Pauline Chalamet | To Unfetter with Poise, Purpose, and the Occasional Political Inclination

Via Issue 185, The Cocoon Issue, out now!

Written by

Hannah Jackson

Photographed by

Benoit Auguste

Styled by

Nicolas Klam

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All clothing and accessories by LOEWE.

Against all odds, and perhaps her personal moral judgment, Pauline Chalamet found herself invested in the history-making World Cup semi-finals between France and Morocco. The 31-year-old actor, who is French-American, was staunchly against the global soccer summit due to the astounding human rights violations that occurred while building the stadium in Qatar, yet she couldn’t help but root for the first African nation to advance to the semi-finals. To reconcile these conflicting feelings, she settled on watching the game from her home in Paris’s 18th arrondissement with friends, avoiding the masses pouring out of bars and flooding the streets of the Champs-Élysées.

The game proved more than an exercise in dissonance and diplomacy; sometime after France’s Theo Hernández’s early game goal and before Randal Kolo Muani’s 79th minute clincher, Chalamet celebrated a victory of her own: she received an email alerting her that her show, The Sex Lives of College Girls, would be renewed for a third season. “I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ and then I was like, ‘OH MY GOD!’” she says.

To many, the decision to renew the wholesome but, as the title implies, raunchy Mindy Kaling comedy is a no-brainer. But HBO Max (Sex Lives’ network) made headlines by recently slash- ing programs, including the beloved Westworld, and the similarly racy Minx, making Sex Lives’ cast, crew, and fans alike wait on pins and needles for the green light. But to Chalamet, the go- ahead from the almighty network means so much more than just approval from studio executives. “So many people make shows and they don’t even air,” she says. “Sometimes they air and they don’t work. And then sometimes they air and they work and you get a season two and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, how lucky are we?’” But a third installment is a different ball game altogether. “Season three is like, ‘Oh, we’re on a show.’”

Prior to her breakout role, Chalamet landed a role on the Pete Davidson film, The King of Staten Island, but was better known as the sister of Timothée. Yet in Sex Lives, the actor steals scenes as Kimberly Finkle, a sheltered only child from Gilbert, Arizona, saddled with financial woes, social awkwardness, and sexual naïveté.

Unlike her roommates, particularly prep school veteran Leighton (Reneé Rapp) and senator’s daughter Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott), Kimberly’s background is refreshingly relatable, something Chalamet is keenly aware of and itching to dig into. “Kimberly’s value system is inherently different than the three other characters,” she says. “I’m interested in exploring that. But what does that mean, as you grow into yourself, to have different values than your roommates?”

As a working-class student on an Ivy-esque campus, Kimberly’s financial woes hit much closer to home for most of the show’s audience, than, say, having an affair with your married soccer coach, or hooking up with MILFs off campus to avoid coming out of the closet (two very real plot lines). But, of course, this is a comedy. Kimberly lives an exaggerated college experience, as evidenced by season one, which follows our young heroine so utterly dickmatized by her roommate’s frat boy brother that she spirals into academic failure and, thus, busts a cheating ring to avoid expulsion. Classic freshman year stuff.

Chalamet is excited to tear into sophomore year in season three, a time she feels is more indicative of how the rest of college plays out. “The people you’re friends with in the beginning in college aren’t necessarily the people who you end up sticking with,” she says. “I feel like that happens more sophomore year.” The roommates (rounded out by Amrit Kaur’s Bela) have remained relatively tight-knit over the first two seasons, with external forces pulling them closer together. Kaling and showrunner Justin Noble decided that the gang is overdue for some interpersonal conflict. “I knew that they wanted to kind of mess things up between the girls, because not all friendships are perfect all the time,” Chalamet says. Enter Kimberly Finkle.

Season two ends with Kimberly throwing a proverbial grenade into the group’s dynamic when she plants one on her coworker Canaan—who just so happens to be her roommate Whitney’s ex-boyfriend. When I broach the controversial kiss with Chalamet, she wipes her hands of the decision. “I take no responsibility for that,” she says. While the matchup may seem to some viewers like a random wrench thrown into the girls’ friendship, Chalamet appreciates the intention behind the hookup.“Both of these characters share so many things in common in terms of values and hard work and their banter. It made sense to me. When I first found out that there was gonna be this linkup with him, I was about it,” she says. Though, of course, nothingever comes without a price. “I guess I didn’t expect it to be so much to the detriment of another character.”

Chalamet underscores that the issue wasn’t the kiss itself, but Kimberly’s decision to lie to Whitney about it. “You don’t want to go into the trope of, ‘Well, I’m not going to date someone because it hurts my friend’s feelings.’ Unfortunately, that’s dating,” she says. “But I’m interested to see how that triangle evolves, especially because Whitney was starting to get feelings again. It just made things even more complicated.” While the principle of going after Whitney’s ex is a non-issue for Chalamet, she passionately objects to Kimberly’s dishonesty, especially since she was given the opportunity to come forward. “The problem is not so much that they hooked up, but that Kimberly lied about it. So while I was kind of a Kimberly-Canaan fan, the way that it was done makes me think I’m not sure how much of a fan I am of it playing out,” she says. “I’m patiently waiting to hear how we get out of this.”

A love triangle wasn’t the only mess that Kimberly got into this season. Fresh off of losing her scholarship in season one, Kimberly is forced to find new ways to pay her way through school. Chalamet, who also worked through her time at Bard College, felt a particular kinship with her character. “I took out loans for college that I’m still paying off, and I had to work in college,” she says. In order to bring the story to life, she took up pitching Kaling and Noble on how Kimberly should work her way out of this jam. “I was so invested in how Kimberly was going to be able to pay her way to stay. I wrote this email to Mindy andJustin and I was like, ‘Here are all my ideas, here’s how I paid to stay in school, here is how people I know stayed in school,’”she says. “They were like, ‘Thank you so much,’” Chalamet quips with saccharine sweetness, her impeccable comedic timing shining through.

