Meet the inimitable Ashley Park, fresh off her zoom Broadway run of Ratatouille… And you know, Netflix’s Emily in Paris, which just got picked up for another season. EW spoke with AP about process, humanity, BROADWAY, baby, and why the sun must shine. Why we must keep shining. Read on below…
BY ERIN WALSH
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Erin Walsh Ashley, congrats on your latest project, “Emily in Paris.” Despite your lengthy resume on Broadway and beyond, I am guessing this will be an introduction at least for some people to your ways. I mean that in the highest compliment, as both a human and an actor, I consider you to be an electrifying delight. Let’s go back a bit though – can you tell me a bit about how you were raised, where you grew up, and how you got into the BIZ…
Ashley Park Aw Erin, I actually love that you said that ‘Mindy’ will be how most will get to know me as an actor, because I think she’s infused with a lot of me as a person. It makes me really happy to hear people say they wish they had a friend like Mindy.
Oooo the bizzzz, well I was born in California; raised in Michigan; and now live in New York City. I guess dance was my first love. My parents signed me up for a dance academy as a toddler because I was putting on shows for them truly before I could fully walk or talk. Neither of my parents are performers (they are both self-proclaimed tone-deaf singers) so they were probably amused and perplexed when they saw their tiny tot fully immersed in sequence tap numbers onstage and thought “Whoa, where the heck did this girl come from?” I was 5-years-old when we moved to Michigan, and I’m so grateful that my parents decided to raise us there when my mom saw that Ann Arbor, as the home of the University of Michigan, afforded so many opportunities for me and my sister to find our passions in life. I fell in love with music through Classical Piano, I practiced every day for at least an hour from the age of five until I went to University of Michigan to pursue my Musical Theatre degree. Piano and my years of complete school Choir nerdom is what gave me my foundation in music. It also taught me so much about diligence, practice, and artistry: finding your own sound and phrasing and interpretation amongst notes that had been played for centuries.
In all honesty, I’ve only recently embraced and found self-value and purpose in being an “electrifying delight” (that’s so sweet of you to say Erin)… now, I hope to bring that energy to life around me and so appreciate being seen in that way, but it was a quality that I felt I had to mute or mask while growing up, for fear of being ‘too much’… I would always get in trouble when I was a kid for not raising my hand to talk, or for saying something loud and funny to get the class to laugh instead of paying attention. And as I entered teen years, I learned the hard way that amongst peers, you couldn’t be ‘cool’ if you tried too hard or cared too much. Ya know, I just started grinning because I just realized that performing on stage was probably where I found my freedom to be as wild and creative as I wanted to be with no judgement or boundaries. And then I fell hard and fast for musical theatre, because I was most drawn to acting. Here was a way to sing and dance, but for the purpose of storytelling. I discovered musicals in middle school, right when I was beginning to allow bullying to make me feel like in order to adapt and be accepted, I had to change my inner passions and that ‘electricity’ in order to fit in. So I found such solace in playing a character, in losing myself in another person, and focusing on finding their psyche and heart, so that I could be as open as I wanted, without being penalized for working hard at the craft since it was for the sake of the character. And there is nothing that feels more vulnerable and crazy and exhilarating as singing and dancing for a live audience. I miss it every day.
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EW Tell me about the grind of doing a Broadway show like “Mean Girls,” for which you were nominated for a Tony. I would love to paint for our readers a picture of the insane physical and sleep demands.
AP Oof, well speaking of missing it every day… it’s hard to grasp that Broadway has been shut down since March. That grind and hustle is what makes doing a Broadway show, working in that dynamic 15-block radius in NYC, unlike anything else. To do 8 shows a week is exhilarating and also very demanding. It is as grueling on your body as playing a professional sport: a show 6 nights a week, with two of those days also having a matinee, and then one day off. All while spending your day auditioning or developing your next gig. Because there’s never a guarantee in the business.
I’ve done 5 Broadway shows, and each role has required vastly different physical, mental, and emotional demands. And for me, it’s the most stimulating adrenaline-high of moment-to-moment survival mode. The first thought when I woke up would be, “Is my voice phonating? Is my ankle still swollen? Can I do my job today?” And if something wasn’t in good condition, I’d spend the whole day steaming or going to the ENT or finding any remedy to be able to do my job that night. Admittedly, I’m notoriously stubborn about not “calling-out” of a show unless I absolutely have to… I have major FOMO and sadness when I have to miss out on work and fun… but sometimes our bodies just won’t allow it and I had to learn that listening to our bodies is just as important as powering through.
