Ashley Park has 362 unread text messages on her phone right now:
Catch-ups with her co-stars-turned-family from the Darren Star series, who’ve been soaking up the immediate success of the internet’s favorite guilty pleasure, separately, from their homes all over the world. Like Lily Collins—their bond was so instant at the first table read (yes, even faster than that of their on-screen counterparts) that people incorrectly assumed they’d known each other for years.
And Lucas Bravo, aka neighbor/chef Gabriel, aka the gorgeous guy you followed on Instagram mid-Netflix binge so you could have those piercing blue-gray eyes in your feed every day. Their friendship is one of soul mates: “He’s this white Frenchman who’s grown up in Europe, with a completely different experience from mine,” says the 29-year-old Korean-American from Michigan, “But I’ve never met someone else who has the exact same core as me, who relates to people the same way and has the same perspective. We’re both very positive.” The two talk constantly.
And then, of course, work texts. Logistical details around the early workdays of Girls5eva, a new Peacock show (about a '90s girl band hitting the road again) where she'll reunite with Tina Fey, years after she first originated the role of Gretchen Wieners in the Fey-produced Mean Girls on Broadway. She’s also still preparing to star in a re-examined version of Thoroughly Modern Millie, which was set to open this year until Broadway shut down, so there are texts about that, too.
And, sure, there are a bunch of texts from her ride-or-dies, many of them former co-stars, who don’t get mad at her for taking days to respond to them because “they know I love them and when I’m with them, I’m so present.” Lucky for her cell companies don't charge by the word.
Anyway, what I'm trying to tell you is: Ashley—much like her Emily in Paris character Mindy—can’t stop making friends wherever she goes. (And by the way, if you haven't made friends with Emily in Paris, you're who-even-are-you in who-knows-where: Even if people are trying to poke holes in the fantasy of it all and calling out every cliché, the truth is, everyone has been talking about this show for weeks. Clichés are comforting when the world’s on fire. It’s the brain candy we deserve in this hellish year, and I’ll be accepting no other opinions at this time.)
You know how every group has that one friend who’s basically responsible for making the plans, bringing everyone together, and working overtime so that every night is the best night ever? That’s Ashley, about 100 times over. She’s driven by this desire to take care of people, to show them a good time, to bring them into her inner circle, to make everyone feel comfortable and loved and heard and felt. In other words (the words of Gretchen Wieners, natch), Ashley is such a good friend. The compliment that means the most to her after wrapping a project isn’t that she performed well; it’s that she brought people together, or that someone (like Tina Fey, NBD) wants to work with her again.
“Everyone does their best work when they're the most comfortable,” she explains. “So if I work hard to make everybody else comfortable around me, then they're doing their best work. And then I can do my best work, right?”
Even on set for this photo shoot around the Hoxton Hotel in Brooklyn, Ashley is quick to spread the good vibes. And honestly, thank God, because it’s by no means a normal shoot. Bougie hotels like this one usually smell of some indiscernibly expensive scent; today, the sharp alcoholic smell of hand sanitizer pervades even outside, where the pictures are being taken. Oh, and about outside: It’s pouring rain. I mean, pouring. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., there’s not a moment the weather decides to cut us a break.
But Ashley is dancing between takes, cracking jokes about how the cars driving by probably think she’s just being really extra about trying to get The Shot for Instagram (“I’m not an influencer! I have no influence!” she calls out to them), and nerding out over the chance to climb a lamppost and recreate a Singing in the Rain moment like any good Broadway actor would. She’s making friends with the entire masked-up crew, and I’m struck by the feeling that if I made an offhand comment about how few people I know in this city, the next thing I know she’d be adding me to group chats, inviting me to dinners, and accidentally ignoring my texts.
It’s only among friends that she could feel comfortable ad-libbing what would go on to be some of the most iconic lines-turned-memes from the show, from “Oh, I’m super rich,” to my personal favorite, a Samantha Jones-worthy quip if I’ve ever heard one, “I’d bon appetit him!" Yes, she literally just came up with that line about Lucas’s character in the moment, and the deep belly laughs that ensued between her and Lily were them “totally breaking character,” but made it into the show
Ashley and Lily just kind of got each other: “We met at this part of our lives where we were ready to become the versions of ourselves we were always wanting to be,” she says. They both grew up adoring romantic comedies, looking up to the well-dressed, strong leading ladies. They’d watch, thinking “Oh, when I grow up someday, that will be me.” And then suddenly, somewhere along the streets of Paris, it was them.
While Ashley won't go *quite* as far as to say she literally manifested this role, she...basically manifested this role. Once she wrapped up Mean Girls and its eight-shows-a-week schedule that kept her from planning any big trips, "I was kind of opening myself up to the universe, like, 'I would love a way to travel for work,'" she says. She filled her schedule for the next couple of months quickly, filming an ABC pilot in L.A. and then heading back to the East Coast for a Stephen Sondheim tribute concert and Williamstown Theater Festival rehearsals.
But when her agent let her know about an opportunity to audition for the role of Mindy, she figured out a way to make it work. Then she got the call from Darren Star. Well, not the call, but a call. "He started out by saying, 'I loved you in Mean Girls,' I adore you, and all this stuff, which was so nice, and he wanted to hear my take on the character," Ashley says. "There were a couple of things I felt strongly about for her, and at the end of the call he said, 'Well, I want you to feel comfortable.'" Which means...did she get it? Did she not?! C'mon, man!
A couple days later, THE call. She got it. And she needed to be in Paris in, like, a week (!). She packed a single carry-on ("mostly bathing suits") to spend a couple of days with friends in Italy, then London, and then went right to France.
