Black Widow: How Florence Pugh Joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Florence Pugh tells us about playing Scarlett Johansson's "sister" in Black Widow and the training required in joining the Marvel Universe.

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Florence Pugh first learned she loved stunt work and fight choreography while playing real-life wrestler Paige in this year’s Fighting with My Family. But it’s safe to say that appearing as Yelena Belova, the “little sister” of Scarlett Johansson’s superhero in Black Widow, took things to another level.

“That was the coolest thing about making it,” Pugh says. “The stunts had these two assassins that needed to move amazingly, and needed to fight off each other.”

When we sit down to speak with Pugh, she’s in the midst of a big year. We’re speaking with her after a star-making turn in Ari Aster and A24’s sunny horror movie, Midsommar, but in 2019 alone she also appeared in that aforementioned wrestling movie and still has Greta Gerwig’s Little Women coming in December. She considers each experience a unique opportunity to play a different and odd persona. But joining Marvel Studios really is like entering a new universe given how sophisticated and established that multi-tiered franchise hydra has become.

Black Widow is another big amazing thing that I managed to get my hands on, which is totally nuts,” Pugh says. “I had such an amazing summer with Scarlett just opening my eyes to that whole universe… we had such a great time shooting that and it felt very natural to be abusing her and loving her all in the same sentence.”

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She goes on to suggest that Yelena and Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff have a bond as strong as blood after both grew up in the Red Room Academy in Mother Russia. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t come to blows.

Says Pugh, “They certainly have a sisterly relationship. They share the same pain, they share the same battles; they irritate each other, they love each other; they move in the same way; they certainly play off each other very nicely.”

As for shooting a Marvel movie itself, Pugh considers it one of those “pinch me moments” in life where she can be grateful to spend an entire summer immersing herself in the physicality of how superheroes were made. That includes some rigorous stunt and combat preparation, as we gleaned in sizzle footage at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this year that featured Natasha and Yelena pulling guns off each other and then reverting to fisticuffs in a fight scene that wouldn’t be out of place in a Jason Bourne movie.

“The coolest thing for me was that they’re so up for you doing as much of it as you want to,” Pugh explains. “I knew that I loved all of that stuff from Fighting With My Family, so straight away I got in there and learned from all of these amazing [stuntmen and stuntwomen]. Basically it’s their job to teach you how to be the best… all these unique people that have come from all around the world that know how to kickbox or their skill is knife fighting, and it’s bizarre and it’s unique.”

She continues, “So I was in the warehouse for about a month picking up everything that I needed to and then got going. It’s a lot of hard work, but ultimately they’re up for you doing as much as you want to… and they’re thrilled if you even want to just do a star jump, let alone if you want to get involved with the fighting.”

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We imagine Yelena will make a big impression when she more than holds her own against her sister in Black Widow next May.

David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.