Playing a ‘plastic’ in MEAN GIRLS came with another layer of demands, which is why I am so grateful that I felt trusting and grounded in myself as a person and Broadway performer before playing ‘Gretchen Wieners’. I kind of consider my debut in MAMMA MIA! as my freshman year of Broadway where I learned the ropes with no pressure on me; KING AND I as my sophomore year where I was introduced in a big way to the Broadway community but could develop my training and craft with no prior expectations of me; SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE as my junior year where I knew how to develop a family and apply what I’d learned as an actor; and MEAN GIRLS was like senior year where all eyes were on us with a lot of anticipation for the show.
And to originate a role in a new musical is a whole different beast because the show and script can change vastly. It’s part of the fun: figuring out the puzzle of the story and each characters path through it. I was the last person cast in MEAN GIRLS so I was the least familiar with the material when we started rehearsals, and I was still performing KPOP! Off-Broadway every night. I think I got an average of 2-3 hours of sleep during that month of rehearsing a new musical from 10-6pm, then doing KPOP at night… I was mega-fueled creatively, and an actual zombie physically. It showed me the value of having creative teams and scene partners (Kate Rockwell and Erika Henningsen quite literally held me up during rehearsal days) who I could trust and lean on in a high-stakes time, so that I could give my all to everything even when spread thin. And there’s nothing as wild as previews on Broadway, where we get new pages, songs, and choreo during the day before performing those new changes in front of a paying live audience each night, often with reviewers who watch the show preceding opening night. It’s crazypants (did i actually just say crazypants?). But in the best way. With MEAN GIRLS, I knew how lucky we were to be in that show and the fact that I was having so much fun always kept my battery charged. Even on the most demanding days of Tony season, where I’d wake at dawn to get ready for interviews, award functions, or live publicity appearances before sprinting to the theatre to do the show. People always asked how we rallied the energy after getting through those days to sing and run around in heels onstage, especially with the added pressure of Tony Voters watching each show. Funnily, I found the place where I felt safest and calmest was always in those few hours of the day where I could just lose myself dancing around in Gretchen’s stilettos and spirit. Even if my bones were tired and my body was bruised, my heart was happy.
But you can see the reason that my work life is my personal life. I haven’t had much time for a personal life in close to a decade. But I think it’s a silly stigma that those have to be separate. Or that choosing to immerse yourself in your professional life is unhealthy or unbalanced in some way, especially for women. In my humble opinion, that’s bullsh*t. My social life, my friendships, my growth and fulfillment all stems from each job in my life.
To me, any chance to grow as an actor and human in a workspace is f*cking thrilling!
EW What do you find to be most helpful when you are working at such a demanding pace?
AP What helps me is in the perspective of not seeing it as ‘demanding,’ but as ‘exciting.’ To me, any chance to grow as an actor and human in a workspace is f*cking thrilling! So why not work as hard as I can when given an opportunity? Everything that happens to us, whether wonderful or horrible, can be a learning experience. But the hard part is how to receive and apply what I learn from each experience in order to move on in life with openness rather than fear. I’m grateful to my mom, who is such a light and an example for me of how to live with that kind of perspective and optimism.
In such a demanding industry and pace, it also 10000% helps to surround myself with good people. And have the desire to be a good person and colleague to those around me. I think everyone works best when they are able to be vulnerable and open. Especially in a creative space. So both in my personal and professional life, it’s felt important and helpful to build a supportive environment where those around me feel comfortable and home. It’s all just way more fun that way… and I love having fun! But there’s also a balance of getting to the ‘fun’ while being a consummate professional. My friends know that I have no clue how to take myself seriously, but I do take my work extremely seriously. And it keeps me sane to maintain a social life. Even though sleep is probably the one thing I need to stay afloat, I’ll always forgo the z’s (oops) to play with my loved ones, eat that cheeseburger with extra mayo, and have that second glass of wine… because that just keeps me feeling balanced and joyful.
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EW Who and what do you consider to be most instrumental in your process, your process of creating a character and re-finding the moment with each show or each take? I am curious about your method…
AP Initially, I depend on the guidance of the writers and directors in the process of creating the character. That’s why it’s a priority for me to work with writers and directors who I trust in the caliber of their craft and in the quality and intentions of their storytelling. Part of my job as an actor is to trust both the creative team, and my own instincts. It’s also to interpret: the writer’s words are the road, the director’s vision is the map, and my interpretation is how I steer the vehicle. I always view it as finding a character, rather than creating them. And collaborating on that is my favorite part – to find a person with a team of people is just the best.
