Ashley Park is giving me the rundown of her incredible experience shooting Emily in Paris last fall, and I am immediately filled with envy. The short of it: The actress moved to Paris for four months to film a romantic comedy with a seriously attractive cast wearing some of the most beautiful clothes curated by the one and only Patricia Field (you know, the legend behind the wardrobes of Sex and the City). It was Park’s first time in the City of Light, and it played out much like the fantastical events of the Darren Star series that premiered this month on Netflix—minus the workplace drama. “The running joke on set was it’s not Emily in Paris, it’s Ashley in Paris,” she tells me with a laugh.
A much-needed bright spot in what has been a challenging year, Emily in Paris follows 20-something Emily Cooper (played by an effervescent Lily Collins), who receives the opportunity of a lifetime to move from Chicago to Paris to help revamp a struggling luxury marketing firm. Despite stepping into a less-than-friendly work environment, Cooper’s new life is full of adventure and excitement. Across 10 episodes, she immerses herself in the glamour of the city, building incredible friendships—like with fellow expat and fashion partner in crime Mindy (Park is truly perfect in this role)—and getting involved in a few, erm, complicated love triangles (Gabriel, swoon), all while winning over her new colleagues with her savvy marketing and social media skills. With international travel off the table, I’m currently living out all of my carefree fashion fantasies through Emily and Mindy.
The feel-good show is sure to be fall’s breakout hit, along with Park, who was cast after wrapping up a year playing Gretchen Wieners in the Broadway production of Mean Girls, for which she earned a Tony nom. That production came with its own set of brilliant costumes, so naturally, for our feature with the rising star, we had to go big with the fashion. For our socially distanced shoot, we called in bold looks from some of our favorite Asian designers. Think: eye-catching prints in a high-octane color palette. Much like Park herself, it’s the energy we need right now. Keep reading to see the shoot and to read our exclusive interview with the star.
Let’s dive into Emily in Paris. All in all, it sounds like it was a dream scenario.
Every time someone says it like that or I talk about it, I’m literally just crying because it truly was a dream. This show really changed my life. Not only because it was a dream job, but it really changed me in terms of me coming into my own womanhood. It was so meta the entire time. Everything that Emily is figuring out and discovering, and her growing as a woman and as an adult, is exactly what I was experiencing.
I come from the Broadway world, and people ask me all the time, What do you value most about your work, and what do you look for in stuff that you want to do? And for me, I realized I just want to work with really great people on really great stories. Everybody [who worked on Emily in Paris] was just so lovely. It was my first time in Paris. I knew not a soul, and I left with an entire community of family across the world that I can’t imagine my life without. I can’t imagine being on a show where you don’t feel that way.
Plus, you got to work with creative geniuses like show creator Darren Star and costume designer Patricia Field!
I have found, in my experience with this business, that the most genius people are also the most humble and collaborative. They tell us don’t meet your heroes, but I can’t imagine not meeting Darren and Patricia, and Lily [Collins] even. I could go on and on. I have to write a book one day or a bunch of essays.
Photo:Vivian Kim; STYLING: Claudia Li top, skirt, and bag; Salondeju 2-Strap Pumps ($191)
The show is obviously visually stunning with the clothes and the Paris backdrop, but I also loved the female friendship between Mindy and Emily.
Lily was a luxury scene partner. We met for the first time at the table read, but afterward, people came up to us, asking how long we’ve known each other. I think it mirrors Mindy and Emily’s friendship beautifully because they have their own lives. I’m sure Mindy has other friends and stuff, but it’s kind of like when you meet that person and you’re like, “I didn’t even know this was lacking in my life.” It’s easy for them to be around each other. I’ve never seen a girl friendship like theirs on-screen recently in this way. It is so smart and empowering for women. There is no penalty in being a good friend, and you see that with Mindy and Emily. They just grow more and more by supporting each other as much as they can.
What were some of the things that stood out to you about this project in its early days?
