The actress Pauline Chalamet grew up in “Broadway’s Bedroom.” Formally known as Manhattan Plaza, the subsidized housing for artists is near Times Square. It was convenient because Chalamet’s mother often brought Pauline and her younger brother, Timothée—now a Hollywood heartthrob—to Broadway shows.
Chalamet’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins lived in the same complex. They were all artists.
“My grandfather was a writer; my grandmother was a dancer; my mother was a dancer; my uncle was a director, screenwriter, and showrunner,” says Chalamet. “Obviously, there’s an actor,” she says, referring to 26-year-old Timothée, who has been described as the next Leonardo DiCaprio.
Chalamet, 30, is now known for starring in The Sex Lives of College Girls, Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble’s hit comedy, starting its second season next week. But she wasn’t always sure she wanted to pursue the arts. “I bounced around a lot,” she says. “I think I went to about five different schools.” Ultimately, she landed at the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School. She majored in drama and took dance classes across the street, at the School of American Ballet.
She went on to attend Bard College, with a double major in political science and experimental theater. “I thought I wanted to be a human-rights lawyer or work at an NGO,” she says. She interned at International Crisis Group, showing up with bleached hair and funny outfits. Her boss, as kindly as possible, questioned whether she might want to explore a different career. By the time she’d graduated from Bard, she felt sure of only one thing: she wanted to move to Paris.
Chalamet tried various odd jobs, from copyediting and tutoring to babysitting and bartending—but kept writing in her free time. Then, in 2016, she was accepted into France’s three-year, national acting-apprenticeship program, where she fell in love with acting again. She got a New York agent, and she’d audition for parts when she went home to visit her family. In 2019, she landed her first big-screen role: a part in Judd Apatow’s comedy The King of Staten Island, starring Pete Davidson.
The following year, Chalamet got her big TV break when she landed the role of Kimberly Finkle on The Sex Lives of College Girls, HBO’s comedy about a group of freshman at a fictional college inspired by Yale and Dartmouth. Her character—a straitlaced valedictorian from a working-class part of Arizona—is thrown into the Ivy League world.
“Feeling of being completely out of place, and needing to make up for it, was very relatable,” says Chalamet. Like Kimberly, she worked all throughout college. At the end of Season One, Kimberly loses her scholarship. “If I had lost my scholarship, I would have been in a very similar, precarious position,” Chalamet says.
In Season Two, Kimberly has to figure out a way to stay at Essex College. Before shooting, Chalamet sent Kaling and Noble a three-page, single-spaced document with possible solutions for Kimberly’s financial issues. “I was afraid [it] was going to get me fired,” she says. “I wanted to come up with something that was going to be truthful.”
One option from Chalamet’s list: Kimberly cleans people’s houses in kinky costumes. The idea was vetoed.
Season Two of The Sex Lives of College Girls will premiere on HBO Max on November 17
Clara Molot is an Associate Editor for AIR MAIL