Fight or flight? ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ star Pom Klementieff says, “Why choose when you can do both?”
Three minutes into my interview with Pom Klementieff, I’m apologizing — but not for myself. “On behalf of Canada, I am so sorry,” I say, unsure about how to respond to her tale of rejection. The Guardians of the Galaxy star laughs, clearly not harbouring any grudges.
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Klementieff was born in Quebec City under a diplomatic passport. “And I lived there for about a year because my dad was a French diplomat,” she explains. She moved around a lot as a kid, spending her childhood between here, Japan and the Ivory Coast before her French-Russian father and Korean mother settled in France. As a teen, Klementieff thought “it would be cool” to have a Canadian passport. However, she was denied one due to her father’s diplomatic status at the time of her birth. To make matters worse, years later, while on a press tour for one of her many Marvel movies, she wasn’t allowed into Toronto because of visa issues. Again I apologize, and again she laughs. “I love Canada, but you’ve told me ‘no’ a lot,” she says. “I’m kinda traumatized.” [Laughs] Not that I could tell.
Klementieff asks if she can turn her camera off during our video chat. “I don’t want to see my face — it annoys me,” she laughs. I get only a brief glimpse of the actor in her New York City home in a casual cotton striped tee with her blond hair messily pulled back. And while it would be easy to call her out on the irony of her statement — she’s starring in two of summer’s biggest blockbusters: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, out now, and Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, premiering in July — coming from Klementieff, who is so sincere and full of sunshine, it doesn’t seem right.
In case you’re a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) amateur, Guardians of the Galaxy has been a phenomenon since 2014. Compared to its comic-book counterparts, it’s an eccentric and eclectic breath of fresh air with a killer soundtrack and comedy chops rivalling any Will Ferrell production. Of course, it has all the normal drippings of an MCU movie (big cast, bigger explosions and even bigger muscles), but the franchise, now in its third and rumoured to be final installment, has an even bigger heart — and Klementieff is at the centre of it. Her character, Mantis, introduced in 2017’s sequel, is a big-eyed antennaed Celestial empath who can control people’s emotions. “She’s kinda like the glue that keeps the Guardians together, especially in volume three,” says Klementieff, who also loves that she gets to be the comic relief — a role not usually given to women. “It gives me a lot of freedom to just be weird,” she says, which is something I can tell she delights in. Klementieff is quick to laugh and even quicker to laugh at herself. She is unusually unguarded and readily shares her stream of consciousness, whether she is receiving a package (as she did in the middle of our call) or contemplating why she can’t do a cartwheel (“I never know if my legs are straight!”).
The only topic she seems reluctant to discuss is her family. Klementieff suffered a series of devastating close personal losses, starting with the death of her father when she was still very young. In desperate need of some escapism, she immersed herself in movies. “As a child, I had a little dream in my head to become an actor, but I never saw anyone who looked like me onscreen so I didn’t think it would be possible,” she shares. Though she thrived in theatre classes from a young age, Klementieff went to law school to appease her family. She dropped out soon after, realizing that life was too short to not do something you love. “I never wanted an office job,” she admits. “I aspired for adventure and something outside the norm.” More specifically, Klementieff wanted to kick some ass.
Listing Kill Bill and Park Chan-wook’s The Vengeance Trilogy as significant influences in her life, Klementieff was inspired by the image of a “strong, unapologetic and crazy fighter female character.” She took up boxing and (later) martial arts, and as luck would have it, her first major role was playing a villainous bodyguard in Spike Lee’s 2013 adaptation of Chan-wook’s Oldboy. “Training is always hard, but that’s the beauty of it,” says Klementieff. “It puts you in action mode instead of being passive and sad — it just makes you happier.”
And, boy, does it make Klementieff happy. I can barely finish my question before she launches into her detailed fight history, animatedly describing how eager she was to show off her skills in Guardians. “When I got the audition, I was so excited that I sent training videos to the producers at Marvel,” she shares. “And then I found out that my character didn’t really fight, and I was like, ‘What the hell, guys!’” After years of pushing, Klementieff finally got physical in 2022’s The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special and in Vol. 3.
However, nothing hits quite like a Tom Cruise movie, as the actor is famous for his practical approach to filmmaking and death-defying stunts. Klementieff started training for Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One in 2019 and hasn’t had a break since. She tells me she was just in the Arctic two weeks earlier, fighting off frostbite while filming the sequel. And before that, she was celebrating her 100th skydive. “It’s always a little bit scary, but there’s the excitement of the unknown,” she muses. “It’s like dancing in the sky — poetic and very addictive.”
Klementieff’s thrill-seeking tendencies also apply to the red carpet. “I love taking fashion risks and thinking outside the box,” she shares, describing how she tries to find a balance between having fun and “not being the centre of attention.” To achieve this, she has dedicated folders of inspirational images saved on Instagram that consist primarily of travel, tattoos and motorcycles. Given her tough-girl aesthetic, this is hardly surprising. She’s been known to rock a chunky choker, bold shoulder and structured suit to a premiere, but her style took a definite step up after she became one of the faces of Alexander McQueen. While Klementieff currently stars in the British brand’s Spring 2023 campaign — alongside former FASHION cover star Sadie Sink — she tells me that the leather two-piece she wore to the 2022 Cannes Film Festival might be one of her all-time favourites. “The noise those boots made was crazy — I sounded like a f*cking cowboy,” she laughs. “But I loved not wearing a gown and being a little rebel.”
With two blockbusters in play, I doubt Klementieff will be “little” for much longer. She’s a sweet soul wrapped in a tough moto package who can’t cartwheel but can certainly skydive. For now, she has full days and then a month-long Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 press circuit ahead of her, which quite honestly sounds exhausting. But at least she’ll get the opportunity to travel. “In some ways, being in one place for too long gives me anxiety,” she reveals, referring to both her past and her present. “I live in a suitcase, so home is where the people I love are. And I have so many friends in so many different places that it feels like my heart is torn between cities.” Maybe this time she’ll even make it to Canada.
Photography by ROYAL GILBERT. Creative direction by GEORGE ANTONOPOULOS. Styling by KAREN CLARKSON. Hair by MARCIA LEE for ONE REPRESENTS using HAIR BY SAM MCKNIGHT. Makeup by ARIEL YEH for SAINT LUKE using TATCHA. Nails by SASHA GODDARD for SAINT LUKE using SHOREDITCH NAILS and BYREDO. Photo assistants: NICK COLLINS and PHILIP BRADLEY. Fashion assistants: MOLLY ELLISON and MAGGIE CURWIN. Hair assistant: ANAIS ROSENTHAL. Producer: THEARCADE.
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