By Danny Peary
In Spike Lee’s Oldboy, Pom Klementieff (left) proves that you don’t necessarily need to speak to get the viewer’s attention. Surely the young fashion model turned actress confirms that an image can be worth a thousand words of dialogue. There are many startling images in Lee’s surreal remake of Park Chan Wook’s cult favorite, but among the ones you’re most likely to remember are those of Pom as the silent Haeng-Bok, who at first is a sweet-looking temptress with an umbrella and later morphs into the villain’s lethal, kinkily-garbed companion/henchwoman. If you’ve been wavering about the seeing the violent, twisted film, which is still playing in Manhattan and in various theaters on Long Island, Haeng-Bok beckons you to take the plunge. The actress herself was championing the movie at this brief roundtable in New York a few weeks ago. I note my questions.
Q: Have you seen the original 2003 version of Oldboy?
Pom Klementieff: Yeah, of course, it’s one of my favorite movies. I’ve seen it many times. I first saw it in theaters in Paris when I was 16. It was the first time I was going to movies on my own, and I loved it. I wanted to be inside that movie. The director Park Chan Wook is Korean, of course. My father is Russian and French, but my mother is Korean, and I think that was my link to the movie.
Q: Do you think the Asian roots of the original are preserved in the new version?
PK: When I read the script I was afraid that the American version would be more puritanical and the ending wouldn’t be as strong, but not at all. It’s even more twisted. It’s good.
Q: Tell us the casting process.
PK: It was so funny. I had an audition thanks to the producer Roy Lee, who’s American but has Korean parents. We were doing a remake of a French movie and he told me about this audition. I auditioned for the casting director, and when I was leaving, Spike Lee entered the room. And I was like, “Oh, my god, it’s Spike Lee!” And he said, “Can you please do the audition in front of me?” I was wearing a training outfit and had to show some martial arts movements. I had been training in Paris, and I was not that good. But I was okay. I also read some lines. As you know, Haeng-Bok doesn’t speak in the movie, but he wanted to know if I could actually act. So I did that, and he said, “Ok, the character is feminine and sexy so I’d like to see you in another outfit. Maybe you can go home, change your outfit, change your makeup, and come back. The assistant of the casting director will drive you home and we’ll wait for you.” I said, “Yeah, of course, yeah.” I was staying with a friend and didn’t have keys to her place, so I called her up to let me in. And it went to voicemail. “Crap! I don’t care, I’m going to buy a dress, some lipstick, and high heels.” Everything takes forever in LA because it’s so spread out, but we had to be as quick as possible so I bought everything in one store. I bought a dress that was short, tight, had cleavage, and was really sexy, and red lipstick. When I came back, Spike said, “You look like a totally different person.” I said, “Thank you. I look like a whore now.” I think he laughed, and he said, “Can you please do the lines again.” So I did them, and the casting director was punching him and asking for improvisation, so I was improvising the character. Then Spike thanked me and asked me questions about my family and what I thought of the first movie. Something happened that I felt was special, you know. So I put my sneakers back on, and we thanked each other and I left. And one day later he called me and we had tea. He talked about the movie and shooting in New Orleans, but he didn’t say, “You’ve got the part,” so it was weird. I was thinking, “Maybe I’m so stressed out that he told me I got the part but I didn’t actually hear him.” And so I went back to Paris not knowing anything. Then I got an email from the casting director saying, “You’ve got the part.” Yeah! She was like, “Don’t get too excited because now you have to get a work permit and visa.” But I got them!
Q: So how was it working with Spike Lee?
PK: It was great. Spike loves actors and you get to be in constant conversation with him about your role. He knows exactly what he wants but he likes to give you freedom, so that you can really add your personal touch.
Q: What about Josh Brolin?
PK: It was great to work with Josh, too. Josh is nice with everybody on set. He’s really generous, because I asked him during rehearsals to train with me sometimes, and when I was stressing out, he was always telling me, “It’s going to be okay, don’t worry.”
Q: Did you get to hang out with the cast?
PK: We went to a casino together, but most of the time I was hanging out with the stuntmen, training with them and talking to them. They were like older brothers who were stuck in my room. I was stressed out because I wanted to be good enough for Spike and I wanted not to hit Josh in the face. I was practicing with sneakers, and I knew that I would have to do the movements wearing high heels, and that’s superhard. It’s hard to be a woman and badass at the same time!
Q: Haeng-Bok makes several appearances in the film but I wonder if there were other moments that you shot that ended up on the cutting room floor?
PK: Yeah, maybe, I don’t remember now. I don’t have one of the lead roles. I play a supporting role. So I shot a lot of things, but the movie focuses on the lead actors, you know what I mean? What’s funny is that twenty years happen between the beginning of the movie and when Joe is released, and during that time Haeng-Bok doesn’t age. It’s because I’m Asian, you know! [Laughter].
Danny Peary: The role of the villain’s henchman was changed from male to female in this film, so what is the on relationship between her and him that was created to justify this? I think there’s a lot that happens off-screen between them.
PK: It’s nice that the writer, Mark Protosevich, whom I love, turned the role into a woman, adding another woman to the movie. I wanted to be in this movie and couldn’t have if the part was a guy! I think it’s interesting that there’s a girl instead of a guy, and that she’s stayed for twenty years with this crazy guy and they have this strange relationship going on. She is dedicated to Adrian, serving him and giving herself to him until it turns out really badly. I think it’s a crazy, abusive, twisted relationship. Sometimes you stay in an abusive relationship; it’s happened to everybody, I think.
DP: Is their relationship is sexual?
PK: I think so. There’s kind of an S&M atmosphere. But we didn’t show anything in the movie, no real sexual stuff, so everyone can imagine what he wants–which is good.
Q: Were you fine having no dialogue?
PK: I’m such a bad actress that Spike Lee said, “Oh, no, she’s not going to talk.” [Laughter].
Q: For someone who doesn’t say a lot, she has a very menacing presence on screen. She’s also very unpredictable for people who don’t know the story and are really not sure who she is and what she’s going to do..
PK: I think it’s what I brought to the role personally. I did things without really thinking about it. And it was about a crazy look, too. Her crazy outfits speak for themselves, I think. She’s a weird character, kind of mysterious.
Q: How challenging is it to find a complex role as a female?
PK: I don’t know. There are more and more interesting parts for women and every role is complex. It’s never easy, you always have to add layers.