I’ve been thinking recently about friendships and about all of these kids going to school again in this new semester and about firsts for a lot of people, like senior prom, freshman year welcome week, going on dates. Nobody can do that right now. A lot of people missed out on their first whatever throughout this time. The last time I was quarantined or alone, I had cancer in high school. I had never had a first kiss or even a boyfriend when I was 16. I remember I experienced my first romance and first true love by watching Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley. That was how I experienced it, because I had six rounds of chemo and was hospitalized for eight months by myself. [Watching that movie] didn’t make me feel like I was missing out on life. In fact, it made me feel like I was part of it. How we experience or understand these emotions and feelings of love and heartbreak and ambition, I felt it through that movie and other movies and TV shows. Emily is so smart, especially in a world that is so much about social media, too. It never paints social media badly—it shows how she can use it for her work. I just love how, every problem she and Mindy face, there is a very smart solution for it, and Emily thinks of them. I think it’s so creative, and I love that message. I think a lot of people will be able to experience their first love and confusion of liking someone who has a boyfriend or a girlfriend through this show.
Photo:Vivian Kim; STYLING: Anna Sui Phantasm Garden Dress ($673) and boots
You and Lily developed a great friendship outside of filming. What were some of your favorite activities to do together during your off-hours in Paris?
I really got into Airbnb experiences because, at first, I didn’t want to bother any of the French people. But me and Lily, one of the first things we did was take a macarons class. We also took a croissant class with Sam Arnold. Lily was in every scene basically and was so busy, so she was always living vicariously through my travels and experiences. But during this one time, she was like, “Let’s just have a day,” and so we walked miles and miles from the southernmost part of the city all the way up and along the Seine. We stopped at this stone shop and bought some crystals, because we are both into giving each other crystals. And then at one point, I took this pretty photo of her as she was talking to her boyfriend, Charlie, on the phone, and the sun was setting behind her, and I was like, “I’ll AirDrop it to you.” We stopped walking for the first time that whole day at this random corner, and I opened my AirDrop, and I saw Stephen J. Brown’s name pop up. He’s Darren’s best friend and also one of our executive producers, and I was like what?! We looked to our left, and Darren and Stephen had just sat down at this café right next to us. We were screaming in the middle of the street. Look, it’s Emily, Mindy, and Darren screaming their heads off. We would always laugh because things would happen to us, and we’d be like, “Gosh, this is so Mindy and Emily.”
I want to talk about working with Patricia Field. What was the mindset for Mindy Chen’s style?
Patricia is so majorly collaborative. When I first met with her, it was at the table read, and she had this huge white hat on with this butterfly brooch, and she was like, “Okay, I just picked this up. I think this is a Mindy hat.” She is one of a kind. I think the big through line for us was, How out of the box can we go? How much can we push the boundaries and juxtapose different styles but make them harmonious? It was truly so fun during our fittings because it didn’t feel like work at all. First of all, you walk in and there are a plethora of options. Sometimes, I would be like, “Oh my god, of course I want to wear that pair of shoes. They are wild.” But what we end up going with is the white pump because it fits perfectly with all the different parts of the ensemble. I think what I love about Mindy is sometimes certain suit looks, or like that red dress too, they were true ensembles. We always knew she was super chic but super bold and not scared to stand out but also subtle sometimes. She’s not trying to be loud just for loud’s sake. Mindy is from money, but obviously, she is an expat and all on her own. She did move to Paris for business school, so I’m sure she brought a lot of stuff. I just think [she and Emily] take such pride in how they come up with their outfits. It makes me so excited because I’m sure people are going to want to emulate some of the costumes, and they will be able to because not all of them are high-end designers—it’s just how you put it together. It’s made me love putting together outfits so much more.
Photo:Vivian Kim; STYLING: Prabal Gurung jacket, skirt, and boots
If you could have taken home one look of Mindy’s, which one would it be and why?
The reptile look, the red dress, and the yellow suit are so good, but you know what it is? It has to be the plaid suit that’s all cut up because that’s one of the ones that Patricia was like, “Okay, I have this idea.” It was originally a little boy’s suit, and she and Marylin Fitoussi, our amazing costume designer, just basically cut it up. It was one of the biggest projects of the show, because a lot of [the other looks] were pieces that already existed that we would tailor. When Patricia first described it, I was like, “I do not understand how it’s going to be a halter with the shoulders out and the shirt, but okay, let’s try it.” I would keep that outfit because I feel like I could wear it a lot and with lots of different stuff under it, especially with the Dior boots with it, too. That was a scene where we ran all around the city, and my feet did not get sore, so I loved those boots, because they are Dior, but they are also very practical and go with a lot of stuff.
