Star Lily Collins and creator Darren Star talk love triangles, escapism, and hate-watchers. Oh là là!
First off, let’s get one thing straight: Emily Cooper — the bubbly ingenue at the center of Netflix’s rom-com sensation Emily in Paris — is supposed to be kinda annoying.
So if you found yourself muttering mon dieu at her ringarde antics, well, that was kind of the point. At least according to the show’s creator, Darren Star: “Emily is meant to be a bit of a frustrating character.”
Born and raised in Chicago, Lily Collins’ eager, young marketing executive relocated to the City of Light for her job in season 1. Once there, she proved to be a culturally tone-deaf American abroad. “I can see why people were irritated by that,” says Star. “But it’s part of her learning curve, and that’s where the tension in the show lies.” Even Collins admits she wanted to “shake her” at certain moments during the first season — which was apparently their intention all along. “We’re in on it and Emily is in on it,” explains Collins. “She is the first person to poke fun at herself.”
Still, it was Emily who wound up getting the last laugh. According to Netflix, 58 million households sampled Emily’s escapades in the month after its October 2020 debut, making it the streamer’s “most popular” comedy series of the year.
What did this fish-out-of-water show have going for it that made it so irresistible? Escapism, for one thing. Timing, for another. Premiering six months into our COVID-pandemic shutdown phase — a gloomy period when the most travel we did was from the couch to the fridge — Emily and its cobblestoned streets, charming cafés, and beautiful people dressed in fabulous ensembles was like a crisp glass of Sancerre. “Someone told me that it reminded them of what fun felt like,” says Collins. No wonder high-strung shut-ins gobbled it up like a basket of buttery croissants.
While escapism was enough for some, Emily’s farcical plots and conflict resolutions were also a perfectly timed gift the internet couldn’t stop meme-ing. For many group chats and Twitter communities, the series became the most gleefully mocked (and secretly savored) show since Smash. Collins remains unfazed by the online snark. “We pulled a lot from our personal experiences. So if anyone was watching it saying, ‘Well, that would never happen…’ it actually did — to, like, three of us!” says the actress, who also serves as a producer on the series. “And of course, certain things were heightened. It’s all meant to be bright and bubbly and fun.” As for Star, he doesn’t buy the argument that people hate-watched the show. “I don’t really feel like people waste time watching things that they hate,” he says. “I give people more credit than that.”
There were certainly some raised eyebrows when Emily received two Golden Globe nods back in February, and a pair of Emmy nods five months later. Not that any of that matters to Star (who won an Outstanding Comedy Emmy for Sex and the City in 2001). “Shrug, quite honestly,” he says of the skeptics. “To me, it’s never about awards. It’s about what the show means to people. In the end, did you entertain the audience? Does this show bring them joy? Is this something they’re going to think about and remember in the future as something they loved? That’s what’s most important.”
With Emily’s viral success, Netflix didn’t blink at greenlighting a second season, which kicks off right where season 1 ended — after Emily sleeps with Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), whose plans to leave Paris changed in the last minutes of the finale. Add to the equation Gabriel’s ex (and Emily’s new friend), Camille (Camille Razat), who’s hopeful for a romantic reconciliation. C’est compliqué. “Emily is reeling from the night before, and grappling with this triangle she’s found herself in. She’s left in an awkward position and has to make the best of it,” says Collins. “Her life is in chaos,” adds Star. “I don’t think she’s a person who’s ever been involved in any sort of messy relationship. And the more she tries to control things, the more they actually get out of hand.”
Then there’s Emily’s fashion, which is still bonkers. Her penchant for hats is as strong as ever, and she still hasn’t encountered a clashing pattern that she could resist. Even Star — who previously worked with Emily costume designer Patricia Field on SATC and Younger — admits he was taken aback at times by the new season’s crazy couture. “It’s entertaining to me in the way that a movie like Funny Face is,” he says of the ensembles by Field and Marilyn Fitoussi. “It’s that same level of eye candy, and it adds a whole other visual layer.”
But it won’t be all about Emily. “We wanted all the other characters in the show to have bigger story lines, and hired incredible actors as new characters,” says Collins, adding that they prioritized “diversity and inclusion” when casting those new roles. One fresh face is Jeremy O. Harris (Slave Play) as “a very flamboyant fashion designer who [arrives] in episode 2 and makes a spectacular reappearance at the end of the season,” says Star. Then there’s Lucien Laviscount (Katy Keene, Scream Queens), who joins in the recurring role of Alfie, an English expat whose contempt toward French culture makes Emily look like Julia Child. “Because she’s embracing Paris and immersing herself in the way of life, she actually can be the eyes and ears [for him] in a city where she was once the foreigner,” says Collins. “She’s still got more to do, but we really wanted to make a point of having her be more a part of the environment as opposed to fighting it.” Meanwhile, Emily’s witty best friend, Mindy (Ashley Park of Broadway’s Mean Girls), is now pursuing a singing career full-time. “Selfishly, I just love to see Ashley perform,” Star admits of the Tony nominee.
The creator says he paid no mind to the haters when heading back to the writers’ room (“That’s like writing to a focus group — it’s not how anything good ever gets done”), but the show has addressed one criticism in season 2: Namely, why do all the French people speak English to each other when Emily isn’t around? Since the comedy was originally intended to air on Paramount Network rather than an international platform, the first season went easy on subtitled, all-French-language scenes. “This season, we spend a lot more time with our French characters, and when they’re not with Emily, they’re speaking French,” says Star. “I love that American audiences are watching foreign shows with subtitles and it’s not something that bothers them at all. In fact, they prefer the authenticity of seeing characters speak in their language when they logically would.”
Which brings us to one other thing to get straight: Netflix’s cheeky tweet saying the first and last words in the show’s title should rhyme (as in “Emily in Paree”) was not an edict from Star. “For those who like to pronounce it that way, I’m all for it,” he says. “But for me, it’s Emily in Paris.” In other words, say it however you want, Star doesn’t mind — just as long as you’re watching.
Emily in Paris season 2 hits Netflix on Dec. 22.