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November 16, 2018

Her Beat Goes On

Florence Pugh has a lot of luck - and talent to back it up.

Benji Wilson
  • Maarten DeBoer

"You're always attracted by characters that are a little bit like you," Florence Pugh says. "In the case of Charlie, that's not necessarily flattering!"

Pugh is talking about the title character in John le Carré's 1983 spy novel, The Little Drummer Girl. She plays the struggling English actress-turned-spy in a six-hour adaptation debuting November 19 on AMC.

"Loud, annoying, argumentative, talented" — that's how Pugh further describes the character. In the late '70s, Israeli intelligence recruits Charlie to infiltrate a Palestinian bomb-making cell; she pretends to be the lover of one of its deceased members. It's a deadly role in what ruthless spymaster Kurtz (Michael Shannon) calls "the theater of the real."

"She's good at making people believe her," Pugh says, and she might as well be speaking of herself.

In 2016 she played the lead in William Oldroyd's film Lady Macbeth; that brought her to the attention of Korean director Park Chan-wook (Old Boy, Stoker). When production company The Ink Factory asked Park to direct The Little Drummer Girl, Pugh was his first choice.

The story is set in 1979, but Charlie is "a very modern girl," Pugh says. "She won't be told; she doesn't follow trends. I got to be as normal on screen as I could be, and I liked that."

The series takes Charlie from London to Greece, where she meets and falls for an Israeli agent (Alexander Skarsgård). It's no chance affair: he is tasked with bringing Charlie in so the Mossad can train her. He woos her with a night visit to the Acropolis.

"I saw 'at the Acropolis' in the script," Pugh recalls, "and I asked the lawyer, 'Are we actually, actually going to film at the Acropolis?' She goes, 'Better than that — we're going to film when no one else is there, at night. It hasn't been done before.' I couldn't believe it, and I'll never forget it."

Pugh can currently be seen as Cordelia in Amazon's King Lear, with Anthony Hopkins, and next year she'll appear as Amy March in Greta Gerwig's Little Women, alongside Meryl Streep.

But she doesn't let success go to her head, observing, "A lot of it is luck that it works, luck that you're getting seen for the role and luck that you got it. I'm having a good stretch, and I'm enjoying it."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 11, 2018

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