“Season 2 is about to be so lit!”
Ashley Park cannot hide her excitement for spring, and no wonder. She’s days away from heading for France, where Netflix’s “Emily in Paris” is set to pick up where it left off — with Park’s character, Mindy, becoming an emcee at a drag club, decked out in next-level outrageous outfits. For an actress who adores fashion, this is the icing on an already delicious pâtisserie.
Funny, warm and graceful, Park makes a Zoom interview feel like a friend hangout at a sun-dappled Parisian cafe. It’s the same energy she brought to her role as the couture-clad nanny with the wry wit and stealth pop-star singing voice. In one of the best moments from the show, Mindy shocks Emily (Lily Collins) by belting out “La Vie En Rose” a cappella, in the Jardin du Palais Royal. The scene got so much notice that Park ended up recording a studio version, and then a New York video, at the urging of her music producer friend Will Wells (“Hamilton”).
For our virtual hang, Park’s wearing a yellow MNG by Mango dress that actually belonged to her co-star. “My and Lily’s friendship is completely what Mindy and Emily’s is, but, like, times 10,” Park says.
Park’s career has also “blown the eff up in the last year and a half,” as her friend Busy Philipps recently put it on a podcast. For her next act, Park appears in the Tina Fey-produced Peacock musical comedy “Girls5eva,” debuting May 6. It centers around the reunion of a dubiously named ’90s girl group — now middle-aged — and casts her alongside Philipps, Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Paula Pell.
Park’s character was “the glue that holds everyone together,” she says, but — spoiler alert — she’s now dead. “I was in ‘Emily,’ and you can’t be a series regular on a bunch of shows,” the actress explains, “but I was so happy they found this part for me, and even named her Ashley!”
Well, of course they did. Park first worked with Fey on the 2018 Broadway show “Mean Girls,” in which her anxiety-ridden Gretchen Wieners was — in what’s becoming Park’s trademark — the character everyone loved most. (It also earned her a Tony nomination.) “She was the one a lot of people connect to when they watch the show,” says Park, citing Gretchen’s beloved song “What’s Wrong With Me? ” Who among us, she points out, can’t relate to that?
“Girls5eva” was one of the first shows to start filming in New York during the pandemic, which made for a tightly regulated set. “Usually women like us would be hugging each other and hanging out. But the material was so fun, and the energy on set was great,” Park says.
Fey agrees. “It’s been a pleasure collaborating with Ashley and watching her ‘blow up’ in TV and film, because she is ready. She’s ready skill-wise and also emotionally ready for the weirdness of fame. She knows who she is. She has solid friends and great parents. I can’t wait to see what the next few years bring for her.”
“Mean Girls” paved the way, in part, for Park’s facility with her “Emily in Paris” character. She already had an extensive theater résumé, including her Grammy-nominated turn as ingénue Tuptim in 2015’s “The King and I” revival, but the physical rigors of playing a Plastic presaged Mindy’s hilariously impractical work wardrobe.
“I’m nannying in stilettos [on ‘Emily’], but that’s so comfortable because my feet are so effed up from doing eight shows a week, for over a year and a half, in heels,” she says of her Broadway days. “I was cardio dancing in stilettos, and they were not meant to be danced in!”
Park was delighted to slip into glittery, springy, color-saturated frocks and jewels for her Alexa shoot. “I had never been around more expensive things, in my life, that were going to go onto me,” she gushes.
“The Gucci look was all sequins and fruity colors. It looks like Cinco de Mayo,” she says. “We paired Sarah Jessica Parker pumps with it, and they asked if I wanted the yellow ones or the pink ones, and I loved them both, so I was like, ‘Can we do one of each?’”
She was also thrilled to wear Christian Siriano, a favorite. “The first time I wore one of his dresses was on ‘The Drew Barrymore Show,’ when they had me sing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’” she says. His Alexa selection “looks like a spring goddess kind of thing. It was so fun to put on; you can’t help but smile and laugh in it. The sun happened to be pouring into the studio at that point.”
Park, 29, is a sunny person who overcame a challenging childhood: At the age of 15, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and spent eight months in the hospital. Her prescient wish as a sick teen was to go to New York to see theater. Fast forward to 2014, when Park made her own triumphant debut on the Broadway stage, in the ensemble of “Mamma Mia!”
In the intervening years, she attended the University of Michigan’s Musical Theatre program, not far from where she grew up.
“I took a class my freshman year where we went to juvenile facilities in Detroit and ran theater workshops with boys aged 12 to 21,” she says. “As a cancer survivor, I was connecting. I felt like I knew how it was to lose part of your youth and be trapped someplace.”
During the pandemic, Park flexed her teaching muscles again when she found herself with unexpected downtime.
“I knew so many kids had stuff canceled, too, so I decided to start giving [acting] lessons over Zoom,” she says. “I would do a 10-minute lesson for $20, one on one. And I gave the money to the Actors Fund, so the kids got to say they donated, too.” She went on to raise more for the charity as a cast member of “Ratatouille: The TikTok
Musical” in which she played chef Colette. The social-media sensation, with Tituss Burgess playing Remy the rat, made over $2 million in donations.
As someone who’s made a lifelong practice of looking out for others quietly, Park surprised some friends and fans with her impassioned Instagram video this March in the wake of the Atlanta shootings, speaking from her heart about anti-Asian hate. “I didn’t expect it to go viral in the way that it did,” she says. “I’ve never asked for allyship. I’ve learned to survive with this on my own, and I think a lot of people in my life were really shocked.”
Her memories of dealing with prejudice start at just 5 years old. “I can remember my coping mechanisms, the way I was able to function. A lot of the qualities that have come from all the discrimination I’ve faced have made me into the person I am,” she says. “I really like to be a safe place for people. Did it come from being in an industry that’s run by white people? Like, if I made white people feel comfortable, then that was a successful day for me.”
It was hard to open up, she says, about harder truths.
“I didn’t want people in my life to think I’d been hiding this secret. I’m so used to accommodating people, as soon as I see them with fear or hesitation, I’ll change it, I’ll make it funny. But [on the Instagram post], it was just me talking to myself, so I was able to talk in a way that even I didn’t know I was meaning to do.”
The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. “Just reading through the comments, so many people were like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen someone say this — you’re asked where you’re from more than your own name?’ All these stories just came out.”
The video strengthened her resolve to be an agent of change, and her newest movie role falls right in line. The Regency romantic comedy “Mr. Malcolm’s List,” which stars Theo James and Freida Pinto, is “very Jane Austen, very ‘Pride and Prejudice-y,’” she says, “but it’s the first Hollywood film about that era that’s going to be diversely cast. And it’s not color-blind casting. It’s color-conscious casting.” Park pops in as the American comic relief. “My character has a heart of gold, but kind of misses the mark in high society.”
For now, though, she’s all about “Paris.”
“We just found out that me and Lily are nominated for an MTV award for best on-screen duo, and we just died over that,” she says. “It’s so great that they’re thinking of a female friendship as an on-screen duo. I think that’s what my type is now. I just want to work with awesome women.”
Fashion Editor: Serena French; Stylist: Anahita Moussavian; Fashion Assistant: Alejandra Munt; Hair: Blake Erik at Forward Artists using Oribe; Makeup: Misha Shahzada using Dior Beauty; Manicure: Kana Kishita at Atelier Management; Production: Sway NY/@get_swayed