2020 was a big year for Florence Pugh—and her career has only gotten bigger. After breakout roles in Midsommar and Little Women (for which she earned an Oscar nomination) and a buzzy performance as Yelena Belova in Black Widow, Pugh is one of Hollywood’s buzziest young stars, with roles in Don’t Worry Darling and the Dune sequel coming up.
What’s less known about the starlet is details around her love life and the over two years she spent dating Scrubs star Zach Braff, who is 21 years her senior. While Pugh revealed in September 2022 that they broke up quietly months before, the two were a serious couple and even adopted a dog together during quarantine.
Below, everything we know about their love story, from start to end along with the friendship that endures.
In the fall of 2018, Braff began liking photos of Pugh on Instagram. This could have been around the time he cast her in his 2019 short film In The Time It Takes to Get There or an early signifier of their relationship.
Collider.com reported that Braff and Pugh were both circling the movie The Secret Ingredients of Rocket Cola. Braff was attached to direct the project with Pugh in the lead role, although the title can no longer be found on either of their IMDb pages.
At the beginning of April, In The Time It Takes to Get There is released. In the project, made for Adobe Cloud from a design contest winner’s idea, Pugh plays a 19th-century influencer. She co-stars alongside Alicia Silverstone (Clueless), who works for the young mogul.
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On April 12, Pugh and Braff were spotted strolling through New York City while holding hands, per E!. The relationship came after Braff’s 2014 split from model Taylor Bagley after five years of dating.
Braff shared a photo of himself alongside Toby Sebastian, a musician, Game of Thrones actor, and Pugh’s older brother. “#cheers #🇬🇧,” he captioned a selfie of the pair toasting glasses of wine to the camera.
Pugh’s debut on Braff’s feed arrived with quite the sentiment. She can be seen in a group shot captioned, “People I love.” Emmy winner Julia Garner commented on the post, “I love @florencepugh too!!!! ♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️”
That same month, Page Six captured the couple on a Whole Foods run in Hollywood. A source told the outlet, “It was very clear to me that they’re a couple.”
Technically, their IG couple debut hit the following month. In Braff’s post, the pair could be seen with a group visiting Disneyland.
Pugh and Braff also showed up at the L.A. premiere of Marriage Story on November 5, although they weren’t photographed together.
Braff and Pugh attended the NYC premiere of her film Little Women separately, robbing us yet again of an official joint red carpet appearance.
On December 28, Pugh gifted the world a late Christmas present: a relationship confirmation and clap back all rolled into one. “First pit-stop, Matzo Ball soup. #curingjetlag101,” she captioned a photo of her posing outside an L.A. deli. Braff responded to the photo with the princess emoji. A commenter replied to Braff’s emoji by writing, “You’re 44 years old.” Then-23-year-old Pugh responded, “and yet he got it👌🏽.”
On January 11, People spotted the pair driving from a date at San Vicente Bungalows, a private social club in Los Angeles.
Days later, Pugh was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 2020 Oscars. Braff seemed to play a sizable role in the day. She posted two photos of herself finding out about the nomination in bed where she appears to be unclothed. (Many assumed Braff took the pictures.)
Later that day, Braff posted a photo of Pugh getting her hair and makeup done to his Instagram Story with the caption, “Holy shit!”
People also obtained photos of the pair celebrating Pugh’s nomination with a kiss as she clutched a bottle of champagne.
Pugh attended the Academy Awards on February 9 with her parents by her side. (No red carpet debut as a couple this time!) But Braff documented the actress’s pre-awards show rituals on his Instagram Stories.
People spotted the couple taking extra precautions while out on a walk in Los Angeles during the coronavirus pandemic. Both Braff and Pugh can be seen wearing gloves while out for a grocery run. According to the outlet, Pugh arrived at the store on the back of Braff’s motorcycle.
A few days later, Braff announced on Instagram that he and former Scrubs co-star Donald Faison would launch a weekly recap podcast titled Fake Doctors, Real Friends With Zach + Donald. “WOOOOOOO!!!!👌🏽🤟🏼🍕🙃,” Pugh commented on her boyfriend’s post.
Fans noticed that Pugh and Braff appeared to be fostering a dog together during coronavirus quarantine. On April 2, both of them posted about a puppy they’re fostering named Billie, crediting Los Angeles-based animal rescue org Labelle Foundation in their posts. By April 9, Braff confirmed in a post that he and Pugh had officially adopted Billie.
