Florence Pugh – 'I have been told for about three years now not to get big-headed'

Crowning glory: Florence Pugh takes on her first leading role in Lady Macbeth

Young star discusses the challenges of staying grounded amid the hype as she takes on her first leading role in Lady Macbeth

In Lady Macbeth, 21 year old Florence Pugh is absolutely commanding as a young bride trapped in a loveless marriage. Her towering performance is no small feat when you consider that her part in William Oldroyd's debut feature is her first leading film role.

Director Carol Morley took a chance on Pugh in 2014 and cast her for a small but integral part alongside Maisie Williams in teen drama The Falling. Set at a boarding school in the 1960s, her character's behaviour acts as a catalyst for a break-out of mass hysteria; even with her small amount of screen time, she made a lasting impression and was marked out as one to watch.
Pugh openly admits she was against auditioning for the role at first after being clued up on this harsh process by her brother Toby Sebastian (Game of Thrones' Trystane Martell). Having been fully prepared for rejection, the callback made her feel 'immense but also incredibly weird. My brother is in the industry and I'd been watching him do this for the past four years.' Speaking the day before she flew out to Sundance for the first US screening of Lady Macbeth, she continues, 'I think it's more shocking now when I look back on it because that will never happen to me again. I will never have that electricity in my first meeting and then it go so well all the way through until I get the part.'

Before Pugh appeared on the big screen, she found her footing in school productions. Her first role was in a nativity play as Mary who she played with a Yorkshire accent. She lets out a big laugh on recalling the memory of her seven-year-old self: 'I wore this massive pregnancy bump and hobbled on to stage. I would shout "oooh me back"!'

In Lady Macbeth, she plays Katherine, the unhappy wife of a sadistic wealthy mine owner. When her husband goes away on business, she embarks on a passionate affair and veers into dangerous territory. Adapted by Alice Birch from Nikolai Leskov's 19th century novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, the screenplay's strength and her character's complexity were the reasons Pugh was attracted to the role. 'She constantly shocks us,' she says. 'When I was reading the script, that was one of the things I loved.'

Pugh approached the role with a fresh eye and saw Katherine as a woman who 'bounces from an adult to a child in a matter of seconds. I love how that is so perfect and is what girls that age accidentally do. They bounce to being weirdly grown up and quite sexy with how they talk to men, and when you suddenly put them in a difficult situation they become a girl again. I thought that was totally Katherine all the way through.'

Following this impressive turn, Pugh's star is certainly on the rise. But she has no qualms about staying grounded while her career skyrockets. 'I have been told for about three years now not to get big-headed,' she says, laughing uproariously. 'Obviously I know it happens and I know people do start believing the hype which is when things can get bad. But I have enough people in my life that I care for as much as they care for me, so I can't find it in me to be sassy. I'm sure at some point if I shout at someone for getting me the wrong coffee somebody will happily slap me. I don't think I'll be changing any time soon.'

Lady Macbeth, Glasgow Film Theatre, Sat 18 Feb. General release from Fri 28 Apr.

Lady Macbeth

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • UK
  • 1h 29min
  • 15
  • Directed by: William Oldroyd
  • Cast: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Naomi Ackie

Katherine (Pugh) is a young bride shackled to a middle-aged man; when left alone in the grand manor house she begins an affair with a stable-hand (Jarvis) and it all goes downhill. Restrained, compulsively watchable debut feature with a chilling, droll performance from Pugh as the wicked but compelling Katherine.