When you already have one of the best ensemble casts in the superhero genre, adding a new character can be a tricky proposition. Fortunately for James Gunn, the writer/director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, he cast Pom Klementieff as Mantis. She plays an empathic alien whose isolation makes her naive and knowing, wholly alien and wholly sympathetic.
It’s certainly a breakout role for Pom Klementieff, a French actor who previously appeared in Spike Lee’s ill-fated Oldboy remake. Not only does Klementieff become a valuable addition to the team in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 but she also steals her scenes outright, and under a hearty dose of CGI augmentation no less.
I sat down with Pom Klementieff prior to the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to talk about the unique challenges that Mantis poses to an actor, and also to get the scoop on whether or not there’s supposed to be any romantic subtext to her relationship with Drax the Destroyer, played by Dave Batista in the film. They have great chemistry together but they refuse to say they’re attracted to each other, and according to Klementieff, that’s because there’s nothing there.
Platonic love for the win! Enjoy the interview.
Correction: This article originally, inaccurately referred to Pom Klementieff as Québécois. Although she was born in Quebec she is officially a French citizen.
Crave: Mantis is such an interesting character to me. She’s kind of… how would you describe her? Emotionally vulnerable? Is that the word?
Pom Klementieff: Yeah, of course. There is an innocence to her, something pure, and she’s just like a sponge. She can feel the feelings [of other people] and change them, so yeah.
She’s empathic and she’s feeling everything around her, but she spends so much of her life around, specifically, just Ego the Living Planet. How does that impact her, as a character?
I mean, it was not a happy upbringing, you know? So of course when she meets the Guardians a new world opens to her and she discovers what it is be a family, in a way.
You spend a lot of your scenes with Dave Bautista. It’s really funny because of your characters, your mentalities seem so “alien” compared to a lot of the other characters. They’re very quippy. You’re both very honest.
Yeah, it’s like we don’t have irony, you know? We just say what we think and sometimes it can hurt, or sometimes it can make people [go] “Oh, this is weird.” [Laughs.]
That seems like such a unique experience for an actor, to just play it with no subtext.
Yeah, it’s like you’re a kid! She’s like a kid, you know, she’s wide-eyed and it’s just being in the moment. It’s fun to play.
She’s literally wide-eyed, in the movie…
Were you wearing anything in particular or was that all done in post?
It was like makeup. They made my eyes look bigger and more like an insect, in a way. That’s what James [Gunn] wanted. And of course I was wearing contact lenses, really big ones that cover the whole eye, so there was almost no white. Yeah, so it made me feel a little bit like I’m in my own world. Just, I had tunnel vision, and it’s a weird feeling. But it went well with the character.
It strikes me that the eyes are such an important tool for any actor, especially when you’re on camera and you have to work in close-ups.
I know. That’s why I was worried at first, you know, about the idea of having completely black eyes, because usually when you see an actor on-screen you can see when the eyes water or when the eyes are a bit red or stuff like that. I thought that maybe it would be harder to read the emotions, and the character is all about the emotions. I was scared that it wouldn’t go through and that I wouldn’t be able to convey the emotions as well.
You have antennae as well. That’s another aspect. You get other appendages with which to act. Did you talk to James about how they affect your character and how she expresses herself?
No, he said they would move with my emotions or with what’s happening around me, and that when I activated my power there is some light coming out. But you know, to be honest, it was the guys who did the CGI who just made all that happen, because I was wearing prosthetics, just the beginning of the antennae. The rest of it is CGI. But they did a good job, you know! [Laughs.] Can you imagine? I would be like, “I don’t like that at all,” you know? It would be horrible.
That WOULD be horrible!
I was really happy with the result.
That would be death. And then have to do all the interviews about it? “Yeah, I didn’t care for anything they did to me?”
Yeah, I wanted maybe something to happen at some point, when we feel love, in a cartoon, where they do like this… [motions for antennae to twirl around each other.]
Where they intertwine?
It would have been funny but maybe too much, you know?
There’s a moment where you tell Drax something to the effect of… he thinks you’re in love with him, and you say something about how you’re not attracted to his… species? Type? What did you mean by that moment?
I think it was just funny. It’s a funny line, you know? Like, “I don’t even like the TYPE of thing you are.” It’s just to say that she’s really not attracted to him, and I think James is amazing because he wrote the script with these two characters who just get along and there’s nothing sexual about it. And people are going to expect that. “Oh, they’re going to fall in love!” Why would they fall in love, because she’s a girl and he’s a guy? No.
I think we see two people together in a movie, or in a tv show, and we like them both, and we just feel like the only thing they can do is get married, right? Like that’s it. So many movies just end with that.
In life I have male friends. They’re just friends and there’s nothing going on and it’s beautiful.
I agree. I think it’s interesting that the movie addresses that, though. What sort of relationship do you build with Dave Bautista, over time, on the set or in makeup, as actors? Or do you just keep your distance?
No, there is no distance. Yeah, of course we chat in between takes. Of course we didn’t hang out but I mean, I love him. He’s great and he’s a gentleman. He’s amazing.
I think people imagine actors are like soldiers in the foxholes, who must share these close intimate bonds because you’re in hot lights for while.
[Laughs.] Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes you do your job and you really appreciate each other but it doesn’t mean you’re hanging all the time, you know? He has his life and he has his dogs, you know?
What do you do to keep yourself sane on the set, when there are so many technical pressures?
You know, there’s not so much pressure because James is so amazing. He makes the set feel really… the atmosphere is really quiet and relaxed, and everybody is really happy to be working on the movie, and it actually feels really great. There’s no pressure. You don’t feel in a rush. You can really take your time, and you feel safe. Trust and safe.
Does that give you an opportunity to take chances you might not otherwise have taken?
Yeah, of course! Sometimes of course he directs you, and he gives you freedom, and sometimes… he’s an amazing director, so he knows exactly what to say and how to say it, when to say it, to get what he wants, you know? And sometimes he also says, “Ah, now do this one for fun! Do you want you to do!” and it’s fun! And sometimes he keeps that take, you know?
Can you give me an example of something he said to you, that connected, that made the difference?
No, I don’t remember a precise example, but he’s just the best.
[Laughs.] No, I’m sorry, it’s true, I don’t remember a really precise [moment].
It feels like playing an empathic character has got to be really close to being an actor in a lot of ways, because isn’t so much of it about feeling how other people feel and understanding human experiences?
Yeah, of course. It’s about connection, human connection, and about listening, about feeling. Yeah, about listening in a way. To be an actor you have to listen. If you don’t listen you’re not doing… it’s not going to be a good scene. [Laughs.]
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Top Photo: Joe Maher / FilmMagic / Marvel Studios
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.