While everyone was quarantining last year, Ashley Park found herself having a breakout moment. Park, who garnered critical acclaim for her role as Gretchen Wieners in Mean Girls on Broadway, was reaching a new audience as one of the stars of the addictive Darren Star dramedy Emily in Paris. “When our first season came out, it was the height of the pandemic, so we were all separated, didn’t get to celebrate together, and didn’t know if the second season was going to be able to happen,” Park says over the phone from Los Angeles. In tandem with the success of the Netflix series, she landed a recurring role in one of the most popular comedies of the year with Girls5eva as the late fifth member of the ’90s girl group, Ashley. Park, it seemed, was primed for TV stardom.
As Emily’s worldly, heiress-turned-nanny BFF, Park’s Mindy largely spent season one as a bubbly scene-stealer, guiding the titular character (played by Lily Collins) as she stumbled her way through language barriers and boy drama throughout Paris. But in season two, Emily in Paris digs deeper into Mindy’s world. Showcasing Park’s Broadway background, Mindy’s musical ambitions are front-and-centre as she gigs her way throughout Paris and gets to sing everything from BTS’s “Dynamite” to an original song composed for the show.
Ahead of season two (out December 22), Park spoke with Vogue about Mindy’s growing storyline, the significance of Asian-American representation on the show and creating an original song.
Ashley Park as Mindy in the second season of Emily in Paris.
When did you feel like you had your breakout moment?
I think that hopefully, it hasn’t happened yet. In terms of TV and film, it would probably be Emily in Paris. I was globally accessible. I think with every project I do, I’m like, “Oh, this is my breakout.” Because I discover a different part of myself or find a different version or potential of myself as an actor.
What initially drew you to the character of Mindy?
When I got the audition I was so excited by the fact that it was a Darren Star show in Paris. In terms of the character, I knew already it was something that I definitely wanted to audition for. The only scene that I had for the audition was the very first one where Emily and I meet each other. It was one of those scenes where I read it, and I already knew the person. With Mindy, I liked that she was this really warm, empathetic, very honest person right away. She was somebody who saw somebody else who needed help, and it was very effortless for her to do that.
How has playing Mindy moved the needle in terms of representation?
When I approach a character, it has to be a person that lays honestly on me. Gretchen [from Mean Girls] wasn’t traditionally Asian, but I found parts of that character that felt very honest within what I could offer. For me, it’s not about splashing colour on screen. This show allowed me to really flesh out a fully-realised character, and you see that a lot more in season two. That sort of diversity on the screen is not just about casting people of different colours. It’s about really understanding what their narrative is and looking at who that person is. The greatest part of it is that when people recognise me or reach out to me about Mindy, they love her so much. I love that there’s an Asian person on-screen who everybody associates with kindness, humour, and comfort.
Season two really shows off your talent as a singer. What was it like to have that woven into the show?
The music was my wishlist of genres. I was like, “We’re global. I would love to do a K-pop song.” And I couldn’t believe we got the rights to “Dynamite” by BTS. My favourite thing to do is interpret songs that are well-known and make them my own. I was like, “I love Celine Dion more than anything,” and they let me sing a Celine Dion song and an old Broadway standard, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”. It was so fun to do a variety of songs because I had no idea that when I was cast that Mindy would even sing.
Did you solely perform covers throughout the season or were there any original tracks?
Darren had come up to me and said, “I think we should do an original song.” I was like, “Great. I don’t read music though.” Luckily, my friend Freddy Wexler (who had just won a Grammy and wrote the song “Stuck with You” for Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande), was available to collaborate. It was very important to us that the song really is a story piece. As the song is being sung, the characters are going through something. Mindy and her love interest start writing the song, and they don’t finish it. It’s a big storyline moment.
Is it going to be released as a standalone single?
We were actually talking about that today because I think people are gonna be like, “Wait, what is this song?” Freddy has a radio edit of it, so we’re looking into that and trying to release it as a single. It’s called “Mon Soleil”, which means “my sun”. It’s Stevie Wonder vibes, but French, romantic and very pop. It’s a very different sound than we’ve heard from Mindy.
