With acting experience ranging from national theater tours in France to a starring role in Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble’s show “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” Pauline Chalamet says she feels like she’s split between worlds. “People [in France] would find out I grew up in New York, and they’d be like, ‘What are you doing here?’” she says. On the other hand, she says, people in the United States treat the time she spends in Paris with idealized fascination. “It’s like, ‘What box do you fit in? What do you want to do? How do you want to create your career?’”
After growing up in New York with her brother Timothée, also an actor, and attending Bard College, Chalamet worked at a nonprofit and toyed with the idea of being a journalist and environmental engineer before moving to Paris, where she officially began acting. Now she splits her time between countries while juggling her filming schedule for the HBO Max show, in which she plays Kimberly, a wide-eyed student from Arizona desperate to stay at the prestigious — and expensive — Essex College.
In the second season, Kimberly decides to pay her tuition via a method rarely explored on television: donating her eggs. “I know that that was a very important storyline for Mindy,” Chalamet says. As part of her research into the egg donation process, she talked to friends who went through in vitro fertilization. “It’s not an anodyne decision. You’re putting hormones into your body to super-produce eggs, and she’s doing all this so that she can stay in school.”
She notes that this storyline leaves the door open for Kimberly to face repercussions later in life — ones the 18-year-old character hasn’t considered. “Maybe one day Kimberly would want to start a family,” she says. “Then you are thinking about your eggs and your ovaries, and then you know that you’ve given them up — and you’ve given them to potentially other families who’ve used them.”
As she goes through the process of being an egg donor, Kimberly becomes friends-with-benefits with Jackson, a climate refugee from Kansas played by Mitchell Slaggert. Chalamet reveals that recording sex noises is “much stranger” than filming sex scenes. She says that she ad-libs the lines, resulting in exclamations like “Wowee zowee!”
“The worst is when you’re in ADR, when you’re watching the [scene] and they’re like, ‘We need a bit more moaning,’” she says. “You’re standing there” — she makes a comedic moan — “and they’re like, ‘OK. Do a few more with your mouth open.’ That’s the epitome of cringe.”
Chalamet says that writing stories about female characters who aren’t defined by the men around them is “Mindy’s MO.” She also points out that the normalization of female-centric narratives is still a work-in-progress. “If there was a story about four college boys, you wouldn’t be saying anything about it. It would maybe feel a little more normal.”
While she calls working in television “a blessing,” what Chalamet wants to do next is work on a film. The actor, who had a role in Judd Apatow’s “The King of Staten Island,” would like to work with directors such as Janicza Bravo, Ari Aster, Céline Sciamma and Sarah Polley.
“I would love to work on something where the connection and the relationship with the director is something that’s really nurtured for months,” she says. “To create something that’s final.”