“It’s my day now, I have to be fucking good,” said Pom Klementieff to herself before stepping into her audition for Oldboy.
Prepared to show off some of the training she had begun back in Paris while preparing for the role, Klementieff arrived dressed in gym clothes, set to assume the flinty personality of Haeng-Bok, bodyguard to the menacing stranger named Adrian (Sharlto Copley), steering hero Joe Doucett’s (Josh Brolin) fate in the remake of the 2003 Korean film directed by Chan-wook Park.
With the character of the bodyguard cast as a man in the original version of the film, Klementieff wanted to shed femininity in favour of brawn. Unfortunately for the actress, director Spike Lee was interested in seeing more than just her aptitude for martial arts, he also was curious to see how well she could wear Haeng-Bok’s femme fatale persona — literally, heels and all. Asked to rush home for a quick wardrobe change — “we are waiting for you,” chimed Lee as she left the audition room — only to find herself stranded without a house key and a roommate gone M.I.A., the actress bought a dress (as formfitting as Rita Hayworth’s Gilda herself would want it), purchased some makeup (only after being asked if she would be buying anything by the sales clerk while putting on a full face in the store) and borrowed a pair of heels from one of Lee’s staff.
Out of the rush, emerged a success transformation. She had channeled Haeng-Bok’s feminine prowess in dress to the point that Lee said she looked like a completely different person, to which a playfully candid Klementieff replied, “Thank you. I look like a whore now.”
When speaking with Klementieff, it’s tough to imagine the charming and animated actress in the role of a silent assassin, but within 60 seconds of watching her on screen, the viewer has no double that Klementieff is Haeng-Bok. The actress seamlessly taps into the inner workings of her character’s mind, and presents her as a mysterious and potent force in the film’s dark universe. “She’s bad ass,” declares the actress.
No stranger to the beguiling Haeng-Bok’s bold fashion sense (in fact, the actress bulked up her character’s wardrobe with a few pieces from her own closet), Klementieff runs with disciples from the glitterati back home in Europe and is a regular front seat celebrity at Paris Fashion Week.
Born in Québec Canada to a Korean mother and French-Russian father, Klementieff spent her formative years travelling everywhere from Japan to Africa (as happens when one’s father is a consul with the French government), before settling in France with her aunt and uncle on her father’s side. A big screen staple across the pond since her 2007 debut in Après lui (After Him), in which she starred as Catherine Deneuve’s stepdaughter, the 27-year-old graduate of Paris’s prestigious Cours Florent drama school, recently relocated to Los Angeles, where she hopes to find a new diversity of roles.
“I want to play independent strong female characters, not the heart-broken girls I was playing in Paris.”
Without a doubt, Klementieff breakout role in Oldboy — the actress’s first major Hollywood picture — puts her in the running for just such parts. In the midst of the buzz around the premiere of Oldboy, Klementieff takes a moment to chat to FILLER about playing the beautiful and formidable Haeng-Bok and starting anew in Hollywood.
I love how you played Haeng-Bok in the film, and really owned the way the bodyguard character had been changed from a man to a woman for Spike Lee’s adaptation. Your character’s name, Haeng-Bok, I understand, means “happiness.” How does that meaning tie into her personality?
It’s ironic because she wants to be happy, but is not really happy. Spike wanted to create a name. So, I went online to look up Korean names. I picked a bunch of names starting with A, and he asked me to keep going. I wanted to show I was dedicated, so I went through the entire alphabet! He then asked me, how do say “happiness” in Korean. I looked it up on the internet and found Haeng-Bok. He asked me if I liked it, and I said yes.
Happy or not, she’s not someone you want to mess around with — she’s tough. Do you feel like she breaks female stereotypes? Just in the idea of a man, a very powerful man, with a female bodyguard like her.
That’s what I like about it. It is great to be a girl and to fight. I think we should be tough. As girls we are raised to be pretty and cute and nice and well educated. Which is great, but nobody taught us — aside from some families where you have to take martial arts — how to fight, how to protect ourselves when there is a problem. It helped me a lot to start boxing and do martial arts during filming. I’m still continuing my Tae Kwon Do training, I love it — I have a purple belt.
I understand your training was very intense and that you had no previous experience with martial arts. It must have been difficult to get into the mindset where you could work out and train for such long hours.
I had to train three hours a day for two months. You are sore everyday, and you’re working on your soreness!
Did you come prepared to show off fight moves at the audition?
