Actor You Should Know: Ashley Park of ‘Emily in Paris’
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Season 1 finale of Emily in Paris.]
If you’ve fallen in love and binged Darren Star‘s latest series, Emily in Paris, following a marketing executive from Chicago who moves to France for a year for her career, then you probably also adore Ashley Park’s Mindy, the first friend Lily Collins’ character makes.
Mindy has also come to Paris (from China, leaving behind her family’s business and after an embarrassing turn on the American Idol-esque Chinese Popstar), but she’s had more time to adjust and takes Emily under her wing. But Emily helps her as well, encouraging Mindy to pursue her dream of singing. By the end of the season, Mindy has done just that, taking a job at a drag club and, after getting fired from her job as a nanny, moving in with Emily.
Here, Broadway star Park discusses stepping into Mindy’s shoes and shares what she hopes to see next with her character in a potential second season.
What initially drew you to the role of Mindy?
Ashley Park: When I was asked to audition for it, I was so excited. It’s a Darren Star show, Lily was in it, it was in Paris — I’d never been to Paris. It really just seemed like an email of the most dreamiest job ever. Then I read my audition scene, the very first scene they do in the pilot together where they meet on the bench, and it was one of those scenes where at the end of it, I felt like I had already memorized it.
I loved Mindy so much from the get-go. I loved how open and warm and fun she was. She’s such a free spirit but very knowing as well and I felt like she was the kind of friend I would want to have. I was doing a play at the time, Grand Horizons on Broadway and then coming off of playing Gretchen Wieners [in Mean Girls] too, I realized that I really love playing characters who just want to be really great friends, and that’s something that sits very genuinely on me, so I was super excited about that. And then obviously too being in a Patricia Field show, you know you’re going to have just the cutest costumes.
What did you discover about the character throughout the season?
They had only written the first couple of episodes when we were cast. So the whole rest of the season, including the singing and the backstory, was very much fleshed out as we did it. I remember we added the thing about her going to junior high in Indianapolis. She just became so much more of a richer, more vivid character, and that’s because the writers were there with us in Paris and they saw how we experienced life as well, and they really infused that into the characters.
I realized as we went along that Mindy definitely has a life of her own in Paris, too. She’s been living there a year, and I think the reason she connected with Emily, she saw some of herself when she was alone in Paris at first with her, and she had a lot of empathy for that and she wanted to not let her be as lonely as Mindy probably was.
What I love about the singing backstory, when her friends come, is that you also see what a genuine bond she has with those friends as well and how much they care about her. She really is the pillar of strength and light and uplifting and levity and humor for Emily throughout the first half of the season, and then with the storyline of the singing, you get to see where she is insecure and her development as a woman as well, which I was really grateful for.
Emily and Mindy talk very much like how me and Lily talk, but Lily is more the Mindy to my Emily. But we really discovered Mindy leads with humor and she’s so good at calling out somebody at the same time as really comforting them and listening and problem-solving, but also she has that c’est la vie attitude. “It’s going to be OK and we’ll figure out a way,” and it’s often with a glass of wine and a party as the solution.
At the end of the season, Mindy was fired, but she’s feeling pretty good about her life, right? And I have to see a second season just to see her and Emily as roommates.
Oh my God, when we got that script for the last bit, me and Lily called each other, and also Lucas. We were like, “This is so funny. What kind of s**t is going to go down when Mindy is living in that building with them?” Mindy’s purpose really is to hold up a mirror to everything that’s happening so that Emily has to reflect on things she is having problems with when she’s feeling like she needs support. Emily has a lot of flaws as well and Mindy reflects that back to her a little bit and really shines the perspective of what the audience is feeling at times, and to have that under the same roof as Gabriel and Emily is going to be so fun.
But I think she’s very similar to me, Mindy, in terms of she’s like, “Great, I was fired, and I’m going to take my suitcases and go here now.” The reason her and Emily get along so well and probably why me and Lily get along so well is they’re never sitting in the problem. As soon as something comes up, they’re already thinking about a solution. I find that to be very refreshing to see on television.
You brought up her friends coming up, and that bachelorette weekend was so fun. And Emily opened the door for her to reclaim the singing part of her life prior to that. What did it mean for Mindy to do that?
For me, personally, when Darren asked if I would be OK with them writing in some singing, because he’d seen me in Mean Girls and knew my background, I was so excited and also really adamant, as they were too, that the singing be used to really develop the characters and the relationships and not just thrown there. I think they did such a beautiful job of writing it in that way.
For me personally, I had never really heard my own voice until I discovered it through Mindy. She sings these two songs — “Chandelier” is the song that haunts her every moment of every day and also it was probably a very traumatic experience and she is able to brush it off and say, “Yeah, well, I’m not going to go back to China, whatever,” and I think the same thing with “La Vie En Rose.” I’m very similar to that too. I would never get up in a park and sing for my friend even though I do it professionally. I would have to say, “Don’t look at me and also I’ll just sing a song I’m really comfortable with.”
