Ari Aster’s “Midsommar” was largely Florence Pugh’s movie. The role of Dani, the grieving Psychology student who is faced with some impromptu shock therapy while attending the titular celebration with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), allowed the English actress to go through an astonishing range of emotions and intensity levels. Yet Pugh wouldn’t have been allowed to shine so bright if not for the less showy but valiant efforts of the rest of the cast, and there was no performance in it more pitch-perfect than William Jackson Harper’s.
Along with Reynor and Will Poulter, Harper plays one of the friends who get invited to Midsommar festivities at the Hårga by Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren). Harper’s character, Josh, is actually the movie’s most important one from a plot standpoint: He wants to write his Cultural Anthropology thesis on the commune, which motivates the other characters to stick around even as the rituals become increasingly dark and strange. Unlike the most famous academic played by Harper, Josh is cold and standoffish: Harper’s affectless performance makes him a perfect avatar for the entitled academic “neutrality” towards other cultures that the movie indirectly criticizes.
In interviews, the actor talked about the challenges of being the only American actor on set, his first overseas one to boot (the movie was shot in Hungary): “I was completely out of my comfort zone for the entire two months that we were working,” he told The Guardian. “I think if it had been somewhere in England, even though the cultures are drastically different, at least the shared language would have made me feel a little less isolated.”