Florence Pugh is as eloquent as she is lovely. After debuting in Carol Morley’s The Falling and making a splash at this year’s BFI Flare, I caught up with the starlet to talk puberty and ambiguous relationships.
Planet London (PL): You play Abbie in the film. How did you find out about the role and what were the things that really excited you about playing her?
Florence Pugh (FP): So I heard about this script through a leaflet audition, which is where they send out a broad audition call to a large area to bring people in. I got the script through and the main thing about Abbie that really drew me was that she seemed a pivotal part, and she holds such awe over people. Also the things that she does, the things that I would have to do as an actress as one of my first roles, those are the things I would really like to do. So I was overjoyed when I was given the opportunity to prove to as many people that I could do it. It was a great character to start with.
PL: Could you tell us a little bit about your casting experience?
FP: They leafleted loads of schools around the Oxford area. Initially I didn't do it because I thought nothing was going to come of it. However my mum convinced me to give it a go. My brother was also in the industry so I knew a little bit of how it worked and with large auditions you just have to do it and let it go. So I did it and let it go. In two days I got a call saying that the director wanted to see me and I freaked out – I didn't think it would be so quick or I’d get a call back. So I went in to see them and I came out and tried to forget about it again. The audition room is so terrifying you can never believe that you've got a part. Then finally I got to the last stages of the audition and thankfully all my hard work paid off.
PL: What are your expectations of the film and how has it been received so far?
FP: Filming it was such an amazing experience but watching it back for the first time was terrifying because there were a lot of things that I was unsure about, like the sex scenes. So when we came out of the cinema it was so refreshing to watch! The scary thing was that we were waiting for the public to watch it for a while and the response has almost been as on-point as we wanted it to be. Carol has been so happy with the way people are just as confused as everyone else watching. It is supposed to make you feel bizarre. Some people won't like, some people will like it. It is something you have to think about. Then I had about a 6 month break without seeing it and I managed to watch it for the first time just as a film and I loved it. You pick up different things on your fifth, sixth, seventh viewing.
PL: What do you feel are the themes of The Falling?
FP: For me when I was reading the script, the main theme I was drawn to was puberty in teenage girls. I love that it gets into the fuss and the worries and the crap that we all think about. You can put that friendship group in 2015 and it would still be the same thing. The only difference is that we aren't on phones. It is an honest display of what we go through; mentally, physically and we watch that. It feels like watching ourselves back and that's why people find it a bizarre experience. I don't think many films display this like The Falling. It's so honest, earthy and organic. Carol can make things which aren't beautiful, beautiful. We are dealing with things that aren't pretty, that people don't want to see but it is done in a way that's so pretty.
PL: How would you describe Lydia and Abbie's friendship?
FP: I think Lydia and Abbie's friendship is a borderline relationship. They're so close; it's kind of that thing where you believe that if their friendship could go on they'd probably end up having some experience together. They are so in touch with each other, they know exactly what they are thinking, and they are so in sync with each other's moods and feelings. They go through puberty together and the fact that they may drift apart is as heart-breaking. Their friendship is a relationship but it is cut short because they have to grow up. Watching it you just feel heartbroken because they are just kids, they are both teenagers but the things Abbie does are what teenagers do. I would have liked them to be friends forever!
PL: How conscious were you of playing with the suggestiveness of their friendship?
FP: Personally I think with girls in general, their friendship is always suggestive. I don't believe all girls' friendships are like that but I believe there is an undertone that you're protective of your best friend. To be able to play that was wonderful. They are so naïve and something like sex - Abbie doesn't understand what it is - and zooming in on Lydia's response to that brings out that there was something going on between them. Not necessarily that they were sexually involved but there was something close to their friendship because she's obviously hurt both of them. It was a very pretty friendship we managed to create.
PL: How did you prepare for the sexual scenes?
FP: As a female it's very easy to put your name down for something and I know as an actor it is easy to agree to anything because you're dying for your break. I was obviously very nervous but when I met Carol – it was truly down to when I met Carol – she reassured me of everything. Working with a female director and cinematographer also relaxed me. I felt those scenes were pivotal to the film. That's the character, so in terms of me doing those scenes, it didn't feel like it was cheeky to ask me, it really was evident that everyone was working to the best of their ability and that it was very tasteful. They were really there to make the storyline as best as it could be.
PL: Finally, the film has done so well at the BFI Flare. How do you feel about being part of gay cinema and would you do anything like that again?
FP: Yeah definitely! I think it's great. As long as you have a good project to stand beside it's nothing to be ashamed by. The Falling is such an amazing piece and I am so happy that it has been part of that category because it means that it's not just a film about girls fainting. It's a lot deeper than that. I'd love to do further things in the future in this category, because why not? I think it's great. It's a great title to be under and it's a great storyline to push more often and it's got such a great following. It is truly rewarding to see all the different categories come out and appreciate how it's made.
The Falling is currently on general theatrical release.