Every generation needs its darling. It should come as no surprise that names such as Elizabeth Taylor or Audrey Hepburn, the most famous actresses of their time, are surviving household names. More recent and comparable women who started their careers while young and have had a lasting impact on culture include Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson. Just a generation later it's Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster. Now, however, it comes time for the current crop of college students and young people to figure out who will become the prominent name of the time. Among a wide scope of talented performers, a single name has emerged: the 23–year–old, Academy Award–nominated, Florence Pugh.
Pugh’s recent rise to popularity is directly tied to her most recent starring roles in two incredibly popular films of 2019, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women and Ari Aster’s Midsommar. In Little Women, Pugh portrays the childish and stubborn Amy March, the youngest sister of the family and the one to undergo the most growth. Pugh, in her early 20s, portrays the 13–year–old Amy with deftness. She also perfects Amy’s transition into an adult, where she looks at the world with a degree of resigned skepticism and crushed hopes. The contrast between these two parts of the character is played beautifully, but most impressive is the shift between the role of Amy and that of Pugh's lead role in Midsommar.
There, she plays Dani Ardor, a young woman coping with a sudden loss who travels to Sweden with a group of her boyfriend’s buddies. As the world around her quickly reveals itself to be twisted and cruel, Dani’s gradual unraveling in the idyllic rural landscape becomes the central crux of the film. Pugh seated in a bed of flowers and the image of her crying against the other women of Midsommar have become memes themselves. Pugh’s face is now an omnipresent aspect of social media, further cementing her as a well–known name among our generation.
The night and day contrast between these two performances has been much discussed. Dani and Amy could not be more different: while Dani sucks up and copes with her loss silently, Amy is loud and brash. While Dani lives in the present day and speaks with a modern sharpness, Amy's voice is softer around the edges, leaning into a New England accent. Especially impressive is the fact that Pugh isn't even American—she's English, which may come as a surprise to many who have only seen her perform as Americans in her most famous roles.
While Pugh was not nominated at mainstream awards for the part of Dani in Misdommar (this comes as no surprise—the horror genre is frequently ignored), her Oscar nomination for Amy March was well–deserved, despite her loss to Laura Dern for Marriage Story. Dern’s win isn't shocking, but many have argued Pugh gave the better performance between the two. Also speculated is that Dern’s win was more due to her career standing rather than her specific acting in the Noah Baumbach film.
Yet what makes Pugh more outstanding than her equally skilled colleagues, like four–time Oscar–nominated Saoirse Ronan? The answer is accessibility. Pugh is not just famous, talented, and a lovely person to watch in interviews—she's also someone who feels just a step away. Her activity on Instagram and Twitter is more consistent than the highly–curated material of many celebrities who use social media. One of her most recent posts is her face awkwardly smushed by a neck pillow, not an ad endorsement or professionally–taken picture from award shows or photo shoots.
Also on the accessibility front is the miniature scandal surrounding her personal life: the fact that she is dating the 44–year–old Zach Braff of Scrubs fame. When Twitter discovered this, all hell broke loose, especially considering Pugh’s beauty and Braff’s shocking blandness. Many have rightly criticized Braff's age in comparison to Pugh's and have pointed out that she was only five when Scrubs first aired, prompting a certain instinctual grossed–out response. Of course, the nature of social media is to criticize relationships of which people have no first–hand knowledge, making any commentary irrelevant. Still, such a pairing has resulted in endless memes and jokes on social media platforms, which only puts Pugh’s name in further conversation.
Despite only eight movies under her belt—including Midsommar, Little Women, and Netflix’s Outlaw King—she has clearly made a name for herself. Pugh is already slated for a popular film, Black Widow, as Yelena Belova. Yelena Belova takes over the Black Widow mantel and replaces Scarlett Johannson's Natasha Romanoff. Through this starring role, Pugh will certainly confirm herself as the favorite young actress of the time, having gained mainstream fame as well as devoted fans.