How have you felt about the crazy reaction to the series so far?
“You know, it’s such a weird feeling to be going through this sort of release right now. We’re so lucky to have Netflix because it’s being rolled out all over the world – but having that take place while you’re at home is surreal, to say the least. It’s not the usual situation of travelling around the world to promote the series. I’m a really social person, so I enjoy that process – whereas right now I can just drive around in LA and see a few billboards. That being said, there’s just been so much darkness for everyone in 2020 – it’s great to make people laugh and help them escape a little bit. It feels as though viewers are really losing themselves in Emily in Paris and just having a good time, so it’s come at the perfect moment, in a lot of ways. An American in Paris is by no means a revolutionary plot line – but right now it’s a foreign one that’s just not possible in real life.”
So, first things first: how old is Emily supposed to be, and what is her level of professional experience?
“I don’t believe we’ve ever given her a specific ‘number’ for her age, but I believe that she’s pretty fresh out of college. Maybe this is her first year after graduation. I want to say she’s like, 22-ish. She’s had enough experience at her company in Chicago to have earned the respect of her boss. She’s a smart cookie and really innovative – and this is not her first rodeo doing what she does. She’s gone to school for this, and she’s completed internships. However, she’s not the person who travelled during college. She was really, really focused on her jobs in the Midwest, and I don’t think she’s been abroad. Basically, she’s always kind of been a big fish in a small pond – and then suddenly in Paris she’s a fish out of water. If she had gone to a different company in Chicago, she would have been taken seriously – but in Paris, she’s not prepared for the cultural shift that she experiences at Savoir. Her only real experience of Europe is through movies and tv”
Were there moments when you cringed at Emily’s behaviour, or just thought “Pull yourself together!”
“There are a lot of points in the series where she’s trying to defend herself almost proactively. The team at Savoir thought that she would be older and speak French – but she only found out that she would be moving to Paris a week before she left Chicago. She’s just doing her best with seven days to prepare, having never studied the language in her life. So, she’s like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna jump in and do whatever I can on the plane – there’s obviously not enough time, but I’m going to try.’ That’s just her typical make-it-work attitude, which she has with both her job and relationships. When she says something like, ‘I did Rosetta Stone’, she’s really saying, ‘Look, I know I’m not prepared, but I’m trying here!’ Her specialty is crisis management; she’s a solution-driven person; and she’s going to put it out there. Then she gets called out anyway for something she knows she’s not great at, which is kind of new for her, I think.”
How do you feel about her work ethic?
“I love that Emily is unapologetically herself. She is a woman who is both romantic and work-driven – you don’t have to be one or the other. She really values herself generally. She leaves her boyfriend because she figures out that he’s not giving as much to the relationship as she is. And I think she finds value in her career as well. It’s refreshing to hear a woman say, ‘I love my job, it makes me happy.’ So, for example, when Emily gets to Paris and is clearly being judged by her colleagues, she goes to French classes on her own time – it’s not like someone from the company is paying for those classes, or she’s being made to do it; she does it because she wants to be good at her job. She’s in a city that’s extremely foreign to her, and it’s tough – and, yeah, she could probably get on a plane and go home, but that’s just not who she is.”
How realistic do you feel like her expat missteps are in the series?
“It’s funny, because a lot of the experiences are based off of things that have happened to friends of Darren [Star] – that classically American thing of going to another country and being really… alienated yet trying to embrace it. When I got to Paris for filming, I actually had so many experiences like Emily – to the point that I asked the team, ‘Are you planning this to try and give me more empathy for her? I already have empathy for her!’ I mean, the heating in my apartment broke for two weeks; I got the floor wrong in my building; my elevator stopped working… I even nearly stepped in dog poop. It’s a cliché, but it’s also a fundamentally human scenario. In the end, it’s all about Emily’s attitude; she just gets through it, and she does it with a little bit of humour.”
What was it like working with Patricia Field on the costumes?
“Incredible. I never fully expected Patricia Field to be as collaborative as she is because, I mean, she’s Patricia Field! When I first met her, she asked me flat out, “Who do you think Emily is, and what do you think Emily would wear?” She sent me all of these PDFs and told me to circle the designers and items that I liked, and then when I got to Paris, all of it was just there, down to the type of running leggings that I said I thought Emily would like or the kind of hair tie she should have. She also gave me her own personal clothes to wear in various scenes. At one point, she literally took the jacket off her back and had me put it on after the weather changed from sunny to rainy while filming – and she actually gave me her vintage MCM backpack for the scene where Emily is leaving Chicago for Paris at the last minute. She just dumped out her bag in my trailer and handed it to me once we’d decided that the other options were wrong.”
What did your mood board for Emily look like before shooting?
“I definitely believe that Emily admires pop-cultural icons like Carrie Bradshaw and Audrey Hepburn, for sure. We were looking at other films and series with American girls in Paris, like Funny Face or the episodes of Gossip Girl when Blair [Waldorf] and Serena [Van der Woodsen] go to France. At the same time, Emily had to feel like Emily rather than a version of someone else. Patricia and I were very much on the same page about creating tributes to characters that Emily loves but making the clothes her own. We mixed together designer pieces and vintage finds; sometimes I’d just be on my way to set and look into a boutique window and be like, ‘Well, there’s my jacket for the scene tomorrow.’ It’s accessible fashion – but it’s also kind of wish fulfilment, because this is Emily’s opportunity to dress up and be in Paris, and she’s going to take advantage of that. I’ve never focused so much on translating a character’s personality to her style before, and Emily wears her heart on her sleeve, so there’s lots of different colours and textures and prints in her wardrobe, in contrast to Sylvie and Camille.”
And most importantly, who do you believe that Emily should end up with romantically?
“Oh my God, we only read the script for the final episode the day of the table read. We were like, ‘Wait, are you kidding me – how do you leave it pending like this?’ You know, I’m excited for Mindy to move into the apartment building because I feel like that’s going to cause some mayhem. I just think she’s going to throw a wrench into the situation, and I’m imagining apartment game nights or something. I honestly don’t know if Camille knows about what’s going on with Gabriel. That voicemail in the finale threw me off. And it’s interesting because, in the series, there are tonnes of little moments where you’re like, ‘… Does Camille like Emily?’ You can’t really get a vibe, and I feel like that ambiguity is what keeps Emily intrigued. I think anyone in that position would be like, you’re my friend, but now I have this romantic connection [with Gabriel], and I don’t want to hurt you, but… Oh my God! So, you know what, it’s really confusing. I feel like the next season will only create more love triangle drama, although maybe Emily will have a little bit of a stronger handle on the situation… Or maybe not.”