The actress best known as Mindy in the Netflix series Emily in Paris talks setting boundaries and finding her center.
Ashley Park throws on an oversized blazer and comfy sneakers after having dedicated the day’s waking moments to Pilates. For the past two weeks, the actress has been doing a Broadway show workshop and enjoying New York’s crisp, fall air before hopping into a car for days of study. Any similitude of a routine has been nothing short of shell-shocking for Park, who can’t recall last having a set schedule for two days in a row. If she has a starring role on the Netflix series Emily in Paris, real life sees her zipping from Vancouver, to Los Angeles, London, and New York City on a monthly basis. Gone are the days when Park could while away hours crafting and water coloring, playing the piano, and singing for personal pleasure. Rare are the evenings when she can prepare a home-cooked meal with a friend or loved one. Since being nominated for a Grammy Award for her Broadway performance in The King and I (2016) and a Tony award for her performance in Mean Girls (2017), work opportunities on both stage and screen have been vast and varied.
Of Korean descent, Park was born in Glendale, California, and raised in the town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, in a close-knit family with her parents and younger sister. Her ebullient nature has been a constant, she says. “Ever since I was a baby, I loved being around and interacting with people. My parents definitely had a highly energetic daughter to raise,” she smiles. “I loved making people laugh and dressing up and putting on shows or reenacting movies with my younger sister.” Life in Ann Arbor afforded her opportunities and resources to explore her innate creativity and burgeoning interest in the performing arts. Public school offered choir, after-school theater, and orchestra and band. “I was a real sponge as a kid and wanted to constantly try new activities and hobbies. I was hungry to learn, always curious, and had an adventurous spirit.” Park started dance classes at age three and played classical piano, practicing every day from the age of five until graduating to college. She credits these early, dedicated years along with her passionate participation in the choir and theater as informing the base of her technique and the discipline of her work today.
Daily practice of her extracurricular pursuits came to an abrupt halt when, at age 15, Park was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia – a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The budding creative was hospitalized for eight months, undergoing strenuous but life-saving chemotherapy treatments. When she received a “wish” via the Make-A-Wish Foundation, along with her family, she traveled to New York to watch a slew of Broadway productions – A Chorus Line, The Lion King, Spring Awakening, and Wicked. Here, Park saw first-hand a new possibility of escapism through theater. Cured of cancer, she left the hospital determined to make her own mark on the Broadway stage.
Professional acting, however, didn’t start until college. “The concept of a ‘big break’ always makes me feel uneasy, because it feels to me like it diminishes the process in the journey of one’s career. And it also implies that the work beforehand and leading up to a big break isn’t deemed as impactful or important. I think that any aspect of my work that has been considered a big break, I’ve had to earn with a lot of steps and hard work to get there.” Her role as heiress and singer Mindy in the ongoing Netflix series Emily in Paris saw her achieve global stardom. Park was on a train en route to the show’s audition when the assistant of its costume director Patricia Field spotted the actress, who was wearing black Spanx leggings, a blush hat, and yellow corduroy jacket. She took a photo of her and sent it to the team for inspiration for the role of Mindy – the role that Park would ultimately earn.
Roles and opportunities now come knocking on her door, but Park explains that she’s always viewed her cup as being full. “The work of an actress is also rejection, even daily,” she admits, adding that she simply trained her mind to focus on other positive things. “I’d rather spend my energy on finding joy and growth and determination in any failure or rejection. Each time it gets easier. Instead of getting down about rejection, I like to push forward and focus on resilience. Also, I found that if I was genuinely celebrating and practicing acceptance [for] other people’s successes – rather than my own rejections – then I was in a constant state of celebrating.”
What the actress concedes is taking its toll is her current unregulated schedule. “I think right now, the blessing of my work causing me to travel and build a new life and home and routine every few months, can sometimes take its toll. It’s certainly not difficult comparatively, as I am grateful to be working and being able to travel; but it’s become an aspect of my career that I was not prepared for, and I’ve had to really reassess how and what I ground myself in as I have to adjust to different chapters or even weeks of my life, and give my best to every opportunity and task at hand. I’ve realized how important it is for me to center in myself, establish boundaries, and understand how to not spread myself too thin. As a people-pleaser and somebody who likes to say yes to everything and make everyone happy, I’ve really had to recalibrate a bit recently.”
Boundaries aside, people stay central to Park’s modus operandi. On a recent trip to Dubai, for a fashion show, Park recalls how moved she was to find so many genuine fans of the Emily in Paris series. “To fly across the world and have people come up to me and say how much they connected to Mindy and her music, was so meaningful to me,” she says. If she was particularly touched, it’s due to her drawing several parallels between her and her character. “I am the person who would be there if they called and needed help, and the person who would be hosting a party. I like to make sure everyone is doing okay. I would also laugh at anything.” The actress says the opportunity to connect with people via acting – what she considers “extreme empathy at its best, because you’re really putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” – is what she finds the most fulfilling about her work. “There is nothing like creating something with others together. I have all these people and families from different chapters in my life. It is sometimes hard because having them in so many different places makes me feel disjointed, but once you become more centered into yourself, it becomes more joyful than something that makes you feel lonely.”
Originally published in the December 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Natalie Westernoff
Hair: Julien Parizet
Makeup: Carole Nicolas
Fashion assistant: Re Jialu Han
Location scout: Phoebe Asker