On Braff’s birthday, Pugh made their relationship Instagram official. She shared the first photo of him alone on her Instagram since they began dating. In her caption, she wrote to him, “Today we shall smile wider than the clouds are grey. April 6th and we’re celebrating hard! Happy Birthday wishes, boogies and cheers for this special person. Raise those bubbles and jiggle!”
Just as quickly as the pair was ‘gram official, Pugh disabled comments on the post and shared a 4-minute video defending her relationship with Braff. “I am 24 years old,” she said. “I do not need you to tell me who I should and should not love. And I would never in my life ever, ever tell anyone who they can and cannot love. It is not your place. And really, it has nothing to do with you. So if those rules are something that you do not like, then please unfollow me because the abuse that you throw at him is abuse that you’re throwing at me.”
Ariana Grande was one of the high-profile celebs to publicly support Pugh’s statement. “‘being hateful is not trendy’ a new tattoo for my chest. oh i love and appreciate u so much,” Grande commented on the post. She also shared the video to her Instagram Story, writing, “Beautifully worded and deeply appreciated. Sharing special, personal life things that make u happy on the internet can be truly traumatic. I know I’ve taken a step back from doing so to protect my loved ones and myself but I just wanted to share this and let u know how perfectly u expressed this and how appreciated u are for doing so @florencepugh.”
The following month, Pugh spoke about she and Braff’s age difference and relationship again for the cover of ELLE UK. She said that clapping back at trolls and defending her romance was “necessary,” adding, “because people need to realize that it’s hurtful. I have the right to hang out and be with and go out with anyone I want to.”
Pugh also addressed the idea that people are entitled to know about her personal life. “I’m an actor because I like acting, and I don’t mind people watching my stuff, but people have no right to educate me on my private life,” she told the outlet. “I know that part of being in the spotlight is that people might invade your privacy and have opinions on it, but it’s bizarre that normal folk are allowed to display such hate and opinions on a part of my life that I’m not putting out there. It’s a strange side of fame that you’re allowed to be torn apart by thousands of people even though you didn’t put that piece of you out there.”
She concluded her comments by saying, “I don’t want to talk about it because it’s not something I want to highlight, but my point to all this is that isn’t it odd that a stranger can totally tear apart someone’s relationship, and it’s allowed?”
In the summer, Braff shared a photo of Pugh in the movie that introduced them to each other. “A still from the short film I wrote and directed with @aliciasilverstone and @florencepugh shot by the legendary @mauro_fiore_
Link in my bio ⬆️” he captioned the snap.
Pugh honored late Broadway actor Nick Cordero’s birthday on September 17. Cordero, who died of COVID-19 complications in July, was a close friend of Braff’s. She shared several photos of herself with Cordero, including one that had her cuddled up with Braff and Cordero on the couch.
“So. This amazing man is turning 42 today,” her tribute began. “Nick was the first to welcome me into this friendship group, he had this big open smile that makes you fall in love with him even if he hadn’t said anything yet.” Pugh also wrote, “I would find Zach and Nick cuddling on the sofa at the end of so many parties, it looked so comfortable it would be hard not to join,” ending the post with, “Happy Fucking Birthday darling, we shall have a mighty cheese board with all the chutneys and relishes in your honour.
We’re thinking of you. ‘We love you to infinity and beyond!’
In an interview with Mr Porter, Braff shied away from discussing his relationship with Pugh. He did, however, talk about her defense of him on Instagram. “She literally sat down, hit record on her phone, and said that,” he remembered. “I thought, How could I possibly follow anything as intelligent and articulate as that? So I chose not to.”
The start of a new year meant a rare Instagram tribute from Braff to Pugh. In honor of her 25th birthday, he shared several photos of Pugh, writing, “Happy Birthday to the most fun person I’ve ever met. I would have felt blessed to have smiled with your for one night. I can’t believe I get to giggle with you everyday. What a pleasure it is to know you. What a gift to the world it was that you were born.”
Pugh shared Braff’s post on her Instagram Story, captioning it with a single heart emoji.
For Braff’s birthday, Pugh shared a heartfelt Instagram tribute to him. The post offered a rare look into their relationship, over a year into the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s this magical persons birthday. A year ago we got Billie three days before Zach’s day and she’s flopped on her back for tummy tickles from him like this ever since. A special day for a special fella requires special foot wear and fluffy trackies.. obvi.