And what’s most instrumental to me after establishing the shape and path of the character, is to make sure I can fill in the soul, which means that I need to find an honest way that they live on my spine and my heart. Either an intention, a personality quality, a coping mechanism, or a way they navigate through life that I can relate to. I geek out over the process of getting a script and exploring different possible checkpoints of discovery for my character. Because if I respect those moments of change, then a show 8 times a week over the course of a year, still feels fresh each night. And the pressure of filming a pivotal scene in a few takes without rehearsal, can be rooted in honest human interaction. I mean, aren’t we all a result of every human interaction in our lives? So my scene partners are a huge part of the process. Deciphering what each character’s relationship is to each other and understanding the arc of those relationships, makes scenes feel like a playground more than something you can get right or wrong.
Physicality and costumes are tangibly helpful for me too. Finding how they move and how they feel in their own skin and clothes is the easiest way for me to focus in and find them effectively. And you know how much I love playing dress-up 🙂
EW “Emily in Paris.” The latest project of Darren Star of “Sex and the City” that also brings Patricia Field into the mix with costume design… How did this come about?
AP I really still can’t believe it. I keep expecting Ashton Kutcher to pop out to tell me I’ve been Punk’d. When I got the audition email from my agent, I saw the words: Darren Star. Patricia Field. Lily Collins… and I thought, “Wowwwwww… well this would be a dream job.” And then I read that the series would be entirely shot in Paris, which has always been at the top of my bucket list and is now my favorite city in the world. And this is gonna sound REAL cheesy so bear with me, but I felt this energy of kismet – this deep vibration that this project had found me, and that I was profoundly ready to give part of myself to the world through it. Then I read the audition scene: when Mindy and Emily first meet on the bench in the Palais Royal Garden. There have been a few times in my life when I have finished reading a scene and felt that the role was so specifically and personally me, that I would literally look around to see if there were cameras that had been following me for years… that had observed my thought patterns, rhetoric, and personality. I felt instantaneously connected to Mindy. And as an actress, whenever you can memorize a scene almost immediately, it usually means that the character just lives on your spine and soul.
I auditioned in June 2019 and didn’t hear anything for a few weeks. I was doing the pre-Broadway production of our now Tony-nominated play GRAND HORIZONS and I was on my way to our opening night when my agent called to say that Darren Star wanted to call me on his cell from Paris to discuss the character of “Mindy.” I remember thinking, “yo Ashley. Please don’t mess this up.” But as soon as I heard Darren’s voice on the phone, he was so kind and started by saying such lovely things about when he saw MEAN GIRLS. And as soon as we delved into the discussion of Mindy, I felt an appreciation for his diligence and intelligence as a TV writer and producer. I was in good hands. But, I wasn’t told I got the part on that call, so I’m glad I had to immediately focus on playing a married pregnant therapist in my play so that I wouldn’t drive myself crazy wondering what Darren and the universe would decide. A few days later, I got ‘the call,’ and I had one day to pack a bag in NYC before moving to Paris for four months.
EW Can you tell us a bit about the premise of the show and your character, Mindy Chen?
AP The show is a romantic comedy about Emily Cooper, a marketing exec who unexpectedly lands a dream job in Paris when her Chicago-based company acquires a French luxury brand agency. When she moves to stunning Paris with no knowledge of the French language or culture, she has to navigate the challenges of workplace politics and the adventures of romantic thrills. When she is feeling most disheartened on her first day in Paris, she meets Mindy Chen, and their friendship becomes Emily’s steadfast pillar of support and fun in her new Parisian life. When they meet in the Royal Palais Garden (this was actually the first scene shot of the series), Mindy is an au pair and a fellow expat who has been in Paris for a year and is much more adapted to the Paris lifestyle. Mindy is the life of the party… partly because she enjoys throwing parties. Both girls are smart, kind, and no-nonsense. But Mindy plays by her own rules, or preferably by no rules at all. She is a Chinese heiress who chose to drop out of business school and support herself in Paris rather than return to her life of wealth and responsibility. She leads with humor and fun, but we soon discover that underneath her carefree confident spirit (and her glam Patricia Field wardrobe), Mindy is just as lost on her journey of self discovery. She is running from her past (hint: singing involved) and she is trying to figure out who she is and what she wants out of life.
