Ashley Park Actually Is Here to Make Friends

Andrea Cuttler
·13 mins read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

From Harper's BAZAAR

Broadway star Ashley Park has spent the better part of the last six years on the stage. From Mamma Mia! and The King and I to Sunday in the Park with George and her turn as Gretchen Wieners in Tina Fey’s musical adaptation of Mean Girls, the actress could often be found in the theater, performing a whopping eight live shows a week.

But this month, Park's stage takes a massive leap across the Atlantic to France, where she stars with Lily Collins in Emily in Paris, the new Netflix series from prolific television writer and creator Darren Star (Sex and the City, Younger). The series follows Emily (Collins) as she navigates a new life, a new job, and new relationships in the City of Love. Park, whose first time stepping foot in Paris was for this show, joins a host of gorgeous, young local talent as Mindy, an au pair with a deep—albeit apprehensive—desire to share her musical talents with the world.

"Immediately my favorite thing was the friendship with Emily," Park tells BAZAAR.com of reading the script. "It's just two girls really being curious about each other. What I love [is] it's very meta with how me and Lily came into each other's lives." Park's background is in Broadway, while Collins's is in film and TV, but their friendship was instant.

"After the first table read, a lot of [the cast and crew] were like, 'Ashley, Lily, how long have you known each other?' And we're like, 'Literally an hour and 45 minutes,'" she recalls.

Emily in Paris is undoubtedly set in present day, but it is not without touches of classic Darren Star nostalgia throughout: Illicit affairs and romantic entanglements ensue, and the Patricia Field–designed costumes are a constant feast for the senses.

BAZAAR.com speaks with Park about her latest role, delving into the importance of supportive female friendships, Asian representation in entertainment, and what it means to officially be part of Star's television legacy.

So tell me how this part came to you.

I was on my way up to do a play at Williamstown Theatre Festival, and I was also doing this concert at Lincoln Center, a Sondheim concert for Sondheim. I remember getting the audition and being like, "Oh, my God, I have actually no time to go in for this. Can I self-tape it?"

[The park scene between Emily and Mindy] was my audition scene, the very first pilot friend scene, because I think that's all they had written, the pilot. I remember going in for it—and this is a crazy story—but on the way, I was totally running late, and I had not had any time to go over the audition site, and I usually hate looking at audition sites in the subway because I think it's tacky. Like, people see you study your lines.

That's so New York. That's so funny.

It's so New York, I know. But I was in emergency mode, so I was looking at my lines, and a little stressed, on a lunch break during rehearsal. And I felt this shoulder tap behind me, and there was this girl holding a gazillion Doc Martens, and she was like, "Hey, I'm so sorry to be creeping, but these are all Doc Martens that Lily Collins is trying on. I'm about to go to a fitting with her, and I see that your scene has Mindy on it, and that's all of our favorite character, and I hope you get it." And I was like, "This is crazy." So I threw down the script and just chatted with this girl for 10 minutes. At the end, she was like, "I hope you get it." And I was like, "I hope I do too." It was just such a New York sign from the universe.

Darren called me personally from Paris, and I remember it was on the opening night of this play, and I was pacing back and forth, and I was like, "I can't believe I'm on the phone with Darren." And he just started being like, "I've seen Mean Girls. I loved you in it." And we were just talking about the character. And he was like, "I don't want it to feel like two American girls in Paris. I want them to feel like two people from different places and different lives, and they're coming together."

I felt like there was so much chemistry among everybody in the cast. If you're filming in a foreign place, when you're all on location, how does that change the vibe and your closeness?

Me and Lily were the only two Americans; everybody else is based in Paris. So for them, it was them doing it in their own city, and for us, it was having that experience of, like, it's just us and we were out here. First of all, there has never been a kinder crew, and all of the crew was French. But what was fun to hear Lucas [Bravo] say—and was my experience with literally every French person on this set—was that even though it was their hometown, they got to rediscover Paris through our eyes.

Lily was on set every day. She was in every scene, basically. And so I would kind of be the adventurer for the both of us. I was so lucky in that, and also I'm used to the theater world where we just worked like horses. So for me to even have two days off, let alone a week or two off between shooting, it was such a luxury. And I went to Greece and Budapest … literally everywhere. The U.K., I went to a concert in London.

Samuel [Arnold] and Lucas basically lived in my apartment in the last month of shooting, so it was very meta, the whole thing. Then when I wasn't shooting, that location where Gabriel's restaurant is, and then the café that we eat in a lot, the exterior of her apartment—that was truly one block.

It's so crazy to be watching it. I don't have a scene with Samuel at all, with any of Emily's coworkers. But they were my best friends, because in the theater, we're used to that. You don't have a scene with somebody, but you're still in the building with them four hours a day, eight times a week. So whenever I wasn't called, I would just come to set and sit at the café next door and would have a bottle of wine. And between takes they would come over, and I became a cheerleader in that way, but why not?

What does it mean to be part of the Darren Star world and legacy now?

What I love about Darren's characters—it's amazing that this man can create these worlds for these women, especially. The first time I watched Sex and the City I think I was too young for it. And he was my first introduction. I'd never been to New York City, I'd never had a boyfriend. All of that stuff felt very, "Oh, that's a version of what a woman is." And he never said what women should be or have to be, but he let the audience figure out with the characters and discover the kind of woman they want to be, the kind of friends they want to be or can be.

So, on a personal note, I really figured out city life and relationships and friendships through these characters in Sex and the City, and stuff like that. And Friends and these other shows. And I was looking at characters who are all white. The fact that there's going to be somebody who looks like me that's part of this troupe of iconic characters is just very, very cool, for lack of a better word.

