.
“It was tough on me as I had to be in such a level of mourning and depression that I had never experienced before,” Florence divulges. “I’m not an actor who can immediately cry, so my process for doing that film was imagining all the people I cared about in coffins which wasn’t kind to the head or heart. You have to make sure you give yourself time afterwards and eat good food, go on long walks and cuddle your gran. I remember worrying about spending money on weekly massages to zone out but as my co-star, Jack Reynor said to me, ‘Flo you’re literally in hippy hell every single day, I think you deserve some nice calm time.’ I was like, ‘true thing!’”
We really were a tight sisterhood and we knew it had to be that way in order for it to be real and believable. We were ready to go to war for one another. If one of us has something to say, then we all have something to say!
Aside from being the kinda gal you’d love to do shots at the bar with, Florence is also someone you’d want to share your problems with too. “I remember when I didThe Outlaw King,” she says, referencing the Netflix film where she played the Queen to Chris Pine’s Robert The Bruce. “I had a night where all the boys came round and they just wanted to be pampered. They all had big burly beards and I was putting face masks on them. Everybody is just looking for that family on film sets because you need it – you’re running away with the circus!”
If Hollywood is the circus, Florence is certainly its new-gen ringleader. An unpretentious master, with an intoxicating mix of talent and hilarity. And as she blows kisses down the phone – skipping off for another day on the promotional tour for Little Women – I find myself absolutely obsessed. World: get in formation for Florence Pugh.