Florence Pugh knows the power of a bad haircut.
In an early scene of “A Good Person” (in theaters Friday), the heartbroken Ally (Pugh) makes an impulsive decision to chop off her hair. It’s an experience that the British actress is all too familiar with, having cut her own bangs in similarly fraught moments.
“For me, whenever I was particularly low as a teenager, I would do lots of quick fixes,” Pugh recalls. “I would buy things like nail kits or scissors and go onto YouTube and find out how to do it. I was just looking in any direction but the thing that was making me sad.”
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Rather than settle for a wig, Pugh, 27, pushed to shear her own locks on camera. The day of the shoot, “everyone was biting their nails,” says Zach Braff, the film’s writer and director. But after a quick run-through with her hairstylist, she just went for it.
“Everyone was really anxious that it was the only take we’d have, but I found it really liberating,” Pugh says. “If anything, it was like the final key to unlocking this character. It took vanity out the window.”
Zach Braff wrote ‘A Good Person’ for Florence Pugh
When “A Good Person” begins, Ally is joyfully singing and celebrating her engagement to fiancé Nathan (Chinaza Uche). But later, while driving to pick out a wedding dress with her future sister- and brother-in-law, Ally glances at her phone and crashes the car, killing them both. Overcome with grief, Nathan and Ally break up. She soon becomes addicted to prescription painkillers and struggles to ask forgiveness from Nathan’s bereaved dad (Morgan Freeman).
The movie was inspired by a time of intense loss for Braff, 47, who previously directed 2004’s “Garden State” and 2014’s “Wish I Was Here.” His father and sister both died in 2018; two years later, he lost his close friend, actor Nick Cordero, to COVID-19. With this film, the “Scrubs” star wanted to show how “incredibly lonesome” grief can be.
In his own experience, “what ended up rescuing me was the love and support of my friend group and family – and, of course, a very good therapist,” Braff says. “I wanted to highlight that just when you think it’s insurmountable, if one puts in the work, there can be light at the end of the tunnel.”
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Braff started writing the screenplay in the early days of the pandemic, while he was sheltering in place with his then-girlfriend Pugh.
“We were dating at the time and did lockdown together, so there was a lot of conversation about it,” Braff says. “I would come up from a day’s worth of writing and say, ‘Hey, I’m thinking this is going to happen’ or ‘I discovered this idea,’ and she would weigh in. She became a really great sounding board.”
Pugh, who is also a producer on the movie, says it was a “truly unique and really special experience” getting to help develop a character from the ground up.
“I’ve never done it this closely before,” she says. “It was a very natural process. It seemed fitting to be part of the conversations and discussing it with him and throwing ideas around. We were very good at collaborating together.”
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One of the film’s most poignant storylines involves Ally and Nathan, who wrestle with how to set healthy boundaries and stay in each other’s lives, despite no longer being romantically involved. Braff politely declines to draw any parallels to his and Pugh’s three-year relationship, which ended in early 2022, although the actors remain amicable.
But “what breaks my heart more than anything in cinema is a love that cannot be, whether that’s romantic or familial love,” he says. “Two people who love each other so much and the world has conspired to not allow them to be together – that is just the arrow in my heart.”
How the new movie reignited Pugh’s passion for songwriting
In addition to her acting, Pugh also gets to show off her soulful vocals in the film, singing two original songs that she wrote for Ally. Although this is her first time writing for a character, the Oscar-nominated star is no stranger to music: Years before her breakout roles in “Midsommar” and “Little Women,” she uploaded covers of Oasis and The Lumineers to her YouTube channel. She also released a song, “Midnight,” in 2021 with her older brother, actor/singer Toby Sebastian.
“Like many musicians, writing has always been a way into my thoughts and feelings. It’s like my diary,” Pugh says. “(Ally) seemed like someone that I would know, or in another life, someone that I could be. So it wasn’t hard for me to figure out what she was feeling and how to put that into song.”
Pugh teases that more music is “definitely” in her future. A full album, perhaps?
“Baby steps! But I would love to,” Pugh says. “I would love to see if (these songs) resonate with people. I suppose with anything you haven’t done in a while, you have to gain your confidence back. This movie has really done that.”
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