Florence Pugh Tell Us Why She Loved Playing The Most Divisive Sister From ‘Little Women’
“I find joy and pleasure in making people relatable even when they are not necessarily nice people.”
The internet can’t stop talking about Florence Pugh.
The definitely cooler than you, Oxford-born, young actress gained attention as the seductive and ruthless titular character in 2017’s Lady Macbeth. Early last year she reached multi-meme-status for her role in Ari Aster’s ‘folk horror’ flick Midsommar (all hail the May Queen!).
But let me be clear: her meme-status is well deserved, considering she spends most of the film either close to tears or wailing (it’s a mood) When I bring up her being an excellent crier in our interview, she seems pleased:
“I find it hard to do anything half-way. I love to feel it all.”
However, do not make the mistake of thinking this means she is not one of the best, most interesting and exciting young actresses of our time, because she is. Florence makes us feel it all.
In it, Florence is in character as Amy, standing in the snow, sobbing like a bratty child. When the internet’s boyfriend Timothée Chalamet (who is also present!) sticks his head out of the window to enquire what is wrong, she introduced herself by talking about her lovely small feet, then suddenly wailing as she shows off her bleeding hand, which had been hit by a cane from her school teacher.
The acting is over the top, the emotional pacing of the scene kind of absurd, but it’s all in the most deliciously delightful way. Stan twitter shared the video around with captions such as “meryl streep went home and cried after witnessing this acting range” and “her talent” all unironically, btw.
meryl streep went home and cried after witnessing this acting range pic.twitter.com/h1aTeNBNow
— hazal (@jjomarch) December 17, 2019
The girl has got range in spades, and her characters are always strong, determined women, no matter if it’s as WWE hopeful in 2019’s Fighting With My Family or an aspiring actress sucked into the world of espionage in the 2018 miniseries Little Drummer Girl.
“I really appreciate playing fascinating and interesting women,” she tells me. “They don’t always have to be likeable. I enjoy women who have something to say, they have a point that they represent.”
With Little Women, Florence has pulled off the almost impossible: devoted life-long fans of Louisa May Alcott’s book actually like Amy March now?
florence pugh in little women appreciation tweet pic.twitter.com/Uee67uG02d
— jonny | florence pugh’s oscar (@mcuridley) January 4, 2020
Amy March: 100% That Bitch
Florence has always appreciated a cheeky character.
“My entire life I’ve always appreciated the slightly cheeky or naughty characters in books or in films”, Pugh tells me. “I think it’s a piece of us we can all appreciate, because I feel like there’s an inner bratty child in all of us.”
Florence’s character, Amy March, is not a well-liked character. I don’t mean this as in within the book/film, no one likes her. I mean in the general zeitgeist.
The youngest March sister, Amy, is selfish and bratty. She is angry and reactionary — burns her sister Jo’s manuscript out of revenge, gets to go to Europe with their rich Aunt March, and ends up with the guy no one wants her to end up with (most of these grievances are because Amy is a foil to her sister Jo, who is generally held up as the most beloved of the March sisters by decades of readers).
This does not daunt Florence: “I find joy and pleasure in making people relatable even when they are not necessarily nice people.”
She plays Amy as a petulant brat. With a huge booming laugh and a cheeky smile, she bounces around like a sprite, happy to steal the attention (and the scene, and my heart) from her sisters. Full of boundless energy and working at a level of 110%, Florence is an absolute joy, and a stand out in bringing Amy to life.
Florence’s appreciation for the cheeky character is obviously hereditary. She grew up with her grandma reading her book, who always appreciated Amy. When her Gran saw Little Women at the Paris premier, she said to Florence, “Oh I loved it whenever she did anything bad!”
Despite memorable moments of badness and vanity (such as her failed attempt to make a plaster cast of her feet, lol) there is much more to Amy March than her status in many reader’s hearts as Miss Steal Yo Man.
“You know, [Amy] was an incredible artist,” Florence reminds me. “She had a lot of ambition and she really wanted to succeed. Only because of the era and the state of what women had to live by, I suppose, that she had to give up on her dreams, which is a massive thing. I was given a wonderful opportunity to give this character something more.”
Florence loves Amy. Which is probably why she pulls of the contentious character so well. She talks about her with such great affection, as if Amy is a real person, which, I guess in many ways, she is.