This was back in fall of 2019 (when, sigh, travel was A Thing), and as a first-timer in Paris, Ashley convinced her French co-stars to be her own personal tour guides around the city for the four months of filming. In return, she planned macaroon-making sessions, wild nights out, and epic parties…most of which she managed to stay awake for, but not all.
“My favorite place to take a nap is in the middle of a party,” she tells me, completely serious. “I would rather take a nap than leave the party.” She has a collection of photos friends have taken of her PTFO’d all over the place throughout the years, because she’d rather be there for all of the fun, even if she’s not awake enough to remember it.
At the end-of-filming soiree she threw (themed “Denim Star,” a play on the series creator’s name and an excuse to, um, wear amazing all-jean outfits), Lucas had to insist she call it a night rather than go out with everyone after the party. “You are not a machine,” he told her as she looked up at him with bleary, exhausted eyes.
Fair. But if she was a machine—some sort of robot built to entertain, to befriend, to make people feel special—empathy would be the fuel that fills her tank. It's Ashley’s driving force in life, because “when you’ve been through a really hard time you don’t want somebody else to go through it.” She knows from personal experience: Ashley was diagnosed with leukemia at 15, years before her Broadway debut, when she was just another girl trying to get through the tricky years of high school.
She tells me this near the end of our allotted interview time, probably sensing, empath that she is, that I’m struggling to find the right words to ask about it. “Many times people bring up my cancer experience,” she says, “and I totally don’t mind talking about it. I think it’s very important to talk about, but I also appreciate when I’m not asked to talk about the experience, or about how it’s informed how I’ve lived my life.”
Because that, she tells me, was the thing she feared for so long: Being defined by the disease itself forever. Being defined by anything forever, really. “I never wanted to be just the Asian girl, just the ‘whatever’ girl, and then I got to 16 and was the bald girl and the sick girl,” she says. All she wanted was to grow up and have long, thick hair and have no one know it had ever been any other way. She was determined not to let it shape her entire existence, refusing to listen to potential long-term side effects of the chemo. “I didn’t want to know that I might be infertile or that my heart might stop working or any of that stuff because once you say it, you’re thinking about it. Even though my body beat the disease, if I let it change anything, it’s won.”
But now, she’s realizing that the very thing she’s tried to avoid letting define her is her “most defining quality as an artist and a person,” in a good way. It’s the thing that’s built her faith she can get through anything. It was the thing that drove her to dive head-first into theater as a form of therapy, losing herself in somebody else's problems. It's what led to the kind of life that includes a Grammy nom (The King and I) and two Tony noms (Mean Girls, Grand Horizons).
And it's what motivates her to care so deeply for others, a drive that's both in line with her profession as an actor and completely at odds with it: On the one hand, to understand a character, to actually play them believably, you have to feel them deeply and connect to their humanity. On the other hand, acting requires you to "live in a world of narcissism"—her words, not mine. “You have to constantly be thinking about yourself, about getting better at your craft, about what you’re doing, how you’re looking, what you’re saying. And at a certain point that eats away at me, and you have to do something to give back.”
Which she does—often—and wants to do even more. Her motivation to keep booking more projects, bigger and bigger projects, is “to be at a point in three years, where I have a big enough apartment or a house that I could foster teenagers. I don’t think I’m prepared to be a mother right now, but I really want to be a foster mom.”
For the time being, though, she’s enjoying settling into her new New York City apartment, the first home she’s ever owned. “I think coming into yourself as a woman is, like, being okay with living alone," Ashley says. "Being on a path where you maybe don’t have many peers with you all the time.”
Credits: Photographer: Kat Wirsing; Stylist/Fashion Director: Cassie Anderson; Creative Director: Abby Silverman; Entertainment Director: Maxwell Losgar; Producer + Senior Visuals Editor: Raydene Salinas Hansen; Makeup Artist: Misha Shahzada; Hair Stylist: David von Cannon; Nail Artist: Mo Qin; Digi Tech: Jim Josephs; Photo Assistant: Josh Janke; Stylist Assistant: Danielle Flum
Fashion: Pink look: Chanel blazer and shorts. Fleur du Mal bra. Fenty heels. Pascale Monvoisin necklace. Laura Lombardi earrings. Yellow look: Fendi coat and boots. Sorellina Jewelry ring (index finger). Pascale Monvoisin necklaces and ring (middle finger). Melinda Maria earrings. Unique Vintage umbrella. Blue look: Altuzarra sweater, top and skirt. Brother Vellies heels. Cathy Waterman earrings. Sorellina Jewelry ring (index finger). Pascale Monvoisin ring (middle finger). State Property necklace. Totes umbrella. Green jacket look: Rejina Pyo jacket, top and pants. State Property necklace and earrings. Sorellina Jewelry ring (index finger). Pascale Monvoisin necklaces. Cathy Waterman ring (middle finger). Blue dress look: Ganni dress. Hunter boots. Wolford socks. Laura Lombardi necklace and bracelet. State Property earrings. Black sheer look: Dior top, skirt, sweater, briefs and boots. Established Jewelry earrings. Pascale Monvoisin necklace. Sorellina Jewelry ring (index finger). State Property ring (middle finger). Totes umbrella. Green sweater look: Simon Miller sweater, pants and shoes. Laura Lombardi earrings and bracelet. Pascale Monvoisin necklace. Sorellina Jewelry ring (middle finger). Hirotaka ring (left hand). Floral dress look: Gucci sweater, dress, gloves, and heels. State Property earrings. Pasotti Ombrelli umbrella.
Special thanks to The Hoxton Hotel
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