The fashion in the show was so good we, obviously, had to bring it for our shoot, too.
Oh my gosh! I honestly also can’t believe that all of the designers were Asian. That was so cool. I’m really really proud of that and so happy that Lauren [Eggertsen] did that.
Prior to Emily in Paris, you starred as Gretchen Wieners in the 2018 Broadway production of Mean Girls. Yet another project with a fun wardrobe. I’m sensing a theme…
First of all, you need to know what I love about Mindy, too, is she is a nanny who wears stilettos. It was so funny. [The crew] would be like, “Do you need your slippers for when we’re walking to set or anything like that?” and I was like, “You people do not understand. I jumped and did cardio dance and high kicks in stilettos eight times a week on Broadway for over a year.” The blisters on my feet are so hardened that walking and standing in these stilettos is such a breeze!
I love costumes so much. Coming from the theater world, when you figure out the costumes of a character, that character and the physicality all come to life. It’s also the first thing the audience tends to see. So I love seeing how we can communicate different parts of the character and how that character is feeling and what they are doing to the audience first. And I think that’s totally the case with Mindy and Emily, too. Their outfits convey a mood. You know exactly what time of day it is or how they were feeling that morning. We all dress like this.
Photo:Vivian Kim; STYLING: Issey Miyake dress
Fashion aside, what do you love about a character like Gretchen Wieners?
When Lacey [Chabert] came to watch the show, I was just out of mind, because Gretchen Wieners is my favorite character in a movie of all time. That was the movie I knew all the lines to. The reason Tina Fey and Darren [Star] have these empires and create characters that are so relatable and endeared by generations is because they let there be truth with the actors. For me, I connected with [Gretchen] right away and felt like I knew who she was, but the original script I got sometimes didn’t support that. She was a lot more manipulative and conniving, a little more in the world of the movie. I think the most important thing about Gretchen that I connected to most, which is actually something I connected to with Mindy in my first audition, is that she just wants to be a really good friend. And that’s something that comes effortlessly with Mindy but with a lot of insecurity with Gretchen. I remember taking Tina aside and being like, “I don’t know what the solution is. Obviously, I trust you guys, and I love what this is, but I do think I need something so that [audiences] understand that Gretchen is doing all of this because she just really wants to be a good friend.” And that afternoon, Tina put in a line into [the song] “Revenge Party,” which is where I say, “I’m just a really good friend!” Those kinds of moments, where you are like, wait, what? Is Tina Fey actually listening to me? It’s humbling, because she was there every day.
What would you like to explore next in your career, either on-screen or onstage?
You know what’s funny is that for maybe a year after I did The King and I, which is maybe one of the saddest stories on the American musical theater stage, I couldn’t be seen for anything comedic, like any kind of comedy, because people only had that in their heads. But I live in a world of comedy—my life is a sitcom constantly. And then with Mean Girls and also [Emily in Paris] coming out, people forget that when you are a funny person you can have depth. I would love to do either a really funny but empowering rom-com, like give me a Bridesmaids, or something that stretches me dramatically. Honestly, I’m just open for whatever. I love working with female writers and directors. I’d also love to work with Asian American creatives. That’s something I’ve come to terms with and have really started to embrace in the past few months is reflecting and realizing I’ve infiltrated the Broadway system, and maybe even the industry in a way of opening doors for people, but also how I have been complicit in succeeding that way by trying really hard to make people forget that I’m Asian. I felt successful in any artistic setting or room if everyone forgot that I was Asian. So now, how exciting would it be if I could keep doing the work at the caliber that I’d like to do it and with the people I respect and who I can learn from, but with everyone being conscious of the fact that I’m Asian and celebrating those stories? I just want to continue to work with really great people and learn. I think every job that I have taken recently has scared me at the very beginning, and I hope my next job just terrifies me.