Although Amy is a fictional character from a novel written and set in Civil-War era Massachusetts, Florence’s admiration for the character lends to an authenticity which showcases incredible relatability, even for 2020.
Truly love that between Little Women, Fighting With My Family, Midsommar, and Black Widow, we’re all living our best Florence Pugh lives right now but I also love that this year AND next year are the year of “Florence Pugh plays everyone’s badass, perfect sister.” pic.twitter.com/f0ezIJS7Ic
— Andrea ⧗ Year of the Black Widow Movie (@_atowers) December 31, 2019
“I Want To Be Great Or Nothing”
Where there is childish cheekiness, with adult Amy, Florence brings a calmer, more reserved Amy — world-weary and wisened about the harsh realities of being a woman in the world.
In Paris to study painting, she discusses with childhood friend Laurie (Timmy Chalamet) about marriage as an economic position for women, and the sad prospect of giving up painting, knowing she could never make money from it. It is here she declares she wants to be “great or nothing.”
“What is wonderful about that scene is that I certainly feel like that as well,” Florence reveals. “Of course you want to be the best. You want to be the one that people appreciate, you want your work to be appreciated, and if it’s not, then it hurts.”
A quote straight out of the book, Florence describes this scene as setting up the stakes for Amy as a woman of her era. She can’t just earn a mediocre living from her art, but still strives for the best possible outcome. We sympathise with a woman who has to “lay down [her] craft in order to survive.”
Amy is a woman of her era, sure, but also a woman of this era. Giving up art for a more economic prospect is something many artists wrestle with everyday.
florence pugh florence pugh
in midsommar in little women
revenge by fire
— kalyn corrigan (@kalyncorrigan) January 5, 2020
It Feels So Scary, Getting Old
Like many girls, Florence grew up with Little Women: “The whole discovering the book with my Gran was a piece of my childhood that I appreciated and I loved.”
I mention to Pugh our similarities in age (newly twenty-four) and how a lot of my friends are having quarter life crises as we realise we are getting further away from childhood: “I totally get that!” she exclaims. “I feel like everything is charged by how good it was once upon a time. I always think about it. I always tell stories of my childhood.”
With three other siblings, (four in total, like the March sisters) there are a lot of stories to tell: “There is not a day where we don’t call each other names or squeeze each other’s butts”, Florence laughs through the phone. “My sister is in the room with me right now and when I said ‘squeeze each other’s butts’ she pointed to her butt.”
Unlike in the book or previous adaptations of Little Women, in this new film, childhood and adulthood play side-by-side. To me, this encourages us to reflect on how who you are as an adult is shaped by your childhood. To Florence, it’s a reminder that “it’ll never be the same again.”
It’s a sobering thought. “No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to re-create your childhood.”
This does not stop us from wanting to try: it’s what drives Amy’s sister Jo to write a book about their lives. In a sense, this is what drives any adaptation of Little Women, and Florence having such fun with the character.
“I think something that’s so wonderful about it is that you’re constantly tapping into that sense of nostalgia, which is what our whole lives are driven by. It’s always a sense of trying to feel what you once felt, but in the moment you had no idea you felt that happy.”
when Florence Pugh and Meryl Streep were filming Little Women and Meryl went "I want fries" and then 10 minutes later an assistant appeared with Wendy's fries. Her mind pic.twitter.com/cYNuLKYQfD
— a m e s 🐝 (@femaleNRG) January 4, 2020
Little Women may be a staple in many a girl’s childhood — but realising you can never go back to being a child is not that scary in this new adaptation of Little Women. If the book and any other film versions is what you needed as a kid, this film is what you need as a young adult.
Through Florence’s humanising turn as the ‘unlikeable’ Amy, Little Women showcases what it means to be an ambitious young woman, but in a way which seeks understanding and recognition. “We will always need this story to be told,” Florence decrees.
No wonder the internet is talking about Florence Pugh and how much they cried during Little Women. We, like Florence, feel it all.
Little Women is currently in cinemas.
Claire White is a writer/bookseller from Melbourne. Girlhood on screen is her niche and she’s the type of person to take a photo of the Little Women poster with the caption “My girls!”. Follow her on Twitter @theclairencew.