Interview: Florence Pugh Talks “Lady Macbeth”

Lady Macbeth” directed by the first-time feature filmmaker William Oldroyd was my favorite movie at Sundance Film Festival. And now, months having passed since then, as I recall the same movie in my head, I just realized I was left with no chance but to like it.

Treading the fine line to becoming the most calculated person, Lady Macbeth or Katherine is forced by circumstances of her past and current marriage to do the things nobody in a sane mind would ever approve. Her fight for her own freedom, wealth, desire and even passion takes her to the darkest and wildest road, usually nobody comes back from it unwounded. So will she as you can imagine. However, this woman unlike many others, becomes stronger as she gets hurt more, because that’s when she realizes that when you go down, there is only one way up… It’s just that her choice is not what you can expect. Otherwise you are at high risk of feeling empathetic for somebody who has no high expectations from anyone… and pitiness is one of them…

It was the harshest winter I ever experienced in my life when I found myself stuck between Salt Lake City and Park City, where my interview scheduled with the wonderful actress Florence Pugh was due. As only four-wheeled cars could be allowed by the police to go up to the canyon, I was forced to wait until the weather became clearer in order to make it to Park City.  But then I finally, two hours later, reached Park City with great eagerness to begin my interview with Pugh. As I could slightly imagine what to expect from my conversation with the actress, seconds later I realized that the interview I was about to have would be one of my favorites ever. And it was indeed. This is why I could not be more happier to have you finally read what Florence Pugh had to say about Katherine, Lady Macbeth, and her choice to make her part humane, part villain, and something in between, that you, my dear reader, will have to decide.

MOVIEMOVESME: What kind of journey you had to make to get into the mind of Katherine?

Florence Pugh: I don’t know. When I was reading it I never found like I wasn’t able to access her; it wasn’t like I had to spend hours thinking about tapping into Katherine. I think for me the most important thing when playing any role is to keep parts of whoever you’re playing as you. You are about 40% of a role, your mannerisms are always gonna be the way you’ll deal with the situation whether it’s in the script or not. It is you at the heart of it. So Katherine was easy for me to get into because she’s not complex, she just does what she wants. She’s this feisty girl who decides that she doesn’t want to listen anymore and it wasn’t a difficult thing to get into. The things that were obviously difficult were the acts in the last half, which would play anywhere. I tried to keep her instinctive and fresh. I didn’t want her to be sussed out, I wanted to feel it and find it and keep it alive and tangy I suppose!

MOVIEMOVESME: Can you talk more about the 40%?

Florence Pugh: I love how outrageous she was; I cannot say I’m outrageous but I’m feisty. I definitely think I say what I wanna say and that was easy to get into. It was just as much as me as much it was her. Obviously anybody who had that role could’ve made her different because it’s a different heart at the center. But I’d say none of the mergering bits are me!

MOVIEMOVESME: It also was interesting to see how Katherine for the first time showed her authority or control over circumstances.

Florence Pugh: Yes, that particular moment I was found quite sweet in a sense because when we grow up we take on our parent’s mannerisms or our sister’s or our brother’s mannerisms. I remember when I was a kid copying sentences that they’d said even though I had no clue what they meant. I thought that was quite a childlike thing to do, copying something and doing it even though you have no idea why or what it’s for. I think she sees it like maybe that’s what it is like when you have authority, like that’s what you’re supposed to do. I thought that was quite a childlike way of saying it, just copying it.

MOVIEMOVESME: As an actor who studied the character, what do you think about her or learnt about her that’s helped you portray her on screen?

Florence Pugh: The reason why we love her is because she is the person we wish we could be. Not the killer, but we wish we could be like her; when we don’t like something do something about it. For me that was a big lesson. Take away rules, what people think of you, take away opinions. You can do anything, you can live by your own rules. Yes, people won’t like you but it’s a different energy. So Katherine, I suppose, made me realize that you can be a little bit bullshy about things and don’t necessarily have to say yes all the time. It’s good to be free-speaking.

MOVIEMOVESME: You said that someone else could’ve pulled of what you’ve done. I disagree with that.