You filmed season two during the pandemic in Paris. What was that experience like?
We really couldn’t believe that we had done the whole second season. When our first season came out, it was the height of the pandemic, so we were all separated, didn’t get to celebrate together, didn’t know if the second season was going to be able to happen with the way the world was. So I think there’s so much excitement to be back with these characters in this world that is bright and fun and also getting to travel there. Lily and I both arrived in Paris and had to quarantine for a week. The culture is the restaurants, nightlife, and museums, and we were coming to a city that was completely shut down. When things started to slowly open, we felt very local because there were only French people in Paris. Of course, it was a lot more challenging and trying in terms of the actual filming. It was a blessing that we knew so much of the French crew from the first season. Everyone worked so hard because we were being asked to accomplish a big feat.
Did you speak French before the show started?
Did I convince you? I took French all of middle school and high school, so I know how to conjugate every verb. You learn a language when you’re in the country, and I thought it would all come back. I’m the kind of person who cannot say a sentence in French if it’s half-assed at all. I wanted it to be perfect. Mindy is an heiress, so she has perfect English. She’s fluent in probably five other languages. It’s like secondhand to her. So, when I would have lines in French, I would say them over and over again. I’m determined to become more fluent.
This season seems to be hinting at Mindy’s relationship with her father and her family. Will we know more about them by the end of the season?
If Emily is having an issue or a problem, she’s very open to talking about it. And Mindy’s approach is similar to mine, where when she’s feeling bad, she doesn’t quite know how to navigate that. She’s not gonna blurt that out and be emotional. She’s gonna sit on it for a second. Her mom is Korean, and we’ve only talked about her dad, his empire and what she left behind there. Her difficult relationship with her father was a beautiful way of opening up the character to being more vulnerable. Mindy, even if she’s a burst of confidence and helps Emily navigate France, is just as lost herself.
You also had a supporting role on Girls5Eva not long after Emily in Paris came out. There was an interesting twist after the first season. Are you going to be on season two?
I don’t know if I can answer that. The fact that I got to be in a ’90s girl group, who didn’t dream of that? I was just really happy to be back in the Tina Fey world and getting to do something that was, again, intended to bring joy and humour to people when we are all still amid the pandemic.
Well, I’ll cross my fingers you’re in season two. Have you filmed any other projects in addition to Emily in Paris lately?
I just wrapped a film that we shot in Vancouver that’s untitled right now. But it’s a comedy from Lionsgate and Point Grey Pictures, Seth Rogan’s company. It’s a very hard comedy with a lot of heart, but it was the first time I was the number one on a call sheet. Even in Broadway, I haven’t been “the lead”. My three supporting actors were all Asian actors, Asian females. I love Mindy so much, but it was interesting being in a world where the director, the writers, all the heads of the department, were all Asian females. And to be helming a story that was brought to the surface by people who had my perspective, I just have never seen Asian women getting to be funny, raunchy, smart, heartfelt, and sexy but for the benefit of our story rather than for the benefit of another person’s story. It’s the first time I’ve ever had access to that, so I’m very much reflecting on how much it’s helped me grow both as a person and as an actor.
What do you envision for Mindy’s future on the show?
That question is funny because as soon as you say it, then you manifest some of it. If you had asked me that at the beginning of the first season after I shot the pilot, I probably would have never even dreamed for myself what has happened for Mindy. Season one was very much Emily’s point of view and perspective, and we see that still, but we’re really getting into the head and heart of Mindy, as well. I think that the thing I was asked the most after the first season was, “Where’s Mindy’s love interest, and is there going to be more singing?” So that has already come into the picture. Selfishly, I would love for Mindy and Emily to take a trip somewhere again. But also, Mindy is somebody who comes from a world of extremes. She’s an heiress. She was in business school. It’d be interesting to see the Mindy that got away from all that. And, a third season would be nice.
Watch the second season of Emily in Paris onNetflixbeginning December 22.