His need to make people laugh and smile is never ending, his constant generosity and love for others is infectious, his creativity and ability to put real and honest words onto the page inspires many and all who’s around him, but above all.. his appreciation for life and excitement for LIVING is something I always take note of.
Happy Birthday chicken, odd shoes is a good look 🌼 @zachbraff
In ELLE UK’s June cover story, Pugh indirectly touched on her relationship with Braff and the fact that people criticize her 21-year age difference with the actor.
“I have the right to hang out and be with and go out with anyone I want to,” she told the magazine. “I’ve always found this part of what people do really bizarre. I’m an actor because I like acting and I don’t mind people watching my stuff, but people have no right to educate me on my private life.”
“I think it bugs people that it’s not who they expected,” she said. “But it’s my life and I’m not doing anything to please people or to make it a better headline or story. I want to also be a person!”
“It’s so weird to me to go on to someone’s page and shit on it,” she said, referring to the trolls. “That’s so not my nature—to go and bully for the sake of bullying. It’s such an odd thing that we’ve become OK with in the past ten years of social media. The thing is, people want Instagram to be a nicer place, they want to see nice things. They want to be inspired and they want to be happy. I don’t mind you not liking me, that’s absolutely fine. In which case don’t follow me.”
Upon the release of Black Widow, Braff took to his Instagram to share a unique gift he gave Pugh in honor of her performance as Natasha Romanoff’s little sister, Yelena Belova. “Go see “Black Widow” this weekend and watch @florencepugh save the world! I commissioned this painting from the legendary painter and comic book artist @philnoto. (the Russian says “Widow”),” Braff captioned the post. The one-of-a-kind painting is of Yelena–seemingly the next Black Widow– in full costume, wearing her favorite vest and holding two guns in her hands.
For Pugh’s 26th birthday on January 3, Braff posted a candid Instagram Story tribute offering a rare look into their relationship and all he thinks of her.
“Happy Birthday to this beautiful human being. I am so lucky to know you. And the world is so lucky they get to witness your incredible talent. @florencepugh.”
Pugh marked Braff’s 47th birthday by sharing an Instagram Story celebrating him. “Happy Birthday Zachary,” she wrote, posting three photos of Braff with their dog, per Page Six.
In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Pugh revealed she and Braff broke up quietly earlier in 2022. She didn’t indicate when exactly they ended their romance, but she did address why they chose to keep the news to themselves.
“We’ve been trying to do this separation without the world knowing, because it’s been a relationship that everybody has an opinion on,” Pugh said. “We just felt something like this would really do us the benefit of not having millions of people telling us how happy they are that we’re not together. So we’ve done that. I automatically get a lumpy throat when I talk about it.”
Months after their breakup, Braff signaled he and Pugh were still on good terms when he posted a tribute to his ex on his Instagram Story to mark her 27th birthday on January 3. “Happy Birthday, legend,” he wrote to her, tagging her in the post.
His post comes a few weeks after Pugh shared the first look photo and trailer of their upcoming movie A Good Person, which Braff directed, and she starred in.
On January 12, 2023, Vogue published its cover story on Pugh, and both she and Braff spoke about each other in the piece. Pugh called their split recent and that she was still figuring out if she would get her own place in Los Angeles, where they lived together while dating.
“It’s all very new,” she said. “My breakup has been very new, so I’m figuring that out [whether I’ll get my own place in Los Angeles].”
She also touched on how people’s comments on her and Braff’s 21-year age gap affected her. “We weren’t in anyone’s faces. It was just that people didn’t like it,” she said. “They imagined me with someone younger and someone in blockbusters. I think young relationships in Hollywood are so easily twisted because they add to the gossip sites. It’s exciting to watch. And I think I was in a relationship that didn’t do any of that.”
Braff also spoke about Pugh in the piece, discussing the actress and her work professionally in glowing terms. “She’s just magnetic,” he said. “You cannot take your eyes off of her. And it’s not just her beauty and it’s not just her acting ability, it’s that thing, that magic thing that transcends the screen, where anyone and everyone goes: I want to see whatever this person does.”
Savannah Walsh is an Editorial Fellow at ELLE.com.
Starr Savoy is a fellow at ELLE.com, where she writes about celebrity, culture, beauty, and fashion. When she is not working, you will find her pumping iron at the gym, watching Netflix’s latest phenomenon, and indulging in retail therapy.