In November, when Pauline Chalamet debuted on The Sex Lives of College Girls as Kimberly, many viewers were surprised to learn that Timothée Chalamet had an older sister, let alone one who acted. Although Pauline made her film debut alongside Pete Davidson in Judd Apatow’s comedy The King of Staten Island a year prior, it was her starring role on the HBO Max comedy-drama series that served as her big break. Pauline’s humorous performance as fool, sheltered student and school lover was sweet and tender and with the show just renewed for a new season he also solidified the position of the Chalamet siblings as a force to be reckoned with.

Such is the cultural positioning of the Chalamets, that when I meet their mother, Nicole Flender, on a gray Tuesday afternoon at The Drama Bookshop in Manhattan, we lower our voices when talking about Timothée to avoid being overheard by anyone shopping in the book store.

I see aspects of Timothée and Pauline in Flender – all three have small noses and that same angular, youthful smile. But Flender has done a good job of being relatively unaffected by her children’s fame. “I’m happy that they’re doing well, that they’re safe and healthy, and I would feel that regardless of their profession,” she tells me. As she passes her vaccination record to a salesman, no one assumes she is the mother of two successful actors, one rising and the other an Oscar nominee.

At first glance, Flender is a normal mother who occupies her time with hobbies like reading and traveling. An online search for Nicole Flender brings you to a Corcoran Group profile detailing her work as a licensed estate agent. The bio page mentions Flender’s successful professional career as a performing artist. Last summer she starred in the short film Birdwatcher.

Flender grew up in an artistic family on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Her father, Harold Flender, was an author and screenwriter whose book Paris Blues was adapted into a film starring Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman. Her mother danced on Broadway throughout her twenties – and Flender, a trained ballet dancer, followed in her footsteps, performing in musicals such as Fiddler on the Roof, Hello Dolly and My One and Only. Flender encouraged these same interests in his children.

A collection of Flender memorabilia. Photography: Ali Smith/Ali Smith for The Guardian

“I took them to see a lot of different plays and musicals when they were growing up, and I think seeing some of the performances influenced them,” she said, noting that Timothy’s favorite was Slava’s Snowshow for its production. magical. Pauline’s was Hair. “The productions they saw and even grew up in New York informed who they are today,” she said.

Timothée has become synonymous with superstardom in recent years. At 22, he was one of the youngest Oscar nominees of all time for his performance in Call Me by Your Name, and between catapulting Chalamania, hosting Saturday Night Live and being called the most influential man in fashion. per Vogue, it has since become somewhat of an icon. Meanwhile, Pauline has quietly made a name for herself – apart from her recent roles, she will star in the next film What Doesn’t Float, directed by the production company she set up with her friends in 2019.

A Timothy-themed prayer candle depicts him dressed as a saint.
A Timothy-themed prayer candle depicts him dressed as a saint. Photography: Ali Smith/Ali Smith for The Guardian

Over the weekend, I met Nicole at her house, which sports bright pink walls and features a collection of Timothy-themed memorabilia – a prayer candle features Timothy dressed as a saint with a cradled goat in his arms and a Dune action figure is so well designed even the hair is flowing. In the living room is a shrine to the family’s accomplishments: my gaze is drawn to a large gold trophy Timothy received at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. It’s sitting on the same shelf as Flender’s book, Cool Careers Without College for people who love movement; a stack of his father’s novels; and a photo of Flender and Timothy posing at the 2019 Golden Globes. Stuck inside the front door are various press clippings, including press for Sex Lives of College Girls, Dune, and Call Me by Your Name.

Flender majored in dance at LaGuardia Performing Arts High School, popularly known as the Fame School – and her children followed in her footsteps decades later, enrolling in the drama program. Flender then studied French at Yale, moving from a joint ballet scholarship to musical theater after her freshman year. This is where she found her calling.

“They were doing a production of Gypsy and I auditioned for that and got the role of Dainty June,” she explains, of a character who is a strong viola and a talented dancer. “I was sold on musical theatre. I loved being in it,” she says.

Flender has been a strong advocate for the monetary and educational rights of child actors and better working conditions for stage actors in general. She is an elected leader of the Actors’ Equity Association, negotiating wages and working conditions for the 50,000 theater actors the union represents. In 2003, she lobbied for a three-part bill requiring parents to obtain permits for their children to perform; child actors to supervise during the eight-hour working day; and 10% of the child’s earnings will be automatically deposited into a designated trust account for them.

