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Pauline Chalamet Starts Her Day by "Sitting With Herself," and It's a Game Changer

Plus her favorite books and skincare routine.

The Sex Lives of College Girls star Pauline Chalamet has the kind of life that her character, Kimberly Finkle, would envy. I'm not referring to the successful career (even though Kimberly is the definition of a high achiever), nor to the starring role on a hit HBO show (despite the character's distinct "theatre kid" vibes). Instead, I'm talking about the fact that Chalamet, at 30-years-old, appears to have achieved a kind of peace with herself that the perpetually-overactive Kimberly likely would not have thought possible. For the actress—and before you ask, yes, she's Timothee's sister—the silver bullet has been simply not trying so hard.

It's a deceptively straightforward-sounding change that's easier said than done. This has been especially true for Chalamet, a reformed overachiever who sees a lot of herself in Kimberly's character. In addition to habitually overcommitting herself, Chalamet shares Kimberly's passion for justice and equity.

As a member of the Screen Actors Guild, she's a huge union supporter. "If we're going to look at corporations and treat them the way we treat individuals, then individuals should be allowed to form a corporation of sorts," Chalamet says. Much like the acting bug, commitment to worker power also runs in the Chalamet family. "My mom's a huge union person, and she was on the board of Actor's Equity, so I grew up in a household where the importance of unions is non-negotiable," she tells me. 

In her day-to-day, though, Chalamet has been learning to take things slowly rather than trying to solve all the world's problems. For her, that looks like a gentle wake-up routine, lots of reading time, and a skincare regimen that you can pick up at the grocery store. Read on for how she's encouraging herself to do less—and enjoy life more in the process.  

pauline chalamet

Pauline Chalamet

Tell me how aspects of who you are influenced who Kimberly became, and vice versa.

When I got the chance to start working on Kimberly, her character held up a mirror to my face. We have many similarities: I tend to plan everything out, and I want things to go a certain way. Playing a character similar to me in that way showed me sometimes it's good to go with the flow. 

How has that changed the way that you live your life? 

I stopped trying to do too much. Like Kimberly, I tried to do everything in college, which got really tiring. It's instinctual for me to carpe diem the shit out of life. I think it's also because I grew up that way—so many extracurricular activities: ballet, piano, and singing lessons. I think Kimberly is in that mode right now, full of energy and wanting to go after it all. Now, I've taken a step back to evaluate things worth putting my energy into; instead of putting small amounts of energy into many things, which is depleting. I think that's something that I'm doing that Kimberly's not yet. [Laughs]

You said you've been focusing on doing less. What does that look like for you?

I have a morning routine I started doing years ago while still at this acting conservatory in Paris. First, my phone is never in my room— it doesn't enter the bedroom. At night, it charges in the kitchen or the living room, and my alarm is a radio clock that I have set to the classical music station.

In an ideal world, I wake up, make a pot of tea, put it on a tray, get back into bed, read for about an hour, and then start my day with writing. Then I can look at my phone. 

I've taken a step back to evaluate the things worth putting my energy into.

What kinds of books do you like to read?

I'll always read fiction at night before I go to bed, and it's the only way I can fall asleep. In the morning, I start with fiction and finish the chapter I fell asleep to the night before. Then I'll go into whatever non-fiction book I'm reading, or The New Yorker, which I read cover to cover. The two books that I'm reading currently are Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and Anand Giridharadas' new book, The Persuaders, which is about the state of our democracy. 

Do you have some favorite books from this year?

I do. Are you ready for this?

I'm always ready.

A French book called Cher Connard by Virginie Despentes was a favorite. I read Dorothy Wickenden's The Agitators, and it blew my mind. First, I have a more nuanced understanding of Harriet Tubman, the person she was, and the role these women played in abolition, the Underground Railroad, and politics—I loved reading that book.

I read a new translation of the original Bambi, and it's a beautiful story. Jennette McCurdy's I'm Glad My Mom Died was another favorite. I also read a lot of Rebecca Solnit and loved her Recollections of my Nonexistence. I also read Anna Karenina, which was interesting reading Russian literature translated into French versus English. 

Do you have a skincare part of your morning routine? What does that look like?

I use a bar of Dove fragrance-free soap because it's practical to use on my face and body. I have terrible eczema outbreaks, and I cannot put a single lotion on my face, so I don't have a morning skincare routine. When my skin feels dry, I apply olive oil and remove my makeup with coconut oil. Less is more. I love a Canadian brand called Schaf Skincare; the products are fragrance-free and great for sensitive skin. I have their moisturizer and facial cleanser that my best friend made me buy because she was like, "You can't wash your face with a bar of soap," although I disagree. [Laughs] 

pauline chalamet

Pauline Chalamet

You also said that you like to write. Does that include journaling?

Yeah. I write a lot, and I have this rule—I think it's David Sedaris who said you should never look back on what you wrote immediately. Instead, let it sit. That stuck with me whenever I read it years ago, and I reread my writing in December or January.

I'm terrified of what I would find. I've never reread any of my journals.

Oh, it's amazing. You really see yourself and how your thought patterns change. It is a huge part of my self-care routine.

I like the idea of being more gentle and taking time for yourself in the morning but not forcing yourself to be super alert immediately. I'm taking notes.

Yeah. It is important to do that. Even when I'm working, there's usually a call time from five in the morning. I'm not going to wake up at 4:30 am to read in bed for an hour, but I'll wake up 15 minutes before leaving and make tea in my to-go canister, and I won't look at my phone until I get to work. I always try and sit with myself in the morning.

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