I'm super excited about it, not only in terms of representation, but I want girls to be able to see what kind of friendships they can have, especially at a time like this, when people aren't able to go out and meet new people. And the people who are supposed to be starting their college year, supposed to be making mistakes and meeting new people and making their lifelong friends are not able to do that right now.

Photo credit: CAROLE BETHUEL/NETFLIX
Photo credit: CAROLE BETHUEL/NETFLIX

When Darren called me to do that very first table reading and we only read the first episodes, he called me on my way to the camera test and I was in the car with the driver and I was like, "Oh, my God, I'm fired." And she was like, "C'est quoi?" And I was like, "Fired, I'm fired." So I picked up, and he was like, "Hey, "—and this is just a testament to him again—"I have a question for you." And I was like, "Okay." And he was like, "How would you feel if we wrote you singing on the show?" And I love singing, but my first thing was, "Literally, Darren, anything you want me to do I will do. If you want me to amputate a pinky, I'll think about it." But with the singing, the one thing I said was, "I didn't want it to feel like, 'Oh, they cast this Broadway girl, because she sings and she's going to sing at the karaoke bar.'"

Totally.

It has to be story driven. I think singing is the most vulnerable thing somebody can do, and I think that there's a way of letting the singing deepen the friendship and also Emily's story. I like being a supporting character in anything, because it's so fun when you understand the higher purpose of the story you're supporting. And I was like, "If it makes sense, not just in an Easter egg sort of way, but if it's going to further the story, the friendship, and also if it's an opportunity to open up a layer of the character, because I know how vulnerable it is to sing, I'm all for it."

Do you have a favorite fashion moment from the season?

God, I really loved a lot of them. I loved the yellow suit at the end. We had a yellow beret with silver netting on it. I loved the all-reptile outfit. There were so many when I was like, "Oh, my God, am I bold enough to pull this off?" But it totally informed the character.

This suit I wear in Episode 5 where it's all cut up, it's plaid; I've never seen something like that because it was tailored made from a little boy's suit. Patricia ran after me one day and was like, "I have this idea. I love your cleavage and your shoulders, and you love a halter and you pull off a suit." And she was like, "Let's make this suit out of a little boy's suit." And we spent hours cutting it and all this different stuff and even the cuff link bracelet. I love that costume, with the Dior boots. And a little Easter egg, too, that little pink hat that I wear, it's actually a Goorin Brothers hat. It's the hat I wore for my audition. It's a hat that this guy from Goorin Brothers gave me when he came to watch Mean Girls.

Who is your dream collaborator?

Right now, Obama. Both Michelle and Barack. I'd just do anything, really. Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock. I've been thinking about Sandra Bullock a lot.

Me too. Love. Have any celebrities ever DMed you to praise your work? If so, who?

Tiffany Young, who was in the K-pop group Girls' Generation and is now a solo artist and huge K-Pop star. For me, I was excited about getting Mean Girls, because it was something I never thought I could be in. But Tiffany had come, and she's truly a K-Pop star, like millions of followers. Her dream had always been to do theater and be on Broadway and not just be part of a group. And she had seen Mean Girls, and this is also after I did that off-Broadway musical K-Pop and I was just starting to really be excited about that genre of music and being a Korean-American and figuring out what that meant for myself. I'd spent so long growing up trying to convince myself and everybody else that I was white in an industry that I felt like that's how I would get ahead, is if I just make everyone forget I was Asian. And that's a whole other thing.

But Tiffany had come to Mean Girls and I never look in my filtered DMs, and it was the first one that was up there. And I was like, "Tiffany, yeah, I know this name." And I clicked on her, and she just wrote me this sweetest message. It was like, "Hey, I just went to go see Mean Girls on Broadway, I couldn't believe there was a Korean girl in it and that she was Gretchen Wieners. You totally inspire me. I'm going to try …" And she's somebody who I grew up listening to and I was so inspired by. That was super cool, and now we're going to collaborate on something together. We've also never met in person, she's in Korea right now.

It was just one of those things where I was like, "Wait, what?" Even though I'm just doing my job, I forget how many people it can impact and what that can mean for their lives, in a way, just by seeing somebody or being moved by a certain performance. I think a lot of young people especially and people of color would be like, "Oh, my God, I can be this kind of person," and feel empowered and be funny and be vulnerable and be all of these things that we see beautifully painted with Mindy. I'm excited for that.

What's the biggest high from your career so far?

I missed the wrap party for Emily in Paris. So I threw a party at my apartment and invited all of the crew and Darren came, too, and I themed it the Denim Star Party. Everyone had to wear denim, including Darren. Everybody came, and we have videos from it, and it was just the best night ever.

Going back to that very first time in Paris, it was like the high of knowing, "Oh, my God, I created a home and a family." That's just the best feeling.

The one movie, album, TV show that you couldn't stop watching or listening to growing up?

Friends. I didn't watch that much TV as a kid. I think I watched a lot of Nickelodeon. But I think when I really got into my high school and college years, Friends. I know every episode back and forth.

Who was your first celebrity crush?

I mean, this is not the answer you’re looking for. Definitely Simba and Aladdin.

By the way, let me tell you, not the first time I've gotten an animated answer.

Really?

Truly.

I have a picture of me as a two-year-old with an Aladdin look-alike at Disney, and I have a little Simba stuffed animal. I was like, "Oh, my God, Team Simba, get out of here!" Those were my first crushes for sure. And there is a lot of real-people crushes, too, but …

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

Photos courtesy of Christian Högstedt and Caitlin McNaney. Design by Erin Lux.

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