guardians of the galaxy

Actress Pom Klementieff had a difficult task when she was cast as Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, as the up-and-coming French Korean actress found herself appearing onscreen with some massively successful and beloved stars. She shared plenty of screen time with the living legend himself, Kurt Russell, but also with some of the brightest fixtures in the MCU. Being able to fit in with such a group of cinematic misfits without disrupting their chemistry was a tall order, but Klementieff took the role and ran with it, becoming an integral part of the team in her own right.

Klementieff had to undergo a major transformation in order to portray the empath Mantis, and it wasn’t just physical. Her character has such a unique background and power-set that Klementieff had to go through some serious mental effort to become the adorable alien we know and love. Here’s everything that went into Pom Klementieff’s transformation into Mantis.

A flexible diet

Pom Klementieff

Actors who portray superheroes tend to have some pretty strict dietary rules in order to achieve the impressive physique they need – that is even more apparent when you factor in the ridiculous body standards that celebrity women must deal with. Klementieff’s diet is not as strict as you might think — she just changes it to suit her needs for whatever role she is currently playing.

In an interview with Byrdie (transcribed by SuperHero Jacked), Klementieff discussed her upbringing and how her diet changes depending on the current role she is playing. "I grew up eating amazing homemade French food," she explained. "Now if I tell myself I can’t eat something, I’m just going to be obsessed with it. Like bread. I love bread… for me, it’s about quantity. Balance. I eat a little bit of everything…. I’m vegan in L.A., but not in Europe."

It’s an interesting mentality: enjoy what you like when you can, but take care of yourself when it’s time to get to work. Mantis probably isn’t eating a lot of baguettes.

Her workout routine is practically all fighting

Pom Klementieff’s first major Hollywood role was as Haeng-Bok in Spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy. She told Filler that she actually came prepared to show off her fighting skills during the audition for that film, and that she enjoyed her boxing and Tae Kwon Do training so much that she continued after filming wrapped. It’s easy to assume that may have had something to do with her getting cast in the action-heavy world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Superhero Jacked writes that Klementieff does almost no "traditional" workouts — it’s all practical stunt and fight training. This also helps prepare her for the rigors of long shooting days, as she told Filler. "I had to train three hours a day for two months," she said. "You are sore everyday, and you’re working on your soreness!"

Mantis isn’t the heaviest hitter in the Guardians of the Galaxy or Avengers films, but maybe Klementieff’s training in fighting and stunts will open her character up to some more action-heavy roles in future MCU films.

Her makeup is a combination of practical effects and CGI

Several stars of the Guardians of the Galaxy films need to spend hours in the makeup chair to achieve their alien looks. Zoe Saldana knows it’s not easy being green, Dave Bautista’s Drax is encased in prosthetics and intricate tattoos, and don’t even get us started on how much fur they have to glue on Bradley Cooper [citation needed]. Klementieff’s Mantis is no exception, but she actually does not require quite as much time in the makeup chair as some of her costars.

Klementieff typically spends about two-and-a-half to three hours in makeup to play Mantis. That might sound crazy, but it’s only about half the time that Zoe Saldana has to spend getting painted green to play Gamora. That’s because of the combination of practical makeup effects and CGI that brings Mantis to life — her look is created with a few basic prosthetics and, according to Metro, a "lot of beauty makeup."

Apparently, one of the most difficult makeup challenges Klemtieff faces is keeping a straight face. She said of costar Chris Pratt, "It’s hard to keep a straight face around him. I laughed so hard I was crying, and my makeup artist was kind of mad at me."

Expressive antennae

The MCU version of Mantis deviates a lot from the comics, so the makeup artists tried many different things with Klementieff to find the look they wanted. One thing they definitely wanted to translate from the page to the screen, however, was her antennae, which glow brighter as she concentrates more on her empath powers. They also react to her own emotions, lifting and drooping to help demonstrate her mood.

We wish we could say that Klementieff actually controlled those prosthetic antennae, but that isn’t the case. She told Metro that a big part of her makeup routine was attaching small prosthetics to her forehead, but the majority of each antenna was added in post production. "The artists were amazing!" she enthused. "I had to wear prosthetics at the beginning of my forehead and the rest was CGI, so it was not hours in makeup."