And so, while continuing her work study gig at the campus coffee shop, Kimberly looks for loan co-signers and considers joining the military when she finally finds a solution: selling here ggs. It’s a far cry from most students’ financing options, and a somewhat unrealistic one at that, but Chalamet was enthusiastic about the narrative arc from the jump. “I loved it, because I thought it was a decision that was much bigger than the decisionshe was making right now,” she says. “Here’s an 18-year-old girl who feels that she can make a decision that is from her body. It’s inherently feminist, and it gets her out of a pickle.” While the chunk of change that she makes from selling her genetic material helps wrap up Kimberly’s storyline of financial distress, Chalamet likes to think of the potential repercussions that could play offscreen years down the road. “I thought what was interesting about it was that it left the door open for this to be a decision where the repercussions last into adulthood. So it means that one day, if Kimberly Finkel thinks of having a family, she will very likely think about the fact that she gave up eggs, and that there might already genetically be offspring of hers out there.”

While working on a show so centrally focused on sex, it’s impossible for Chalamet to avoid talking about it. I try to avoid invasive or deeply personal questions, but she brushes off any worries about overstepping. “I’ve always been very open about it,” she says with a shrug. “My mother says ‘a body is a body’.” Asher college experience is about a decade in the rearview, Chalamet is able to look back on nascent sexuality with more of a bird’s eye view, making it all the more interesting to explore on screen.“The thing that I was never taught was the importance of communication, knowing your own body and being able to explore things with yourself and know yourself,” she says. “It’s made me realize how much I’ve grown since that time.” Still, in the years since she’s left college, the dominant—and disturbing—sexual standards for young women haven’t changed much, if at all. “The porn industry is really selling this idea of the young hot Lolita, shaved everything and doll-like,” Chalamet says. “That’s the society we live in. Being young is like when you’re hot and you’re fuckable and you’re naked and you’re confident in your body. But actually, when you’re younger you have no idea.”

When it comes to her character, Chalamet is hoping that more time will be given to explore the deeper psychological meaning behind Kimberly’s sexual preferences, particularly why she goes for model-grade hotties. “Kimberly is also figuring out this type that she’s developing, especially when you see her boyfriend in season one. I look forward to exploring even more the sexual aspect of the show, because I think college is the perfect time to explore these questions.”

Like her character who leads a dining hall boycott in sea-son two, Chalamet is outspoken about her beliefs. Her Instagram serves as a record of the many causes she champions, including abortion access and voting. There is no passivity in Chalamet’s politics. She worked the polls during the general election, her first with California residency, though she notes that “New York really could have used my vote for the congressional election.”During the 2022 Georgia runoff between Democratic SenatorRaphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker, Chalamet sprang into action, heading down south with two friends to can-vas for the senator herself. “I think everyone should try and do it if they can,” she says.

Chalamet’s canvassing experience opened her eyes to the political division in the country and the demonization of the other side, something even she herself is guilty of at times. “We were always like, ‘How can people vote for Walker? Why is it so close? I want to see what it’s like down there,’” she says. “It was very eye-opening. I learned so much.” She recalls one meaningful encounter she shared with an elderly vendor at a farmer’s market. The two had had a long conversation, during which Chalamet purchased tea from him, when she realized he had voted for Walker, forcing her to see the humanity in people who fell on the opposite end of the political spectrum. “As horrible as some of the conservatives are, the people are not all black and white,[including] this guy we had a lovely conversation with,” she says.“It just made me kind of be less like, ‘Oh, my god, all the Herschel Walker voters are fucking idiots,’ which is really easy to do when you live in these liberal cities.”

While Chalamet doesn’t mince words about conservatives, she is just as critical of the Democratic party. She’s exhausted by the idea that the onus is on regular folks when it’s the job of elected officials to work for the people and to generate higher political efficacy. “The Democrats have so long been focused on rallying this moderate voter. What if we let that go because the moderates switch every other election, and what if you do the work of going out and getting the people who have never voted?” she says. “That’s where I think I disagree a lot with the older generation [who say], ‘Well, people need to get out and vote.’ No, the people who were elected to prove that they’re able to do the work.”

When it comes to celebrity politics, Chalamet doesn’t blame those who engage in performative ally ship, or those who stay silent altogether. “People with large followings on Insta-gram or TikTok, or movie stars—they were not elected,” she says. “That has more to do with the United States’ obsession with celebrity culture. The only thing I can [compare it to] is he royal family and the British. I don’t really understand the frenzy around celebrity that exists.” She wishes, instead, that celebrities would harness their collective sway, their talent, and their privilege to dedicate time and resources to politics. “I’d love to see the general scope of Hollywood get more involved.That’s more interesting to me than individual people,” she says.And don’t worry about generating ideas, because this one’s on Chalamet: “I want to see Steven Spielberg direct a commercial for Joe Biden’s re-election campaign.”

Photographed by Benoit Auguste 

Styled by Nicholas Klam 

Written by Hannah Jackson 

Hair: Rudy Marmet at Call My Agent 

Make-up: Khela at Call My Agent 

Flaunt Film: Nino Le Chenadec 

Location: Château Voltaire

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Pauline Chalamet, Loewe, The Sex Lives of College Girls, HBO Max