I thought it was weird that people would be so nice [in Los Angeles]. I thought they were on drugs! Do people take MDMA or what?
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is now playing everywhere.
[Editor's Note: The following interview first published at Anthem on July 2, 2013.]
Pom Klementieff might just reach international “It girl” status as she begins to negotiate the worlds of film and fashion outside France with a progressively elastic and colorful CV. The 27-year-old’s range may have something to do with her upbringing. Born in Québec, Canada, to a Korean mother and a French-Russian father, Klementieff traveled quite extensively before putting down roots in France, where she has become somewhat of a household name over the years. Today, the budding actress resides in Los Angeles with a full docket of projects in front of her, including a supporting role in Spike Lee’s Oldboy, a remake of the 2003 South Korean cult hit of the same name, which in turn was based on a Japanese manga. This is undoubtedly her most high profile project to date.
The new incarnation of Oldboy changed hands while in development, which isn’t uncommon in the business. At one time, Justin Lin of The Fast and the Furious fame was set to helm the project. Will Smith had also once committed to the project with Steven Spielberg in the directorial seat. In Lee’s adaptation, Josh Brolin takes the lead as an advertising executive who embarks on an obsessive mission to exact revenge on his captors after being locked away in a hotel room for fifteen years. Although the film is still shrouded in a lot of secrecy, the cast is something to get excited about, which also boasts Elizabeth Olsen and Samuel L Jackson. Lee’s Oldboy is also said to stick closer to the comic book on which it is based, more so than Park Chan-wook’s original.
Having relocated so frequently, how would you describe your personal ties to Québec nowadays? Do you call it home, or do you see yourself more as a global citizen?
I was born in Québec under a diplomatic passport because my father was a consul. We lived there for only one year, so it’s not home for me at all! I have Canadian friends who live in Montréal, and I love the work of Xavier Dolan—a genius director. I also lived in Japan and Africa, due to my father’s job. When I was a little girl, I got used to meeting people knowing that I would leave them by the end of the year and that gave me a kind of a gypsy soul. Home is anywhere for me now—even on set. I definitely consider myself a global citizen! I was raised with the idea that being able to adapt yourself to new surroundings is the key to knowledge.
You’ve made quite a name for yourself with French audiences. Do you want to continue working in French cinema in tandem with American films, if afforded the opportunity?
I would love to work on French films, of course, but the auditions I have here in L.A. are 20 times more interesting than the ones I have in Paris. When I came to L.A., it was the first time I felt, deep in my heart, that everything is possible. American people are so much more positive. It’s a question of education, and I love it. The first time I walked down the streets of L.A., strangers would ask, “Hi, how are you?” or telling me to “Have a nice day.” I thought it was weird that people would be so nice. I thought they were on drugs! Do people take MDMA or what? It’s just a different approach to life out here. Even industry people are really professional and positive. Everyone here loves meeting new people. It’s all about, “You can do it!” and even if it’s fake sometimes, I find it more attractive than European cynicism, which can be charming, yes, but for 5 minutes.
How did you get your start in acting, by the way?
I started acting when I was 19 at a theater school called Cours Florent in Paris. After a few months, I won a competition that awards you free classes with the best teachers for 2 years. I was thrilled!
Can you recall your first professional gig? What did you make of that experience?
My first professional acting gig was playing Catherine Deneuve’s stepdaughter in an independent movie called After Him. I had three days of shooting and I had to cry over my ex-boyfriend’s death. For one scene, I had to push the person I thought was responsible for his death down the stairs. I did it many times, crying and yelling at the same time. One time, I fell down the stairs in my heels for real. Everybody stopped talking and the camera was still rolling. The director kept that take! After he cut, I said, “Oh my god, it’s so hot in here!” Catherine took me briefly into her arms and told me, “Emotions keep you warm.” It was comforting to hear this from such an amazing actress.
What else sticks out to you? What are you particularly proud of having accomplished?
I shot a movie in Oriental Siberia a few years ago called Wolf directed by Nicolas Vanier. It was a very intense experience. I stayed in a camp built for the movie in the middle of nowhere, 20 hours away from the next village. The temperature was 130 degrees below zero. When you breathed in the air, you could feel ice crystals in your nose. I spent a lot of time with the nomads who live there and they became like my family. Thanks to them, I learned how to ride reindeer, how to drive a sled with reindeer, how to cook reindeer, and how to sew pants with reindeer skin. I also played with wild wolves that were trained by the wonderful Andrew Simpson. When we came back for summer, I was able to live out one of my dreams, which was to swim with a horse in a lake. I had to do it about ten times and it’s in the film now. I’d like to swim with an elephant next time!
What can you reveal about the character you play in the upcoming Oldboy?
Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to reveal anything about my character in Oldboy. The only thing I can say is that my character is never very far from the villain.
I don’t recall there ever being a character named Haeng-Bok in the original.
Spike wanted a Korean name for my character. I don’t speak Korean, so I looked on the Internet for an hour and a half on a website specializing in Asian names. I would send Spike a message each time I found a name that I liked. We were looking for a name that would sound nice and also have a beautiful meaning. We found “haengbok,” which means “happiness.”