The windows to the soul

Part of the struggle in making an audience care about alien characters is to make them just human enough to be relatable. Klementieff has recognized the difficulty and experimentation that went into making sure Mantis was slightly off-putting but still someone you could empathize with and cheer for. She told Metro, "We tried a lot of stuff, we tried different wigs; at some point the makeup artists drew veins on my face; contact lenses; at some point I looked really crazy and then we decided to go for something a little more human — black eyes that make me look like a bug but at the same time something you can still connect to."

It was extremely important to get Mantis’ eyes just right. People are able to learn a great deal about another’s emotions and mental state by looking in their eyes. Despite going way out into left field for their initial shots at Mantis’ makeup, the team eventually anchored her humanity through her eyes.

Anguish and empathy

Mantis has a very fascinating superpower — one that could be difficult to portray on screen. Her ability to feel and manipulate the emotions of others isn’t quite as literal as "punches things really hard" or "flies." But Klementieff is able to draw on several experiences from her real life in order to bring genuine pain and emotion to her character, as she explained to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Klementieff is no stranger to tragedy. Her father died when she was only five years old, while her mother was mentally ill and unable to care for her alone. She went to live with her aunt and uncle not long after her father’s death. The uncle who was caring for her died on her 18th birthday, and her brother committed suicide on her 25th birthday. "It’s life and s**t could be worse," she frankly told the Inquirer. "It’s cathartic in a way. Sometimes you relive things and it helps you to deal with it. You relive it and become accepting of it and you touch other people’s hearts with your experience and performance. It’s beautiful!" She was able to channel some of the loneliness and abandonment she felt as a child into how her long-isolated and empathetic character would view the world around her.

Channeling her inner child

As central as emotional angst might be to her character, Klementieff also tries to capture childlike innocence and naivete in Mantis. Not only does it help give her character some of the funniest scenes in the MCU, but it also helps her fit in and find a unique voice in a very crowded cinematic landscape.

She told The Philadelphia Inquirer, "I just remembered how children are — very literal. No filter. They say what they think." This mentality is why Mantis and Drax get along so well: they both say whatever comes to mind and quickly move on to the next thing. The MCU is a cinematic universe with no shortage of world-weary, beaten down characters. Having someone like Mantis, who brings a sense of innocence and wonder to a universe full of wonderful things, gives the audience a way to latch on to her character and keep things grounded.

She skipped the comics

If you’re a big fan of Mantis as a character, you may be inclined to go check out some of the comics she’s appeared in to learn more about her. But if you’re looking for more of the way Pom Klementieff portrays Mantis, you’re going to be in for a bit of a shock.

Klementieff approached James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, to see what comics she should look to in order to better understand her character. She told ScreenRant that he shrugged off the question, explaining that their version was very different, giving Klementieff more free rein to sculpt the character as she saw fit.

One person who was not impressed with what the MCU did with Mantis was comic writer Steve Englehart, who co-created the character with artist Don Heck in 1973. Englehart told Polygon that, although he liked Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 overall, he couldn’t understand what they did with Mantis. "I turned my brain off to the fact that that’s not Mantis up there," he explained. "I really don’t know why you would take a character who is as distinctive as Mantis is and do a completely different character and still call her Mantis. That I do not know."

Despite all this, Englehart was complimentary of Klementieff’s performance. "I liked her," he said, "but that’s not Mantis."

It all comes naturally

Considering Pom Klementieff has not had a ton of experience on the Hollywood scene, you might think that stepping into a blockbuster franchise alongside Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and the rest of the Guardians (not to mention the Avengers) would be extremely difficult for her. James Gunn says that, if Klementieff was overwhelmed by her situation, it definitely didn’t show.

In an interview with Comic Book Resources before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 released, Gunn said he was blown away by a new cast member — one that can only be Klementieff. He told CBR, "We have a new cast member playing a new member of the Guardians of the Galaxy and she was the most awesome and easiest person I’ve ever had to cast, and blew me the f**k away. Really. She’s amazing and I can’t wait to share her with the world."

Despite all the mental preparation and time in the makeup chair, it seems like Mantis is the role that Klementieff was born to play.