She uses these experiences to guide her children – helping them balance an education and a career in the arts. At the age of eight, Pauline signed up for ballet, the same age that Flender started. “It was nice to have the opportunity to see a lot of ballets again. I saw a lot of ballet intensively when I was studying and performing, and now I have to revise that a bit,” says Flender. For Timothy, his the family’s interest in the theater paid off when, at the age of 20, Timothée played Jim Quinn in The Prodigal Son, at the City Center for which he won the Lucille Lortel prize. “He carried the show. He was the main character in the play and he was very dynamic. I think that’s where we got to see his real acting skills for the first time,” Flender says.

But there were times when they disagreed on the right path to followas during Timothy sophomore year of college, when he was studying at Columbia. “He took the semesters because he got a professional job. And then he worked non-stop, Call me by your name, Lady Bird, Hostiles,” explains Flender. Columbia was conflicted with his professional career, and he eventually made the decision to leave college to act full-time. Flender felt conflicted. “I have always encouraged him to pursue his passion and his dreams. However, I didn’t want him to leave Columbia. I had gone to Yale and just thought college would help him be a complete individual. But we did not know that he was going to become Timothée Chalamet, ”she says in a neutral tone.

Images showing framed family photos
Family photos at Nicole Flender. Photography: Ali Smith/The Guardian

“He definitely made the right decision for himself, because look where he is now,” she says. Now, Flender often attends red carpets with Timothy. “I love being with my son. It’s like we’re going to a party and he’s introducing me to some of his friends, his co-workers,” she said. “Timmy is very friendly,” adds she.

Raised in Manhattan Plaza, a residential complex providing federally subsidized housing for Hell’s Kitchen artists, Pauline and Timothée were no strangers to hearing their neighbors play musical instruments or hit high notes during designated rehearsal times. of the building. But while the building is known as a former residence of megastars like Alicia Keys and Larry David, for the Chalamet family it is simply considered their home.

Flender’s mother lives in the building on a different floor, which made it easy for her to watch her grandchildren, take them to auditions, and pick them up after school. “I think the kids were just happy to have the friends they had in the building and to be able to grow up next to the pool and the tennis courts,” Flender said.

Both kids had agents and dabbled in acting, occasionally landing commercials and supporting roles in TV shows and movies. Between living with a French-speaking father and a bilingual mother, and childhood summers spent in the south of France, they learned the language at home, which Flender says has proven beneficial in securing French-speaking parts – although you wouldn’t necessarily know that watching Pauline stumble over a dodgy French accent in The Sex Lives of College Girls, over a subplot in which her character’s poor performance in a French class leads her to be tutored by her roommate’s sexy brother.

Flender describes her role in her children’s careers as motivating and advisory, but never managerial. “I sowed the seeds and our lifestyle really inspired those interests, but they were always in control of their careers. I was encouraging, you know, but I wasn’t like ‘you better go ‘get this job,'” she said. More than anything, she supported them by taking them to auditions, acting as an on-set chaperone, and handling the kids’ deposits and taxes.

Posters of works by Timothée and Pauline stuck on the door of Flender's house
Posters of the works of Timothée and Pauline pasted on the door of Flender’s house. Photography: Ali Smith/Ali Smith for The Guardian

But she didn’t do it alone. “It kind of took a village to do that,” she says, pointing to the many family members and friends who have attended shows with her children, to act as their chaperones.

There were times when they followed their own intuition, like when Timothée opted for a change of agent. “I was a little against it. Like I said, I’m old school – you stick with who you succeed with. But he eventually changed agents and he obviously liked that,” she said. After his change, Timothée landed a small role in Interstellar with Matthew McConaughey and went on to film for Call Me by Your Name two years later.

“My kids have taken off in their careers so far. I mean, my career was mostly in musical theater, so I was doing shows on Broadway, but what they achieved was really stardom,” she tells me. Is this the start of another acting family dynasty similar to the Barrymores, Smiths, Baldwins or Douglases? Maybe, but that’s not, and never was, Flender’s goal for his family. As she says, “It’s very gratifying to see how far they’ve come and that they really enjoy the work they do. That’s all that really matters.