I was immediately drawn to Mindy’s refreshing warmth paired with her witty brutal honesty. But what I love most is that she’s an effortless friend with an empath instinct. She senses that Emily is experiencing the same fish-out-of-water loneliness that Mindy probably did when she moved to Paris alone. And decides to offer a dinner date and genuine friendship, which makes all the difference for Emily. I loved being part of this kind of female friendship onscreen. She’s that friend who is absolutely chic and also a total mess. She’s able to both comfort Emily while also calling her out… and always with a glass of wine in hand. I had a blast in Mindy’s world 🙂
I was just so excited to take in as much life as possible.
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EW What was the filming situation? How long were you in Paris and what was it like? Any crazy stories?
AP I meannnnn… I’ll definitely have to debrief you on some stories over a bottle of wine one day Erin 🙂 For now, there are simply too many. My four months in Paris were honestly the happiest of my life. And I’ve had a lot of joyful fun times before and since then. It was my first experience truly living abroad. Before I got the show, I had bought a one-way ticket to meet my friend Jonalyn in Italy, and after my week with her, my plan was to take the summer to travel alone around Europe. I went to London from Italy, but immediately got on a train to start shooting in Paris… it all happened so fast so I moved to Paris with only a carry-on… so you better believe I did some shopping!
Lily and I were the only American actors living there for that long, and we were always in awe that we got to blossom our real-life friendship whilst developing Mindy and Emily in playdates around Paris. Every location was as beautiful as it seems on the screen. Lily is a soulsister. And it was genuinely the happiest set. Seeped with constant laughter and camaraderie. Our entire “Emily in Paris” cast and the all-French crew grew incredibly close. Our amazing American writers (Grant, Sarah, Ali), producers (Stephen, Shihan), and directors (Andy, Zoe) all lived in my neighborhood and we’re kindred spirits. It was an immediate sisterhood with Camille Razat, she’s my best Parisian girlfriend. And I was so lucky to have my own personal ‘Mindy’ to guide me through Paris: Lucas Bravo. It was an effortless friendship and he was my exuberant partner-in-crime as I discovered Paris while he was rediscovering it. He and Samuel Arnold basically moved in with me our last month of shooting. We all just adored each other and figured it was way more fun to spend all our time together, especially since the three of us didn’t have scenes together.
And lucky for me, since Mindy really exists in her own world with Emily for much of the first season, my filming schedule gave me big chunks of free time. So I traveled EVERYWHERE, and it’s just so crazy to think that I didn’t even know COVID was coming… I was just so excited to take in as much life as possible. I traveled alone to Geneva and Milan, and met my best friend Carlye in Rimini and Budapest, went to London, Versailles, and Greece to meet with Broadway friends. The running joke was that “Ashley in Europe” was definitely it’s own series!
I was housed in this wildly epic apartment in the Marais, so I basically told every friend back home that if they’d ever wanted a free airbnb in Paris, then book a flight and they could stay with me. I think upwards of 40 friends ended up visiting Paris, and every memory of being part of their adventures and self-discovery as they also fell in love with Paris was a wildly beautiful gift. Especially since it’s just not something that’s possible for any of us in the world a year later. I lined a wall of my apartment with an empty bottle of wine for every person who visited, and put dried flowers in them. By the time I left, there was a whole wall of them, I just framed a photo of those bottles for my home in NYC.
EW As an actor, do you enjoy being on the stage more or being in front of the camera? And do you approach characters differently depending on the medium?
AP Oh gosh, that’s like asking which of your kids you like more hahaha! Impossible to answer. Acting on stage feels like home, while acting on camera has the excitement of a new world I can’t wait to explore. I love theatre because each performance is live, present with those specific humans in that sacred space for those hours, and can’t be reproduced. But I’m a super nostalgic sap and the fleeting part of theatre makes me so sad. You’ll never have the same alchemy of a particular cast and audience again. And no two shows are alike because every cast member wakes up as different people every day. While the point of onscreen work is to make a final product that lives on forever, with those actors on that one day. It feels like a time capsule that you can relive and I love that :). But there are times when we wrap a scene and I can’t believe we will never be revisiting it again. I love the onstage challenge of making the same words and movements feel like it’s the first time 8 times a week. We get to deepen the characters but within the confines of not widening the performance while telling the same story over and over again. But it’s cool that there can be more precision and control over how an on camera scene is delivered to an audience.
Even though the mediums are so different, I think the more I do both, my approach to characters has actually become the same. I think I change my approach more based on the tone of the piece, the style of the genre, and the function of the character within the full story. I used to think that I had to be more subdued on screen and that I had to be bolder onstage. But I think the most moving actors onstage find nuance that, with strong enough intention, can resonate to the back row of an audience. And even if you don’t have to project as much on screen, I’ve learned to not mute and judge my instincts and to allow myself the freedom to find bold colors and spirit in my characters.
