PAPER People 2018
PAPER People: Pom Klementieff
Story by Natasha Nyanin / Photography by Ben Hassett
04 September 2018
ChanelPAPER has always been a place of opportunity, a place that spotlights new talent and people who are doing tremendous things. We've spent over 20 years bringing you the Beautiful People issue, which identified amazing people who were doing things differently and using their creativity, ideas and success to transform culture and create new opportunities for artists, audiences and fans. This year, we have decided to rename the portfolio and call it exactly what it is: PAPER People. — Drew Elliott, Editor-in-Chief
Related | Meet the 2018 PAPER People
A delicate bushel of violettes are tattooed on Pom Klementieff's right forearm. “Such a small flower; such an expressive presence," she coos. The peroxide-blonde, 32-year-old French actress (of Korean, Russian and French lineage) might as well have been describing herself: Though slight in frame, she's the sort to reach to the edges of her kinesphere in excitement over a subject, speech punctuated with gleeful laughter. You may recognize her from her role as Mantis in 2017's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and 2018's Avengers: Infinity War, but Klementieff has also shined in less action-packed fare like last year's black comedy Ingrid Goes West, in which she appeared alongside Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen. A law-school dropout, Klementieff says that if there's one thing that could fairly sum up her career trajectory so far, it might be her embrace of taking risks. “Fuck it... you should just try," she says. “Make something you can share with people."
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your upbringing.
I was born in Quebec and I lived there for a year. But I am French — I am not Canadian. Some people make that mistake because I was born [in Canada] but it doesn't count. My dad was a diplomat and so I was born there because of his work. I tried twice to get the double nationality and they said "no" twice, so I am just French. When people try to tell me I'm Canadian I'm like "No, no, no. I tried! No!" And actually, the last time I had to promote Avengers in Canada they forgot to apply for the visa so I couldn't take the plane.
Anyway, I spent one year in Quebec, two years in Kyoto, one year in The Ivory Coast and then France. I grew up most of my life in France with my French family. My mother is Korean, and my dad is Russian and French. I grew up an hour away from Paris in the countryside and then I went to Paris when I was 16. I moved to LA about 6 years ago and now I am thinking about spending more time here [in New York] and maybe moving here.
Oh really? What brought on the desire to move to New York?
I don't know. I just want to explore something different and take risks. You get used to things and it is nice to just shake things up a little bit.
I'm from Ghana actually so it is interesting to know you lived in the Ivory Coast — Cote d'Ivoire — for a year. How old were you when you lived there? How did your multicultural upbringing affect you as an individual and as an actress?
I was five [when I lived there]. But I loved it. The fact that I was traveling a lot when I was little and not getting attached to things helps as an actor. I would begin school year and know that I would have to leave the people that I was friends with by the end of the year. I got used to that and maybe that's why I am kind of ok to shoot a movie and say bye to people – like, "maybe I'll see you again, maybe I won't." It's kind of strange but it's beautiful, too. I got really used to change and not staying comfortable and staying in different places and adapting to different people. Maybe I tried to find that again through acting.
But before you took up acting in Paris, you went to law school, right?
Yes, when I moved to Paris, I went to law school to reassure my family but it was really not for me. I respect people who [go to law school] and it's incredible but I just did not connect to it. So I dropped out, and my family didn't want to help me financially anymore, which I understand, so I was selling clothes and at some point being a waitress. Eventually, I borrowed money from the bank to go to theater school and I found I loved being onstage and creating characters. I thought it was really fun. I did a theater competition (after just two months of theater class) and won and it gave me two years of free class with the best teachers in Paris.
What inspired the decision to even try out acting in the first place?
It was something I thought of when I was little but I thought it wouldn't be possible and people would tell me, "For someone like you it's going to be hard to cast you because you are not Caucasian." But when my uncle who raised me — he was like my dad — died on my 18th birthday, I thought "Fuck it! People die, life is short, you should just try." And so I took the theater classes. I felt warm and good onstage. It's a feeling you know? It was kind of liberating.You go through so many traumas in life and you can use it and mold it and make something with it. Some people make sculptures, some people act, some people write, there are so many ways to use it and make something you can share with people... instead of crying in your bedroom (though it is important to do that to).But you can share fun stuff, too.It's not just drama. You can make people laugh.
Do you have a preference between theater and film?
