KoreAm Magazine (November 2013 issue):
Spike Lee kept provoking Pom Klementieff. “I see in your resume that you did some boxing, but I just can’t see it,” he would say, seemingly displeased with her martial arts skills.
Klementieff was horrified. The Korean French actress, so eager to work with the man responsible for movies like Do The Right Thing (1989) and Inside Man (2006), had prepared for two months with a stuntman in Paris. Now, called back for a second audition in front of Lee himself, her chance to star in the Hollywood remake of Oldboy appeared to be dwindling.
He asked her bluntly, “Do you want the part?”
“Of course,” Klementieff replied.
Hunching forward on the edge of his chair, Lee told her, “Then show me.”
Out of desperation, Klementieff punched and kicked the air as hard as she could, all while Lee was yelling for more: “Give me some kicks! Stronger! Quicker!”
“I turned red,” the actress recalled in her thick French accent. “I was exhausted. I was losing my breath. It was completely ridiculous.”
And just when Klementieff thought it was over, Lee asked her to come back a few hours later, but wearing a sexier outfit and makeup. “At that point, if he had asked if I could cut my leg off, I would’ve said, ‘Of course! Right or left?’” she said.
Upon her return and additional auditioning, she and Lee ended up having a conversation. “He was asking me all these questions,” Klementieff said. “So I told him, my father died when I was 5. My mother, she is schizophrenic, so she couldn’t take care of me and my brother, who committed suicide a few months before the audition. But I was just so happy to be there. I was telling him all this and smiling at the same time, like a weirdo.”
A week later, she learned that she got the part. And now the 27-year-old Klementieff, for whom “weird” and black humor are just two of many facets, will make her American debut when Oldboy arrives in theaters on Nov. 27.
Her first name, Pom, even has multiple meanings. While “pomme” means apple in French, her mother, Yu Ri Park, gave her the name with two more words in mind. In Korean, Pom could refer to both spring (pronounced “bom”) and tiger (pronounced “beom”).
Born in Quebec City, Canada, Klementieff has also had numerous homes. Her parents met when her half-Russian, half-French father visited Seoul in the mid-1980s. “My mother is completely Korean, and my father is Russian and French. They met on the street in Seoul, and he fell in love with her. He followed her around like a weirdo. He was obsessed with Asia.”
“You know, yellow fever?” said Klementieff, laughing.
A consul with the French government, her father would relocate the family to Japan and Western Africa’s Ivory Coast during Klementieff’s infant years, before finally settling in France.
She said being on the move repeatedly as a child has given her a “gypsy soul.” “I mean that in a good way. No, I don’t smoke weed,” she said, giggling. “It just means that I can be comfortable anywhere. I can go from one place to another and be comfortable.”
But growing up, there would also be great sadness, like her father’s death due to cancer when she was 5. On her 18th birthday, the paternal uncle who ended up raising Klementieff, due to her mother’s schizophrenia, passed away.
“My uncle was like my second father,” she said. “When he died, I first went to law school to please my aunt, but it just wasn’t for me. Then I worked as a waitress and saleswoman in Paris. I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. I was 18 and wanted to do something that can help me express my feelings.”
Klementieff decided to try acting, and started by attending the prestigious Cours Florent, a drama school in Paris, when she was 19. She showed promise immediately, winning a theater competition only a few months later that awarded her free classes with some of the best teachers in France. “Doing things on the stage and being able to move people, it was fun. And winning that competition was a really good sign,” she said. “It meant people saw promise in me.”
But tragedy would befall again, this time on her 25th birthday: Her older brother, Namou, committed suicide. “Now I’m afraid of somebody else dying on my next birthday,” she said with a grin that perhaps masks a genuine fear of loss. “But it’s life, you know? Moving here, it was tough and complicated. But I wanted to move. I wanted to be free of drama, and have a new story to tell.”
If the new Oldboy resonates with audiences like South Korea’s Park Chan-wook’s much-revered and award winning 2003 version, she will have a compelling story to begin with. She’s made an impression on producer Roy Lee, the Korean American with numerous high-profile Hollywood credits, including the remade Oldboy. “I thought she had a great screen presence and an interesting, fresh look,” he said.
Klementieff plays Haeng-Bok, the bodyguard for the film’s villain. Being able to give a beat-down was new territory for her, but the work she put into the physical training was worth the effort. Because it fits with her career goals, one of which is to “be a badass.”
Her bubbly personality showing, she proudly revealed the nickname she earned on the film set: Pominator. But more than anything, Klementieff is now looking forward to her life in the U.S. “I like the American optimism,” said Klementieff. “The [saying] here is, ‘If you work hard, you can do whatever you want.’ And it’s true. In France, it’s different. It’s more like, ‘Yeah, you can do it, but it usually doesn’t work, so let’s just have a cigarette and a glass of wine.’ When I first came here, I felt everything is possible. And it really is.”
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