But as soon as she starts singing, I think it’s very similar to me in that I realize it’s such a way that I tap into the deepest part of myself and my own self-expression. It’s a really wonderful release for me, and I love it so much and I love that we’re able to portray that in Mindy’s relationship with singing. She is so proud of the fact that she’s so free-spirited. She lives very confidently and independently, but when it comes to something as personal and vulnerable as singing, it is an entirely different story, and it’s so fun to see her go on that very vulnerable journey of maybe things aren’t so easy and how is she going to develop that?
We got a few lines here and there about Mindy’s thoughts on relationships and what they’re like in Paris. Is that something you’re hoping to explore in a second season?
Yeah. What I love is we peer into the conversations with Mindy and Emily when they’re talking about Emily’s situations, but I’m sure after or before, Mindy’s like, “OK, this guy and then this person,” all of these different things. She’s definitely living her own life too, but I love that in the first season we focused on her romance and relationship with a friendship with Emily and really developing that and also with singing. Love is another word for passion, and her passion in life is to sing and so I love that that was the romantic interest for her in the first season.
Where do you Ashley and where does the character of Mindy stand on Emily and Gabriel’s relationship, especially now that Mindy’s in that building?
Mindy’s very similar to me in that, especially now I think about how as an adult and being the version of myself that I am, my number one thing, especially for my friendships, is not to judge. I think one of the best qualities in Mindy is she’s not judgmental and she doesn’t penalize someone or condescend to them because of the things they’re feeling. The chemistry that Emily and Gabriel have is special and they also try to develop a friendship at one point. Emily doesn’t try to change herself for him.
I love that Mindy also calls her out and she’s like, “You guys have been crushing on each other forever, what are you even talking about? That’s so obvious.’ She says it from the very first moment they all meet at the restaurant. I love that quality of her that, again, similar to me, she’s not judgmental of Emily for this. She’s trying to find a solution. It’s not as easy as saying, “OK, stop liking that person.” Emily tries. She tries to avoid him. She tries to stop liking him, stop talking to him and everything.
I love that the ending is choosing not between two guys and two love interests in a love triangle in that way but Emily has to decide between a female friendship and a friend she’s become close to and trusts her and also this man who obviously is definitely a soulmate and that’s such an interesting and very realistic situation more than others. I love that Mindy will be there, firsthand, hearing through the wall as things go down.
Are there any other characters you’d like Mindy to interact with going forward? She was mostly with Emily, a bit with Gabriel and Camille.
My part was the most isolated out of everyone’s roles, right? Because there’s the office space, there’s the romantic Gabriel stuff, and then there’s Mindy. I felt like our scenes were the vibe of Sex and the City and the office is Devil Wears Prada and so because I had my separate scenes, some of my best friends were Samuel, who played Julien, and Lucas; they literally moved in with me for the last month of shooting and we were just all the best of friends offscreen. Even when I wasn’t shooting sometimes, I’d go to set on location and just sit at a wine bar nearby and then come in between takes.
Originally I think Mindy was going to meet Sylvie and Julien at one point and even Antoine she hasn’t met. I love that we were like, “That is going to be a big moment when Mindy meets all of the work people because she definitely has an opinion of all of them.” She obviously to her friend is very much like, “Well, that person can’t do that to you,” and has a very strong opinion, especially about Sylvie, and I think that it’s going to be so interesting to watch how she handles [that] realistically.
Because she’s also an heiress, she also is well-behaved, and so she wasn’t kicking and screaming when she was fired. I think she’s very smart and tactful. So I’m interested to see where her tact takes her because that’s one of the endearing qualities about Emily: She’s very, very smart, but sometimes she doesn’t have the best tact, and I think that that’s what Mindy has a handle on. I’m sure there will be more with Gabriel because he’s living in the building and even with Camille because they were all my closest friends offscreen, so it’s almost ridiculous that I didn’t even have a scene with some of them.
I want to see Mindy in the office because the people there got used to Emily, who was still adjusting to Paris, whereas Mindy’s been in Paris a year, has spent time in America, and has been trying to guide Emily through it.
Right. And what I love about Mindy in her person and also her fashion, she just breaks every stereotype in terms of, she comes onscreen and she immediately starts speaking fluent Mandarin and then fluent French and then speaks in a perfect American accent. I think that Sylvie and a lot of the office people like to put someone in a peg and put someone in a box, which I think a lot of people like to do with young women these days, and I think that Mindy doesn’t look like someone and act like someone that they really interacted with and especially someone who is — you’re so right, Emily has a hard time adjusting and Mindy is completely adjusted and probably more global than all of them because she’s lived all across the globe. Maybe Sylvie’s intimidated by her.
Emily in Paris, Season 1, Streaming Now, Netflix