Florence Pugh was worried she was too short to make the jumps.
“There’s always the fear of when you do something such as a sporty film you think ‘but I can’t do that’,” the English actor explained on the London set of Marvel’s Black Widow. “I’m not very tall, I can’t jump very high!”
Pugh stands at 162cm and while she’s petite, when you see her character Yelena Belova on screen this week when Black Widow is finally released, it’s Pugh who’s doing many of those stunts.
“Obviously this is a very active job, and we have to be physically fit and able to do that,” she explained. “One of the coolest things was that the stunts [team] were so excited about someone being willing to do most of it.
“So, I’ve been taught by some of the best fighters around the world and it’s basically like an action-packed dream. Apparently, I’m quite good at high kicks, so that’s great. I had a dancer’s background, so I always knew I liked movement but it’s always nice knowing you’re weirdly OK at something you’ve never done before.
“I don’t know about you, but as a kid I was always jumping off trees and wrestling with my brother. Being able to do this for a job is incredible.”
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As the first Marvel movie to be released in two years, Black Widow will be looking to satiate the appetites of fans longing for a blockbuster experience after being relegated to small screens for almost 18 months.
That means huge action set-pieces with hand-to-hand combat, car chases and even a stratospheric finale.
Pugh, 25, may be better known for her previous dramatic roles such as her breakout role in Lady Macbeth, her visceral, hair-curling turn in Midsommar or her Oscar-nominated performance in Little Women, but it’s also not her first time in the action ring.
In Fighting With My Family – a WWE dramedy produced by Dwayne Johnson – Pugh played real-life wrestler Paige, and got knocked around more than once. But the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a different beast.
“These films are so huge and every single day you’re doing something new and mega – like, you’re going through Budapest with a tank chasing you.”
Pugh said she’s from a generation that grew up with big movie franchises such as the MCU so, having seen most of the films already, she joined the universe feeling like she already knew a lot about them.
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Still, she was grateful that her first spin in the Marvel machine was alongside Scarlett Johansson, who has been playing Natasha Romanoff since the character’s debut in Iron Man 2 in 2010.
“Everybody, whether they’re into big franchises or not, they know that it’s a massive deal to be involved in this new wave of storylines, so being linked with Scarlett’s film is a massive deal.
“She’s very silly, very funny and she’s very clever. It’s been a really wonderful experience doing my first film with someone as in the know as she is. I’ve been having to keep up with everything that she brings to the table.”
And there’s nothing better than breaking the ice by smashing each other’s faces.
There’s a brutal scene between Pugh’s Yelena and Johansson’s Natasha that’s been featured in every trailer since promos first dropped in December 2019. It’s a dirty, rough scene that also tells the story of how similar and different their fighting styles are.
Two women who were trained within the same assassin program since they were kids, but whose paths diverged after a stint in their childhood in which they posed as a family in the US.
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“It’s a very emotional and desperate fight between two highly trained assassins,” Pugh said of the scene. “And it’s the first time they’ve seen their kind-of-sister in a long time so there’s a lot of emotion under the surface.
“It was also the first thing we shot together, so it was great breaking the ice of getting to know each someone – just shoving them into a kitchen counter!”
Only 15 minutes earlier, Johansson had been taking a break from shooting and was waxing lyrical about Pugh.
“Florence is a wonderful actor, enigmatic and soulful as well,” Johansson said. “She has a very beautiful sensitivity to her. I’m very moved by her performance in this.”
Since Pugh’s casting, rumours have swirled that her character is set up to take over from Johansson, whose Natasha was killed off in Avengers: Endgame. Black Widow will function something as a farewell to one character and an introduction to another.
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But in September 2019, with the production only a few weeks away from wrapping, Pugh was being coy.
Asked if Yelena will be the new Black Widow, Pugh pointed out that there are many Black Widows, which is the name given to the assassin program Natasha and Yelena were both trained in.
“I’ve been asked this so many times and I honestly don’t even know the answer to it,” she said, evasively. “But what I will say is there’s not just one there are not just two. There are many Black Widows.
“There are many stories to come, I’m sure, but this has been a cool experience. I don’t know if there’s a next.”
We do know, since then, that there will be “a next” after it was revealed Pugh joined the Disney+ Hawkeye series centred on Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton, a comrade-in-arms to Natasha.
Plus, when Pugh said she was lucky to have done her “first film” with Johansson, that could’ve been a hint that where there’s a first, there must be a second.
Everyone should get used to seeing a lot more of Pugh in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Black Widow is in cinemas from Thursday, July 8 and on Disney+’s Premier Access ($34.99) from Friday, July 9
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The writer travelled to London as a guest of Disney