No, I like both. There's a movie I love, Tropic Thunder, and it's funny that when people ask "What is your favourite movie?" the response is usually "it's this really serious Terrence Malik movie" or this film from [Ingmar] Bergman — you know, something really serious. You are never going to say, "Yeah, it's Tropic Thunder" but these movies are important, too, because life is tough and it is important to laugh.
How did you go on to land your first film role?
My first movie was called Après Lui (After Him). It was an independent move, and I got cast in the movie by having an audition through the theater school where I was taking classes. It was my first audition and I got the role. And thanks to the audition I got an agent and then thanks to the agent I got a second role in a French movie set in oriental Siberia.
What was it like working with someone as iconic as Catherine Deneuve in your Après Lui?
It was a really short interaction. People have an idea of her of being cold be she is not at all. She is very funny and she's great to work with.
What was your experience shooting the next film in Siberia?
It was crazy. They built a tent for us to live in in the middle of nowhere. When I say nowhere, I mean there is just one road crossing the country and it took nine hours of driving to get to the first small town. It got as cold as 55 degrees below zero Celsius. We had no cell phone service or Internet. It was difficult but it was really beautiful. There was no pollution and you couldn't get sick because the microbes would get killed by the snow. I learned how to drive a reindeer sled and to ride reindeer – oh my god, that's crazy, I dreamt about riding reindeer last night.Anyway, I shot the movie with real wolves and it was really incredibly beautiful and the nomads who lived there were extremely friendly. We had an amazing time with them in their tents, making bread, petting their puppies. We couldn't really understand each other because we didn't speak the same language but we had a connection. We tried to make signs for them to understand. At one point we were imitating Michael Jackson and Madonna and they knew who they were.
How did you start working and living in the US?
I acted in Spike Lee's Old Boy and then got a working visa and was able to move to the US. I left everything I had in Paris and moved to LA. I even left furniture on the sidewalk. I was like "I am getting the fuck out of here. Byeee." It was scary but exciting, too. It's exciting to enter a new place like a blank page and you have to write a new story.
And to prepare for your role in Old Boy you had to take martial arts classes?
I did. I still train. I train with my friend, Jessen Noviello. He taught boxing, kick-boxing, taekwondo. He's not just an amazing athlete, he's a great teacher.
Have you had to face any particular challenges in your career trajectory as a woman and a woman of partial Asian descent at that?
Yes, of course. You are often typecast. I try to avoid these auditions. I make sure I try to shape my career. I just go with my guts and I know what I am able to do. I can't do something if it's not true to me. It's great to have the choice to do so at least.
What are your thoughts about the #MeToo movement and the challenges in the industry with respect to predatory behavior?
It's scary and it's beautiful, too. I remember Brie Larsen coming to me and Danai Gurira on the set of The Avengers and she told me about the [Time's Up] letter to sign and I found it really amazing to have all these women — and men too — together in fighting for a better world. Things need to change so it's great that we women are united and speaking out now.
Speaking of The Avengers, what has it been like playing Mantis?
It's so fun. She's weird, she's special, she's in her own world and I get to do funny things and I love to do that. Oftentimes in movies like this, the guys get to do the funny things and the girls have to play the "stop having fun guys" role, which is great, too, but it's nice to have a different kind of woman. It's fun to play that. I like to be the weirdo. People sometimes come up to me and tell me how much they love the character and feel a connection with Mantis because they themselves are not that confident or don't feel good in their own skin. For me, it's really touching and important that this character exists. I think Mantis' [story] arc inside the movie is really interesting, too, because she doesn't know how powerful she is. She was raised in a way that she was never told that she was strong and she was living in a very meek kind of way and then meeting the Guardians opened a new world to her.
One last thing — please tell me about this tattoo on your forearm.
I love the work of @Tattooist_Doy. I was following him on Instagram for a while so when I was going to Seoul for the promotion of Avengers, I thought I would get a tattoo from him. His booking was full but I told him I was a big fan and he told me he loved my movie so he booked me and he did a tattoo for me.His art is really delicate. It looks like it is almost pastel, not like a tattoo. I sent him a picture of flowers that remind me of my uncle who raised me. They are violettes. It's a flower that smells very good and grows in the forest and it reminds me of wet grass and the smell of the forest right after the rain. It's such a small flower but it has such an expressive presence.
Photography by Ben Hassett
Styling by Mia Solkin
Hair by Rudy Martins at The Wall Group
Makeup by Eric Polito at Art Department
Manicure by Kana Kishita
Digital Tech: Carlo Barreto
1st Photo Assistant: Roeg Cohen
2nd Photo Assistants: Eric Hobbs and Chris Moore