This article contains Midsommar spoilers.
Florence Pugh is having a very big 2019 with releases that include Fighting with My Family and Little Women, and new productions as gargantuan as Marvel Studios’ Black Widow. But even in the midst of promoting massive superhero fare, the power of another 2019 release can be felt. Midsommar’s thrall is almost supernatural when at Comic-Con, of all places, a handful of May Queens sit in the audience applauding.
“Everybody likes a slightly mad woman killing their boyfriend in a temple, no?” Pugh chuckles.
For a movie that was released only a few months ago, Ari Aster and A24’s Midsommar has taken on a remarkable life of its own. One might even say that a cult is forming around its heroine Dani Ardor and the May Queen she becomes. Played with tender heartbreak by Florence Pugh, Dani is like a bundle of raw nerves that, six months after a tragedy, have never been allowed to heal. Which might be why so many relate to her in the film’s final moments when she claims her crown of flowers. A bereaved and betrayed woman who has a difficult decision on her mind.
Presented with the choice of letting a stranger or her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) be burned alive, while sewn into a bear suit no less, she chooses the latter. To be fair, both halves of the couple have been drugged with so many psychedelics that it’s fair to speculate neither is fully aware of the proceedings. It’s a point Pugh makes when we had the chance to speak with her about Midsommar earlier this week.
In the below interview, we talk Midsommar’s growing status and what the ending means to the actor who put flowers in her hair. Not to mention a fan theory or two…
How aware are you about the growing popularity around the May Queen?
Florence Pugh: All hail the May Queen! Yes, please! I didn’t know—well, the fact that you’ve asked me about it must mean that it’s certainly growing, but I mean, what an amazing icon to look up to. I mean, she has pretty fantastic dresses.
She seems like she’s becoming something of a folk hero for bad breakups.
Possibly, yes. [Laughs] I think it’s very exciting. I think everybody likes a slightly mad woman killing their boyfriend in a temple, no? It’s an odd way to finish a film and it certainly gets everyone’s fists going. It’s very cool. I think she, Dani, deserves all the attention. She’s been suffering for too long. So it’s exciting that people like what they see.
Midsommar is a movie about a lot of things besides its sunny cult. What were your early conversations with Ari like about who Dani is and what this trip means to her?
So we moved out to Budapest about two weeks before we started shooting, and the majority of that time was obviously all of us just getting to know one another and creating those friendships, and creating that chemistry between one another. Then the rest of it was all of us figuring out who we were. Rehearsal time is ultimately for directors figuring out who these people are as well.
It must be so scary having written the script and then suddenly everybody arrives to shoot the film, and you haven’t checked in with everyone. These are the people that you’ve written. So it was mainly that. Jack and I had a lot of time together doing things like therapy sessions where Ari was the therapist and would ask us how we felt about certain scenarios or what that made us feel. So by the time that we filmed it, I feel like we all had a good judgment on who we were and why we were there.
In terms of the trip, I don’t think this is a trip that she wants to go on. I think she has to go on it because she has no one. It’s almost like she has to go in order to feel normal and to feel like she’s with someone and to feel cradled. I don’t think any of them quite knew what they were getting themselves into. Maybe Josh [played by William Jackson Harper] a little bit, but I think with her, she’s just following her boyfriend. The fact that she goes and she is welcomed by such a loving community who only want her to address what she’s feeling and be happy is a big step in the right direction for her.
For that big step, how do you get into the headspace of Dani at the end when she’s staring at Christian in a bear suit and she has to make a decision?
Well, it wasn’t necessarily about getting in a headspace. I think the thing that was always so understood and tentative and scary is that by that point in the film, she’s not really there; she’s had her psychotic break. And I think at that point in the film, for me and for everyone, for Ari, was a moment where we don’t know if she’s going to come out or not. If she’s going to ping back.
So when she essentially chooses Christian in the bear suit [to burn], the way that I was playing it and the way that I had in my head was that it felt like for a brief second she knew who she was looking at, she knew that he caused her pain, but ultimately, I think she’s gone. So that whole decision, the way that I read it originally in the script was that she didn’t quite know what she was doing.
In terms of tapping into her in the last act, I really wanted her to be as childish and as toddler-like as possible. So when she is looking at the temple burning, I wanted her to almost be as excited as looking at Bonfire Night and looking at fireworks going up in the sky, and really pulling back any adult way of seeing the world. She’s only seeing something that glitters as exciting. So that’s kind of where I was pulling it from, and I didn’t want her to be uncomfortable when we finished watching her at the end. I wanted her to be young and excited, and totally not aware of what she was watching, which I hope got across.
Have you heard differing opinions in the last few months about what happened at the end to Christian?
Of course I have. This film picks up energy and it picks up speed and it picks up excitement. Take that away, and we are giving someone permission to die. In the circumstances that he is chosen, no, I don’t think he deserves to die. Yes, because it’s a film, and yes because we get excited, and yes because it makes this woman who she is at the end, obviously everybody is in favor of it. But ultimately, I don’t think anyone deserves to die because they cheated on someone. Yes, that was a very bad decision on his part. But he doesn’t deserve to burn in a bear suit in a temple to death. But ultimately we’re making an Ari Aster film, so it becomes a conversation. [Laughs]
I think if it were any normal person in that scenario, they wouldn’t have chosen their boyfriend to die. I don’t think that she was conscious during that decision. I think she was looking at a familiar face. That’s how I played it anyway.
But yeah, lots of people have told me that they have theories and they think that she was a part of it all along and she actually brought her boyfriend there to die. That’s exciting in itself, the fact that people are wanting to think about it and they’re wanting to change it, and they’re wanting to have their own theories. To make a film that inspires creativity like that is really cool. So I love everybody’s alternative endings. I was thinking the other day, how cool would it be if we did a version where she was a part of it? She ended the film with a simple oh-ha [cult’s chanting sound], because I think that would be an interesting ending as well. But I don’t know. No, he doesn’t deserve to die. [Laughs]
You’re having obviously a really big year between this and Fighting With My Family and Little Women. How do you distinguish each experience in your mind so as to hold onto something that’s singular about each one?
Oh, I don’t have to try hard at all. Every single film you do is two months of your life that you dedicate your sleep to, your daytime to. I can’t confuse them at all. I’m a different character in every job, and I wear different clothes in every job and I embody a completely different person. You’re right, I have gone back-to-back for a long time now, but it doesn’t mean that I blur the memories.
I think every character I’ve played really means something to me, and I have to want to play her for two months and I have to want to be her and fight her battles, and argue for her and think how she would think. There isn’t one memory that over-crosses one another because they are so different and unique and odd. So I don’t have any trouble in that aspect. Especially not when I’m doing something like Midsommar.