Well Spike said, “I heard you have been training in boxing in Paris.” I had been training for a few months, and I knew that he loves boxing and Mike Tyson. I said, “Yes, I have been boxing.” And he said, “I cant really see it.” In my head, I was like…”He is testing me!” (laughing)
That’s enough to make anyone feel nervous! The film features an all-star cast, how was it working with the other actors, did you bond with any in particular?
It was great to see Josh on set. He is nice not just to actors, but everyone in the crew too. I really respect that. He is very down to earth. He can make jokes in between takes, and then when he is shooting, he is very focused. He is a great example.
As Sharlto Copley’s bodyguard, I imagine you had to work quite closely with him, did you two exchange notes on your characters’ relationship at all?
Actually, it was usually the two of us and Spike talking about the relationship. Spike gives a lot of freedom…but he knows exactly what he wants.
Whatever you guys discussed, it works. This is one of your first big America films, were you nervous about auditioning for a Spike Lee picture, he’s such an amazing director.
Of course! I was obsessed with this role. I saw the original when I was sixteen. I was breathless — I wanted to be inside the movie. I was wondering if it was possible to even see a movie that powerful. I wanted to be inside the creation process.
It’s such an incredible role and you and your character are getting so much attention, she’s on the poster! Has it all sunk in yet?
I actually don’t feel that I have a big role (laughing), I am the body guard of the villain. So when there is the villain, I am around him. But it’s a different part [than seen in the original film], and they dress her in nice makeup and bad ass clothes, and she is very charismatic in a way.
I imagine you’ve already seen the film. Did you have the same feeling at the end of the film, as you did after finishing the original?
Its different, because when you see something and you’re an actor that is in, it is not like you are a normal audience. You are thinking more about the technical side of it. It is a great movie though!
In one of your pasts interviews, you mention that one of your character’s last scenes, brought to the surface some difficult memories about your brother’s death in real life. If you’re comfortable, can you explain the connection a bit.
Yeah yeah, it was something that was cathardic…really weird. I don’t want to get into what was going on in the movie, but there was a lot of blood, and when I saw the blood on my hands, it reminded me of my brother’s death. It physically connected me to my brother’s death — he committed suicide. And the blood on my hands…it brought me to tears. Like mentally, I couldn’t handle it…I couldn’t stop crying. I was crying like a monster, it was a scream from inside…but I had to let it go.
That’s an emotionally experience to have on set, on a film that is already intense on its own. Your next film isn’t a light one either. It’s called Hacker’s Game, right? I hear that it’s the reason for your current choice in hair colour?
Yes, it is a love story with two computer hackers. My character doesn’t want to have a boyfriend; she’s independent — kind of a punk. I decided to give her purple hair. The director was like, “is that a good idea? I said, “trust me! If you don’t like it, I will go back to brown.”
That one was filmed in L.A. too I believe. Are you full-time in the city now, or still back and forth between Paris?
I live in L.A. full-time. I moved here after the movie Oldboy. I am happier here than in Paris.
Why is that?
I feel free here. There was always personal drama in Paris, I felt like I had to build something somewhere else Paris is so small. All my auditions here are so interesting too. In Paris it was all about girls mad because their boyfriends cheated on them.
Not the most fun to play all of the time. And very different from your character in Oldboy. I’d love to move on and talk a bit about your wardrobe in the film — it’s something else. Did you have any say in it?
I was in close conversation with our costume designer Ruth Carter, she was the custom designer of the The Butler . She is amazing! I love her — she is great! We were inventing costumes too, it was not just designer. And, we had to come up with outfits that would still allow me to kick in them.
I can imagine, Haeng-Bok does a lot of that. Any fashion cross over between you and your character?
Actually, we used some of my own clothes in the movie (laughing). Ruth was like, “wow, that’s great, we could use that!.” And I would say, “yes I have good taste!”
When you’re in Paris, do you attend Paris Fashion Week? Did you attend the SS14 shows?
Yeah, of course, I was there! Actually, when I go there, it is for fashion week. It’s fun and I love the beautiful shows.
Do you have a favourite designer?
Jay Ahr, his stuff is beautiful.
Does fashion sometimes help you get into your character? It seems to play a large role in your Oldboy character’s persona.
Of course! Fashion helps me get into character. You don’t feel or act the same way in heels or a corset. Or if you’re wearing high heels or wearing something tight, you know?
Styling by Conor Graham
Makeup by Grace Phillips at Exclusive Artists Management using Tom Ford
Hair by Crystal Tran at Exclusive Artists Management using Oribe
Shot on location in Topanga Canyon, California