Florence Pugh Is Just Being Honest
The Don’t Worry Darling star’s greatest gift as an actor is her ability to discover the essential truth in every character
Florence Pugh knew it was going to be a thing. At Valentino’s couture show in Rome this past July, the 26-year-old British-born actor wore a Barbie-pink gown with layers of tulle and a completely sheer top. After she tried on the dress, Pugh and designer Pierpaolo Piccioli decided to remove the lining, eliminating any confusion over the intentionality of the gown’s transparency. “I was comfortable with my small breasts,” she tells me while sipping a glass of rosé from a cozy hotel room in the English countryside. “And showing them like that—it aggravated [people] that I was comfortable.”
Pugh received a deluge of internet nastiness. “It was just alarming, how perturbed they were,” she says. “They were so angry that I was confident, and they wanted to let me know that they would never wank over me. Well, don’t.” Pugh expanded on this sentiment on Instagram, excoriating her body-shaming trolls: “Why are you so scared of breasts? Small? Large? Left? Right? Only one? Maybe none? What. Is. So. Terrifying.” The post has now been liked more than 2.3 million times.
“I feel like I am now getting into this groove in my career where I know what I can take, what I can give, and what I will not accept anymore.”
Fans have come to expect this kind of no-BS fiery candor from Pugh. Since making her big-screen debut in 2015 as a teenage girl reckoning with her own sexuality in Carol Morley’s The Falling, she has built a career playing women who refuse to be silenced. Over the past seven years, she’s acted in almost two dozen projects, including her breakout performances in a pair of 2019 films, Ari Aster’s indie horror hit Midsommar and Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the beloved classic Little Women, the latter of which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
“What was really noticeable to me about Florence, and why I think she represents her generation in such an iconic way, is that she really is in her own skin. She’s incredibly grounded, but she’s also just so self-assured,” says Scarlett Johansson, who costarred with Pugh in the 2021 Marvel movie Black Widow. “I was not self-possessed in that same way when I was in my early to mid-20s. I still was growing up in the industry in that time when you had to be really pandering in order to be accepted. And she doesn’t have any of that at all. She’s unapologetically herself. There’s a reliability to her.”
Johansson would know. She recounts filming an action scene where she and Pugh were “I don’t know, 30 stories in the air, strapped to this pole,” and chatting about relationships. The director called action, and Johansson remembers in awe that Pugh “could be talking about any dumb person that she dated, and then two seconds later, we were just connected to each other, hanging on by this thread for life. I was like, this person is just absolutely… she just has it. She’s so keyed in. It’s an emotional availability. It’s a really rare quality, and it’s the star quality she has.”
Pugh has established herself as one of the most fearless, versatile talents of her generation—that rare actor who manages to both disappear into a role and still exude a singular star wattage. “I guess all of my movies have that element of women being forced into a corner, forced into an opinion, forced into a way of life,” she says. “And then finally, something cracks.”
It’s an apt description of Pugh’s character, Alice Chambers, in her latest movie, Don’t Worry Darling, a psychological thriller in which Pugh stars alongside Harry Styles and the film’s director, Olivia Wilde. Don’t Worry Darling is set in an idyllic desert town in the 1950s where every male resident works at the mysterious Victory Project. The women spend their days in a housewife loop: vacuuming and doing laundry, ballet lessons and shopping, poolside martinis and preparing multicourse dinners. After one of the wives disappears, Alice begins to question everything: what they’re all doing there, where their husbands really go, her own reality.
Pugh was initially offered the supporting role of Bunny, a neighborhood wife with a fabulous wardrobe and killer one-liners. Once the pandemic halted production and scheduling drastically changed, an opportunity arose to play Alice. (Wilde ended up in the role of Bunny.) “It was a different beast,” Pugh says of agreeing to take on the lead character, but the decision to make the swap was an easy one. “I love playing a distressed woman.”
Gossip sites and Styles stans have breathlessly tracked every little morsel about Don’t Worry Darling since production began in the fall of 2020. After Wilde and Styles became romantically linked, the internet went into overdrive. When the trailer debuted in May, the sex scenes were predictably what was seized upon. “When it’s reduced to your sex scenes, or to watch the most famous man in the world go down on someone, it’s not why we do it. It’s not why I’m in this industry,” Pugh says. “Obviously, the nature of hiring the most famous pop star in the world, you’re going to have conversations like that. That’s just not what I’m going to be discussing because [this movie is] bigger and better than that. And the people who made it are bigger and better than that.”