Florence Pugh: I don’t think they can do the same thing because everyone’s perception is completely different. It would’ve been a totally different film if someone else would’ve been in it, obviously. There is only so much of Katherine that’s on the paper. Who comes in and fills in the blanks, that’s part of their perception.

MOVIEMOVESME: Can you talk about your communication and chemistry with Naomi? Did you have to rehearse a lot together to pull of scenes such as the one where Anna has to stand on her knees?

Florence Pugh: We had a week of rehearsals before we went up and that wasn’t like to completely find each scene. It was basically just to know what we were doing so that when we came to filming we could go straightaway. Lots of the tricky scenes, we went over them obviously. The scene in the beginning where they’re friendly, we needed to find that before they started hating one another. I think for me the most important thing about their relationship was that I see that Katherine saw her as a betrayal; I think she feels Anna didn’t help her in this marriage. So in terms of how was the way we spoke and the connection between us, as Katherine she doesn’t really give a damn about what Anna thinks. In terms of hierarchy, Katherine is higher than her and can get her to do anything but actually it’s Anna who’s free and that’s what really upsets Katherine and gets under her skin.

MOVIEMOVESME: Katherine seemed like the person willing to sacrifice. Was it because she didn’t love Sebastian and it was just passion?

Florence Pugh: Absolutely. It was because he broke her heart. I think the moment he comes in, it’s game over. You see her deciding what she’s gonna do and that’s the survivor in her. I think she did love Sebastian but that’s her heartbreak in the end. It’s gone, he’s out of there.

MOVIEMOVESME: What did you have to do to prepare for scenes with Cosmo so that there’s no hesitation?

Florence Pugh: The cool thing was that Cosmo himself was eager to throw himself into things as much as I was and that’s really great when you have someone that’s going completely hundred percent just like you are. Obviously, their relationship is just chemical; they had like a weird spark. Also with the kissing, we wanted it to be like when you’re kissing you’re basically eating their face. I think that’s what their relation is like; can’t physically get enough of one another. We don’t give a damn about spit so we didn’t care about that. We had to represent two people who are madly into each other. That chemistry was because Cosmo was as eager to create it as I was.

MOVIEMOVESME: How did you end up in this?

Florence Pugh: It was just an audition. It wasn’t like Will found me or I found him and he decided to take me in his film. I was actually on my way to the “Isle of White”, which is an island off the coast of England and my siblings were shooting a short film. I was gonna go and cater for them. Then I got a call saying I got an audition the next day. I literally went there, came back, rehearsed the scenes and I thought it didn’t go really well. But I loved doing her and then we skyped and eventually I got the job.

MOVIEMOVESME: In the audition which scene did you have to perform?

Florence Pugh: I had to do the one where she takes her dress off in the beginning and I had to do the one in the barn where they’re weighing Anna. I had to do the one where Cosmo comes into the room and they have sex the first time. Three very difficult scenes!

MOVIEMOVESME: Do you agree with Katherine and what she was doing?

Florence Pugh: Yeah, and I think what’s funny is that whenever I was doing a scene and Katherine was being mean to Anna, they’d go, “Oh poor Anna, Katherine’s so mean.” I was like, “No she’s not, she lets Anna live!” Then people go like, “Okay, you’re a psycho!”

MOVIEMOVESME: Have you ever thought of ever writing your own characters?

Florence Pugh: Yeah, I would love to write and direct at some point. I’d have to go and study but I’d love to direct at some point because there are characters I’d love to play and I’d love to see things. When I work I don’t write notes on my script or anything. So I’d like to see maybe if that could go somewhere.

MOVIEMOVESME: What do you think the story of Katherine teaches the people?

Florence Pugh: I think it teaches everybody something. Everybody is so shocked by the end that they still like her. I think that’s such a wake-up call. We now live in a world where we want women to succeed everywhere so much so we watched a period film where she kills everyone and people still love her though. I think that’s quite a weird play on everyone watching it. I think you’re quite shocked by yourself how much you support her. In terms of what it teaches you? Don’t shoot a horse because you can’t bury it! It really doesn’t decompose as quickly as you think it might! Don’t mess with a woman who is being forced to live in a house she doesn’t want to live in.


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