Pom Klementieff arrives at our meeting on New York’s Upper West Side clutching a dog-eared copy of Hanya Yanagihara‘s haunting novel A Little Life. “It’s beautiful and brutal,” says the 31-year-old actress with a sigh. “I guess I’m drawn to complicated stories.” The daughter of a Russian-French diplomat father and a Korean mother, Klementieff grew up crisscrossing the globe, from Quebec to Kyoto to the Ivory Coast, before settling in the bucolic Vallée de Chevreuse, an hour’s drive from Paris. Perhaps it’s her eclectic heritage (she’ll drop a few “bad” Russian words if you ask nicely) or the slog of making and losing friends every few years as a child, but she possesses an air of resilience and worldliness.
Audiences will get a glimpse of Klementieff’s range in two upcoming indies: Newness, a love story set in the age of Tinder, directed by Drake Doremus and starring Nicholas Hoult; and Ingrid Goes West, a twisted thriller with Elizabeth Olsen and Aubrey Plaza about the seemingly perfect life of a social media “influencer.” But first, she’ll appear this month in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a sequel to the Marvel blockbuster in which she plays the innocent, bug-like superhero Mantis. “I wore black contact lenses covering my whole eyes,” she says of her role alongside Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana. “I was worried that Mantis’s emotions might not come through, so I found physical ways to show how she’s feeling.” Her unlikeliest inspiration? Mr. Burns, The Simpsons‘ tyrannical curmudgeon, whose hand gestures she mimicked.
Klementieff’s interest in acting was sparked at 16 when she saw the cultish South Korean revenge odyssey Oldboy. “I wanted to be inside the film and part of the creative process that made it come to life,” she says. Instead, she went to law school. “It felt like a pretentious fantasy to say, ‘I want to be an actress,’ ” she admits. “But when I didn’t connect with law, I saw my chance.” After studying drama at the Cours Florent in Paris, Klementieff played opposite Catherine Deneuve in Après Lui, filmed a movie in Siberia (where she learned to ride reindeer), and, in a twist of fate, fought (quite literally) for her part in Spike Lee’s 2013 remake of Oldboy. She still studies boxing and tae kwan do in Los Angeles, where she’s lived for four years. “When I walk down the street, I feel stronger,” she says. “It’s crazy that as women we are taught to be cute and nice and polite, when we should learn to be less nice sometimes.”