What is Spike like as a director? Can you talk about his process working with actors?
I love Spike. He’s like a father figure to me. He’s such a stand up guy. He knows exactly what he wants. He’s so smart and can also be really goofy. He’s the kind of director who will work with the same actors on several movies. He stays in touch and he’s very generous. Before shooting, he talks to the actors a lot and it’s a real collaboration. He gives you the freedom to invent your character. It’s a real discussion. When he feels that you need guidance, he knows exactly what to say.
What did you have to do in the audition?
I had heard about the role months before, thanks to Roy Lee, one of the producers on the movie. They were looking for an Asian or a half-Asian girl. I knew the role demanded martial arts or boxing skills. I wanted to book this role so badly that I started taking boxing lessons. The casting director gave me some lines and asked me to show her some martial arts. I was asked to audition again in front of Spike and I was just so happy to be there. He said, “I saw in your resume that you did some boxing. I can’t really see it.” He asked if I wanted the part and, of course, I answered “Yes.” He then said, “Show me.” I started fighting in the air, punching and kicking as hard as I could, while he shouted to give him more. I was fighting so hard that I was turning red, losing my breath and balance. But I had to impress him. This was the moment I had been waiting for.
Spike finally stopped and asked about me. I told him about my family’s fucked up, drama-fueled story—death, schizophrenia, and suicide—smiling, like a weirdo, because I was so happy just to be in front of him. Then he told me that the character I was auditioning for had to be sexy and, of course, I was in a martial arts training outfit. He asked me how long it would take to go home and come back all dolled up. I decided I would have to go buy some sexy clothes and bought this very tight, short black dress with deep cleavage—not the kind of dress I would wear in real life—and red lipstick. I walked down the street feeling like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman—way too sexy for daytime. When I got back to the office, Spike said I looked like a different person and auditioned me again. I told him, “Thank you, I look like a whore now!” and I think it made him smile. After that, Spike walked me to Sunset Boulevard and I cried against a tree. I thought I was being such an actress—crying on Sunset Boulevard. I returned to Paris and, a week later, got the part!
I know you have a Korean mother. How close do you feel to your Korean heritage?
My mother is Korean, but I was raised by my aunt from my father’s side. I had a very French education. I have a tendency to forget and people always remind me of Korea. I need to travel there to see family that I barely know. It’s something I want to do, but it’s also a bit scary for me.
How did your family react when you decided to go into the film business?
I was raised by my aunt, as well as my uncle, who was like a second father to me. He died on my 18th birthday and 18 is the legal age in France when you’re considered an adult. It’s sad, but when you have no father, you can make any decision you want. You have no restrictions. Little by little, I decided to become an actress and my aunt was a little scared because, when you choose to become an actress, you don’t choose comfort. You never know what tomorrow will bring.
What kind of movies did you grow up watching?
I used to watch many black and white movies with my aunt and uncle. I wasn’t allowed to watch stupid TV shows and I thank them for that now! I know it’s silly, but it still makes me sad when I watch old movies because you know everybody in them are dead. You will never meet them or get to work with them. When I was a teenager, I loved to watch movies with strong females like Erin Brockovich, The Hours, and Lady Vengeance. I also love action movies with badass girls because I want to kick guys’ asses, too! I always wanted to become stronger and more independent.
What about favorite directors?
Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Park Chan-wook, Jane Campion, Jacques Audiard, Robert Rodriguez, Gregg Araki, Steve McQueen, Christopher Nolan, Nicolas Winding Refn…
You’re also quite entangled in the fashion world from what I understand…
I just love things that bring more happiness, fun, and light into my life and clothes are a big part of that. It’s just great to have the possibility to look like a babydoll or a badass, depending on your mood. I love to go see runway shows, of course, but I don’t really follow fashion. I just wear what I like and what suits me. I hate brand logos—they’re so vulgar to me.
What are the essential items?
I travel with comfortable clothes. I love Rag & Bone jeans and t-shirts, IRO leather or glitter jackets, ACNE jackets, Nike Dunk Sky wedge shoes, Chloé Susanna studded leather boots, my All Saints military print oversized hoodie, and Agent Provocateur lingerie.
What can you reveal about your upcoming film with Cyril Morin called Hacker’s Game?
We just wrapped! It’s a love story between two hackers. It’s a complex take on the Internet world. It was really interesting to work on this low-budget movie because you become so much more involved in the production. I had to do my own makeup and choose the clothes for my character. From the preparation to the end of the shoot, I was 100% inside the character. It was my first time playing a borderline-intense character and I had to do some boxing in the movie, too. I loved it.
What kinds of roles would you most like to tackle moving forward?
I’m into strong female characters: survivors. I would love to do comedies, too. More and more, comedies focus on funny, goofy, and daring women who aren’t expected to be super sexy and skinny. That makes me so happy. I’m a huge fan of Lena Dunham. I would love to work with her.