• Florence Pugh, at the 2020 Academy Awards nominee luncheon. (Getty)Source: Getty
The British actress makes her mark on SBS’s new spy thriller.
Cameron Williams

7 Feb 2020 - 1:20 PM  UPDATED 7 Feb 2020 - 1:20 PM

An Oscar nomination, screen time with The Rock, a major role in a Marvel movie and one of the best performances you’ll ever see in a horror film.

That sums up the past year-and a-half for Florence Pugh.

Right now, it feels like Pugh’s everywhere, which includes the spy series The Little Drummer Girl, based on the John le Carré novel of the same name.

Never heard of Pugh?

Well, The Little Drummer Girl is the best place to start.

Set in the 1970s, the miniseries focuses on Charlie (Pugh), a struggling British actress who meets the mysterious Becker (Alexander Skarsgård, Big Little Lies) while holidaying in Greece. 

Becker needs Charlie’s skills as a performer to infiltrate a terrorist group as part of an intelligence operation. The mission is led by a spymaster (Michael Shannon, Knives Out) whose plan is so complex that it gets more and more difficult for Charlie to know who to trust.

Speaking to SBS, Pugh says she relished the opportunity to play an actress. 

“The character excited me because for the first time in my career I didn’t have to put on a mask. She’s quite a normal girl; a loud, annoying, argumentative and talented being.

“I think we come across so many of those in our normal lives that I was quite excited to play someone who wasn’t necessarily brilliant at anything, she was just good at being her. But of course that’s why she’s asked to do what she does in the story.”

To put it bluntly, Pugh is great at playing an empathetic brat. She can channel a specific type of rage and ambition, but you can always understand each of her character’s motivations. 

Pugh began acting while she was still in school and got a break in 2014 appearing opposite Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) in The Falling.

Bit parts followed and then she made a huge impression with her performance in Lady Macbeth where she played a betrothed bride who has an affair. Pugh’s performance resonated so much that the film’s poster is an image of her character sitting poised surrounded by quotes from rave reviews.

Pugh continued to impress in Fighting with My Family, a biopic about a real-life WWE wrestler where she muscled up with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson; Midsommar, a horror film about a breakup that gets interrupted by a Swedish mid-summer festival; and Little Women, Greta Gerwig’s (Lady Bird) interpretation of the literary classic that earned Pugh an Oscar nomination. Pugh’s take on Amy breathed new life into a character that’s often saddled with being the villain of the story.

‘The Little Drummer Girl’ is essential viewing for fans of spy thrillers
This eight-part series based on the best-selling novel is one of the best John le Carré adaptations ever made.

With a full schedule Pugh squeezed in The Little Drummer Girl, which is up there as one of her best performances to date. She’s also set to appear alongside Scarlett Johannsson in Marvel’s Black Widow.

Legendary Korean director Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy), who directs all six episodes, said it was fate he found Pugh for The Little Drummer Girl.

“A friend of mine recommended that I should see Lady Macbeth, and that I would fall in love with the lead actress,” Park says.

“Immediately I was taken with Florence’s performance and I wanted to meet her. After having a breakfast meeting with her I was even more taken. At that time it wasn’t even as though I had a specific project in mind for her, but not long after I discovered The Little Drummer Girl.” 

At roughly the same time, Pugh’s future co-star Skarsgård was watching Lady Macbeth and having a similar reaction, and then experienced it first hand during The Little Drummer Girl shoot.

“It’s frustrating because she’s so talented and it’s so seamless – it’s so easy for her to flip into the character,” Skarsgård tells SBS.

“I’m struggling and I’m trying and I’m thinking and focusing and yet she can just go into the most emotional, darkest scene and then when they call cut, she’s back! She’s laughing, just being Florence and having a great time. It’s remarkable. She’s an extraordinary actress.”

Charlie excels at espionage in The Little Drummer Girl but Pugh makes her hot-blooded in an extremely tense situation, which amplifies the tension. Her performance is a big part of what makes the miniseries one of the best le Carré adaptations, alongside Tinker Tailor Solider Spy and The Night Manager

The Little Drummer Girl premieres Thursdays on SBS at 8.30pm, with episodes available to stream at SBS On Demand afterwards. 

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