Florence Pugh: 'Marvel Is Talking About The Subjugation Of Women. Things Are Changing For The Better'
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Featured Image Credit: PA
It seems there's just no role Florence Pugh can't play.
From professional wrestler Paige in Fighting With My Family to her breakout role as ethereal cultist Dani in folktale horror Midsommar, it's little wonder the 25-year-old Brit has cemented her status in Hollywood's new brat pack alongside the likes of Timothée Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan.
In fact, at just 25, she's already being earmarked for future awards glory and attracting some of the most desirable roles in the industry.
But despite her LA starlet status she's retained her British charm, cheerfully announcing that she's in a "good mood" today because a barista served her mocha with a chocolate heart on top.
She's here to talk about her latest role as Yelena Belova, the wise-cracking assassin and little sister of Scarlett Johansson's character in the long-awaited action adventure Black Widow - telling the tale of how the pair take down the infamous Red Room where they were raised, and face the evil Dreykov.
Despite her extensive experience in the industry, Florence admits it was somewhat intimidating joining the hugely popular Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"I didn't know what it was like to be part of these big films," she explains, in her signature husky voice. "I'm fumbling along and don't know much, trying to learn as quickly as possible.
"But it really didn't scare me to play something as big as this, but having Scarlett with me, the professional, the Black Widow, made things a lot easier."
Florence had never met Scarlett before she started filming on Black Widow, but from watching them on screen you'd be forgiven for thinking they were BFFs. Yelena and Natasha's chemistry is electric, with the pair bouncing off each other with their sparky dialogue and fearsome fight scenes - the first of which seeing the twosome pitted against each other.
"I literally had to strangle Scarlett Johansson in my first week of filming!" laughs Florence. "I really hadn't known her that long. It was definitely odd. I was still at the phase where I was like: 'oh my God, that's Scarlett Johannson in the room.' And then to be wrapping a dirty towel cloth around her neck was like, 'I'm sorry!'
"But it was amazing to work with her and amazing to do fight sequences with her."
What Florence perhaps enjoyed even more than strangling an A-List celebrity was shaping Yelena's character. Although Yelena already has a firm identity carved out by the Marvel series, Florence was happy to be given the opportunity to have her say about the character she was set to play - and how many of her own stunts she was willing to perform.
"It was really wonderful to see I was very much included in shaping Yelena," she says. "One of the things that I really liked to hear and see was that it was pretty much up to you how much you want to put in. They need you to have some sort of movement and be able to do some of it, but in terms of the intensity, no one is going to be forcing you to jump off a building.
"A month and a half before I started filming, I started going into the warehouse with the stuntees, and we just trained. I had all these incredible professionals from all around the world teaching me how to knife throw and butterfly knife and bow staff and parkour, it was crazy. It was like going to a jamboree for adults. It was fantastic."
Of course, having entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Florence is now being the opportunity to reprise the role of Yelena in the future - the post-credit scene certainly points towards the possibility of a Black Widow 2. Florence may not have featured as a lead in a sequel before, having instead favoured a repertoire of distinct and separate parts - but it's not something she's adverse to.
"I think part of the reason why I have played such different character over the years is because that excites me, playing different things. Every single time I sign on to do a different film, I'm excited and nervous too because I hope it's something I can do," she says.
"Scarlett was Black Widow for 10 years and I'm sure with any good film, there's always potential for something happening. I think I've always been aware that I will continue to do and try and do as many odd and weird characters until I can't anymore."
But Florence was so drawn to this role for just what the project stood for. At the heart of Black Widow sees women taking back control of their own bodies and minds from a powerful and manipulative man who lurks in the shadows, rubbing shoulders with other rich and powerful men and hiding behind his vast wealth, force and influence.
A rarity in Hollywood (unfortunately, still), Black Widow is directed by Cate Shortland, who constantly makes references to female strength and suffering, altering some of the comicbook's established cannon to make the film more applicable to the film's theme of strong women now seeking vengeance.
"There's been so much buzz about the industry about what this film was going to be," Florence says. "It's an important film. So when I finally read the script I was so grateful to see that this character had a purpose and a right to be there, and the connection between her and her sister was real. It was such an easy script to read because you just have these two awesome siblings, just constantly at each other for basically half the film, fighting for freedom."
And despite its origins in Marvel superhero lore, something that could be easily dismissed as family-friendly film fodder, Black Widow does not shy away from tackling difficult topics - forced hysterectomies, child abuse and brutalisation, and the culture of silence that protects powerful and abusive men. It's these topics which Florence found so important when choosing to sign up for the film.
"Totally, these films are important in a post-Me Too world," she says earnestly. "The way that we make these films that could potentially be seen by children and young people, giving people the idea of what is normal and what is a good film to look up to is how we start changing how we think. There's a reason why children's movies in the last 10 years have been trying to change and change the way that we see the world, and that's because it starts when you're young.
"It's something that's so wonderful to see is Marvel actually challenging established norms and doing good with that, that, changing characters that don't need to be stereotype of what they were, talking openly about the subjugation of women.
"Films like this, scripts like this, even just the fact it's directed by a woman, and Scarlett is a producer shows things are changing, and things are changing for the better."
Black Widow is out in cinemas now. It is also available on Disney+ Premiere Access.
Topics: Disney, Disney Plus