Florence Pugh on Wrestling Dwayne Johnson and Her 'No Frills' Take on 'Little Women' (Exclusive)
By John Boone
Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
"I'm a bit of a gypsy. I live everywhere, I live out of a bag," says Florence Pugh. The South East England-born actress broke out in the British drama Lady Macbeth, which had its premiere at TIFF in 2016, and has gone on to film the wrestling biopic Fighting With My Family in Norwich, England, and Los Angeles, the 14th-century epic Outlaw King in Scotland and the miniseries The Little Drummer Girl in Greece and Germany and the Czech Republic.
"I don't know where I live," Pugh laughs over the phone. She recently shot Hereditary director Ari Aster's sophomore film in Budapest, before relocating to Boston for Greta Gerwig's Little Women. "I'm in New York [now]. Although, it's very deceiving outside. It looks like it's a sunny day, but I've been told it's freezing." She's Stateside doing press for Fighting With My Family (out now), in which she plays Paige, the youngest WWE wrestler to win the Divas Championship, and ET spoke with her about being coached in the ring by producer Dwayne Johnson and why her version of Amy March is especially "real."
ET: When Hollywood finds talented English actors like yourself, we tend to want to get you right into a period piece. You've done quite a few great ones. But is that something you've been aware of as you've entered your career?
Not at all. I think it just happens that I happened to have been in three period films, but that's definitely not something that I go out and look for. For me, the most important thing that I've always made sure that I'm looking for is complicated, confusing people that I'm interested in playing, that are actually just interesting, I suppose, and, if they come in the form of Robert the Bruce's wife or Katherine, the murderer [from Lady Macbeth], then that be it. [Laughs]
Less so in what you've sought out, but I was curious if you've found that people want to pigeonhole you in that way.
Oh, I see. No, I don't think so.
I think they just happen to be projects that come up at the right time. Honestly, a lot of it is down to timing. I don't think people suddenly start making period films because of it. I'm sure there are some careers that you could probably say that about, but no, I think it just happens to be timing.
And then something like this comes along, which is something of a period piece [in that the true story took place in 2012] but also outwardly couldn't be more different then say, Shakespeare.
This is probably the most modern to date that I've done, but, yeah, it's not Shakespeare. But it is a performance in itself. The whole wrestling art, it's a whole form is performance and that's what makes it so exciting to do.
How did you first hear about Fighting With My Family, and what made you want to be a part of it?
Shaheen Baig, who casted it, has been one of my good friends since the beginning. She casted me in my first film, The Falling, and in Lady Macbeth and in this, so she's always on the hunt for really interesting and strange scripts. She's very good at finding the right person for the right role. So, usually when she sends you a script, you know that it's going to be something juicy, and she sent [this] to me and it was something that I hadn't been a part of before. I watched the documentary and it was such an amazing family and such an amazing story, then I obviously learnt more and more about it and really wanted to be a part of it.
Was most of your preparation off of the documentary? Or did you have time with Paige before you started filming?
No, I didn't actually manage to meet Paige. I only met her three weeks ago. But we were in contact completely throughout the whole time. She was suffering a neck injury at the time of when we were filming, so she couldn't fly. But when you're playing a wrestling superstar, all their videos of them fighting are everywhere. You don't need to look very hard. And to me, that was so helpful, because I could really study the way that she moves, her persona in and out of the ring, and I'm actually quite glad I didn't meet her in person, otherwise I think I would have been studying her a bit too intensely.
Your YouTube search algorithm is just all wrestling videos now.
Oh, totally. My Twitter feed now is just all WWE.
When you finally did get a chance to meet her and she had a chance to see the movie, was there anything that she was like, "Oh, that was like eerie how close that was to me"?
She didn't wrestle me, which I took as a good sign that she liked it. She said she's cried a few times whilst watching it, so that's always the best thing to hear. You just have to hope that she didn't cry because it was so bad. [Laughs]
As Paige, you spend a considerable amount of time in the ring in this. What was the most surprising thing you learned about wrestling during the training and filming of this?
That it's really, really hard. I knew that it must've been hard before, but I don't think I quite realized how grueling the lifestyle was and how much they work. Even when they get to the top, it doesn't stop. It's a very tough game to play. I take my hat off to anyone that steps in the ring.
Can you please tell me your best Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson story?
It's actually one of my favorite stories of my life and of what I've achieved and that is, we filmed Paige and AJ Lee's famous match at the end of a Monday Night Raw in L.A. in the Staple Center. Just before they went live to Monday Night Raw, all the wrestlers get 20 minutes to go over their moves quickly in the ring before they let the crowd in, and I was there with Thea Trinidad and we were just about to go over our moves. As you can imagine, it's incredibly intimidating because there are all these famous wrestlers all just looking at you, waiting for you to do the thing that you've been working towards for the past three months. [Laughs]
I remember stepping in the ring and then suddenly Dwayne stepping in too, and it was like having a god behind me and protecting me. It was amazing. I remember he was teaching me how to make sure that I really sold a punch, and I remember looking around and looking at the Staple Center and looking at all the eyes on him and on me and realizing that this was a definite pinch me moment and how amazing that was.
Were you actually practicing the moves with him? Or was he more hands off instructional?
Oh yeah, he was being full-on coach in that moment, which was wicked.
You filmed this just before Outlaw King and you've recently wrapped Little Women. I'm always interested in the process of filming a period piece as a young person in 2019, when you can walk off set and go on your phone. What do you find you need to do as an actor to get into a period mindset?
Something that people have always said about me when I do period films is that I'm never getting too bogged down about that. I think there's always some good reason to try and modernize most period things, because at the end of the day, they may have, I suppose, used a different language or a different etiquette but ultimately, these are still people that loved and breathed and lived and ate and weed and pooed just like we do now. That, for me, actually is the most important thing about doing a period film is trying to make these people as lovable as they are back then.
So, yeah, you are right. There are tricky moments when you're supposed to be Amy March and you're having a dinner with your family and then you go off set and your phone's there. But I also think that's something as an actor you have to gauge and you have to make sure, Well, maybe I shouldn't be sitting on my phone right now. Not because I'm doing a period film, but because you should be soaking up all those amazing actors sat opposite of you.
I know everyone is really looking forward to Little Women. What will surprise people about this telling of the story?
I think the most important thing about this story was that Greta has tried to make these sisters as normal as possible. There's no frills. They are four sisters that live together and talk over the top of one another and love each other and hate each other, exactly like sisters do now. One of my favorite skills of Greta's is her amazing ability to redesign dialogue and make sure that we are making these people talk like normal people, not necessarily just in the book's language. That was something that I had never experienced with a director before, so it was such a joy to work with her and work with those girls and bring these characters to real life, I suppose.
One of my favorite films of last year was Hereditary, and you're starring in Ari's next film. What can you tell me about that experience?
It was utterly amazing slash utterly terrifying slash I've never-- [Laughs] It's so funny thinking about it, because I had such an amazing time with that gang, but ultimately, we are making another Ari Aster film. That man is a true visionary and he's making art, so that was such a joy to watch him do what he does so well. I'm very lucky to have been a part of his second film.
You know what, I don't think it's as scary. I don't think it's about that. It's actually about a breakup. It's about a couple. And that's something that Ari will say himself. So, I'm not giving any spoilers there, don't worry. But it's beautiful and it's grotty and it's gross and it's human and I think he's done something special.