After decades of being told who it is we’re supposed to admire, it’s entirely reasonable to fall victim to It-girl fatigue—but what’s so appealing about 23-year-old British actor Florence Pugh is that she’s not exactly an It girl; she seems, in the best way possible, like she’s always been there. She doesn’t have to fall onstage or engage in lip-sync battles to win us over; she just has to show up, whether it’s in a T-shirt and sweats, a corset, a wrestling outfit, or a Soviet spy ensemble.
Pugh shares many scenes with her majesty Meryl Streep in this winter’s Little Women, but she’s confident enough onscreen not to be outshone; what’s more, Pugh has the preternatural ability to lose herself in a wide variety of roles, refusing to be typecast as “the funny one” or “the pretty one.” (Although, incidentally, she is both; most of Little Women’s laugh-out-loud lines come from Pugh, who looks like the coolest camp counselor you ever had, the one who just raised her eyebrows and laughed when you broke curfew.)
Pugh hasn’t quite attained the meme status of, say, Laura Dern, but her versatility is quickly turning her into an internet favorite (a complex and mysterious designation, one that is conferred onto specific celebrities with seemingly no warning). Upon the release of the trailer, the social-media reactions soon stacked up, and she became a Twitter trending topic:
For some, this might seem to have come out of nowhere, but that simply isn’t the case. Pugh’s career started in 2014 with her role as a precocious teen opposite Maisie Williams in the mystery drama The Falling, and she earned a small-but-ardent fan club after starring in the miniseries adaptation of John le Carré’s The Little Drummer Girl. Pugh was skyrocketed to fame this summer by the success of Ari Aster’s festival horror film Midsommar, in which she plays Dani, a traumatized college student following her neglectful boyfriend on a summer excursion to a pagan commune.
While some actors might have played Dani more widely, telegraphing her anxiety and sorrow, Pugh is remarkably restrained in the role, stuffing down Dani’s trauma and desperately seeking fun in a way that resonated with many female viewers (a scene in which she attempts to briskly walk off the effects of hallucinogens while crying has been widely memed). There were seemingly endless flower-crowned Danis out in New York this Halloween, partly because it’s an easy costume (white, florals, flowing hair, fin), but possibly also because of the strength Pugh brought to the character.
In addition to her role in the upcoming Little Women—in which she plays arguably the best March sister, Amy, with enough spunk and soul to neutralize some of the character’s more irritating qualities—Pugh will take on Scarlett Johansson as post-Soviet spy Yelena Belova in next year’s Marvel Cinematic Universe film Black Widow.
Pugh has proved herself more than capable of portraying corseted heroines in movies like Outlaw King and Lady Macbeth, but the Black Widow trailer shows her in a different light, knife-fighting Johansson’s character in a hand-to-hand combat scene to rival Kill Bill and spitting out her lines in a surly, surprisingly accurate Russian accent (which is notable, considering most non-Slavic actors’ attempts at Russian inflection sound more Boris and Natasha than realistic). Not every actor can handle the jump to a Marvel franchise, but as the kids say, Pugh’s got the range.
Pugh isn’t just a Twitter celeb, of course; she’s garnered critical raves over the past year, with the New York Times’s Manohla Dargis calling her the bright spot of Midsommar in an otherwise unimpressed review. Vulture’s David Edelstein called Pugh’s performance “amazingly vivid,” likening her to ’90s darling Lili Taylor. Her appearance in The Rock–produced 2019 family dramedy Fighting With My Family, about a tight-knit group of WWE wrestlers, gave Pugh the chance to tell an underdog story with humor and heart. Rolling Stone’s David Fear approvingly called Pugh’s role in the film, wrestler Paige, “everyone’s little sister.”
The little-sister familiarity and vulnerability are one part of Pugh own’s appeal (particularly apropos, given her Little Women role as the youngest March), but that’s not the sum total; she manages to both embody and transcend her girl-next-door image, depending on what a particular script calls for, and it feels like we’ve only seen the beginning of what she’s capable of. Calling it now: by this time next year, we’ll all be devoted Pugh-gilists. (But if anyone comes up with a better Florence Pugh fan name, please let us know ASAP.)
Originally Appeared on Vogue