Florence Pugh Says She Abused Herself For Her Best Role

Florence Pugh says she put herself through a lot of dark emotions to play her character in Midsommar.

By Sean Thiessen | Updated

florence pugh

Florence Pugh put herself through real horrors to achieve her performance in Ari Aster’s Midsommar. As detailed by IndieWire, the Thunderbolts star felt “immense guilt” as she left her character behind on the set of Midsommar. “I felt like I’d left [Dani] in that field in that [emotional] state,” Pugh recalled.

In the film, Florence Pugh plays Dani, a grad student grieving the death of her family. Her dead-end boyfriend begrudgingly brings Dani along on a group outing to the idyllic Swedish countryside, only for the travelers to be ensnared by a violent cult. 

The follow-up to Hereditary from arthouse horror breakout Ari Aster, Midsommar is a long, disturbing meditation on grief. But for Florence Pugh, the horror on screen was only a fraction of what she felt on set.

Pugh’s connection to Dani was strong, and accessing the character’s intense level of grief was a challenge. Pugh explained that her involvement with Dani was unlike anything she had ever experienced. “I’d never played someone that was in that much pain before, and I would put myself in really s****y situations that maybe other actors don’t need to do but I would just be imagining the worst things.”

Florence Pugh said that as filming went on, the material became stranger and more difficult. To achieve her performance, she had to spiral, her thoughts growing darker each day. “I think by the end I probably, most definitely abused my own self in order to get that performance.”

The emotional challenges on Midsommar were compounded for Florence Pugh by hot days and the literal weight of her iconic flower dress. Despite the unpleasant hours, Pugh looks back at Midsommar with lucid positivity, commenting, “Why would making a movie like that be pleasurable?”

florence pugh

The biggest shock from her time on Midsommar came as Florence Pugh left Sweden to immediately head to work on Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. “I remember looking [out the plane] and feeling immense guilt because I felt like I’d left [Dani] in that field in that [emotional] state,” she recalled. 

“I’ve never had that before,” she continued. “Obviously, that’s probably a psychological thing where I felt immense guilt of what I’d put myself through but I definitely felt like I’d left her there in that field to be abused, almost like I’d created this person and then I just left her there to go and do another movie.”

Through the trials of shooting Midsommar, Florence Pugh forged a bond with her co-stars. She said that many of the traumatic moments that made it into the film left her and her castmates weeping and clinging to each other long after the cameras stopped rolling. Midsommar was far from Pugh’s first role, but her emotional performance in the controversial horror film was a career breakthrough.

Florence Pugh went on to star not only in Little Women, but in Olivia Wilde’s sci-fi thriller Don’t Worry Darling and in the animated hit Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. She also made her Marvel debut as Yelena Belova in 2020’s Black Widow; she reprised the role in the Disney+ series Hawkeye and will continue to carry the Black Widow moniker in the Marvel team-up film Thunderbolts.

Florence Pugh kicked off a busy 2023 with the release of A Good Person, a coming-of-age drama from Pugh’s ex-partner, Garden State director Zach Braff. Pugh said that Braff wrote the film for her, and the pair continued to work together on the project, even after their relationship ended.

A Good Person follows Florence Pugh as Allison, a girl in despair after surviving a car crash that killed another driver. As she comes to terms with her grief, she connects with Daniel, played by Morgan Freeman. The pair form a bond as they seek a path forward from tragedy.

Florence Pugh will follow A Good Person with a summer appearance in Christopher Nolan’s atomic bomb epic, Oppenheimer. In it, Pugh joins a star-studded cast including Cillian Murphy, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Gary Oldman, and more. In November, Pugh will travel the cosmos to star alongside Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya in Dune: Part Two.

Filming Midsommar was tragic for Florence Pugh, but she cherishes the experience as one she knows will never repeat. She called the challenges of the film “Beautiful, hard, proud hours.” Now Pugh is a defining actress of her generation, and her work on indies and blockbusters alike continues to shape her career into an unforgettable one.