At the end of the day, all I have to do in any acting is listen and respond. Everything is a response to what the other characters do or say or don’t do or don’t say. So if I do all the prep work, know my lines, and have generous scene partners, all I have to do is listen and play!
EW What do you hope people will take from this show and your character?
AP I hope the show brings people joy. We loved making this show so much, and were all just so excited to share it with the world in hopes that the happiness we felt while filming it could be experienced by anyone who watches it. During this unprecedented time when we can’t travel, or meet new friends, or drink wine at restaurants, or explore new loves and adventures, I’ve been deeply moved to hear that so many have found a few fun hours of living vicariously through “Emily in Paris.” I hope that it can be uplifting and inspire people to think outside of their cultural norms and be curious about the world. Lily and I talk about how much romantic comedies and TV shows taught us about adult friendships, relationships, style, city life, and womanhood. It means so much that a generation may be inspired to find and cultivate friendships as supportive and genuine as Mindy and Emily’s.
EW Let’s talk action. I very much believe that for those of us with a platform, that have people watching, we need to be mindful of paying it forward so that we can lead by example. Are there any causes or charities that you would like to bring attention to?
AP Absolutely agreed that it’s important for any artist, whether they have people watching them or not, to give back. I actually think being involved in outreach and activism actually feels selfish because it’s just as fulfilling, if not more, for those who are paying it forward. As a cancer survivor and a Make-A-Wish alum, I’m really excited to continue my work through my ambassadorship with the Make-A-Wish foundation. In March, I officially became the New York Metro division’s first ambassador, and I learned that over 5,000 wishes had been put on hold due to the pandemic. I’m excited to help develop an alumni program and awareness, as I personally understand the power of a wish for a kid and their family – in high school after my six rounds of chemo, the foundation granted my wish to go to NYC for the first time and watch my first Broadway show. In obvious ways, that wish changed my life and made possibilities and a dream past my sickness tangible and vivid for me.
The idea of young people being forgotten is the most painful for me. The only hope for our world is our children. I worked in a male juvenile facility in my early twenties, and it opened my eyes to the deep-rooted absolute disparity in our education system and incarceration of youth. Some organizations that are doing incredible work that I’ve personally worked with are the Covenant House (helping homeless youth and rescuing kids from trafficking), the ACLU (who does lots of work for juvenile justice), No Kid Hungry (fighting Child hunger in America), and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS which funds the social service work of the Actors Fund (providing all kinds of emergency support, from health insurance to financial assistance, for an entire industry of live entertainment workers who have been stripped of any means to work during this pandemic.
EW What’s your quarantine routine? How are you staying sane?
AP Ya know, we’ve gone through so many chapters of the quarantine at this point, and each chapter feels both like a lifetime and also surreally nonexistent. And a lot of people have lived through far more trying chapters than I have. I think that weirdly enough, the last time I was in quarantine during my cancer experience, afforded me the tools to stay sane during this time. But as a high schooler, isolated for eight months in the hospital during chemo, my life was the only one put on pause while everyone else continued with their lives. And now, everyone’s lives have stopped in a sense. I have sparks of vivid memories during my cancer treatments of physically, mentally, and spiritually feeling deeply that there wouldn’t be an “other side” to the pain or hurtle I was battling at that precise moment. But now I’m here and I made it out.
Each time I “get to the other side” of a situation, I try to grasp an acknowledgement of that, so that it fuels my faith for the next trying obstacle. One little thing I like to do is, when I’m feeling stressed or down, especially at this time, I look at the date on my phone and go back to see what I was doing on this day a year ago or even a month ago. It is a human miracle how much we can grow and change in what is important to us and around us in such a short time. It always gives me hope.
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EW Any physical go-to activities that help you get it out when, at least for me, it’s easy to feel stuck sometimes in the inertia of this year?
AP I’ve always had to dictate my physical workouts based on what my body could handle or needed before doing a show at night. During quarantine, I’ve gotten to do a lot of rehabilitation with the kinds of workouts I want to do: private yoga zoom sessions with Paige Faure (my soulsister from CINDERELLA on tour) have got me breathing deeper than I ever have. Amanda Kloots jumproping, Carlye Tamaren warrior workouts, and Synthia Link sessions have kept me sweating and feeling strong as I head into filming for GIRLS5EVA.
And this may be odd to say, but a couple weeks ago, I was surprised to find myself rediscovering just how much singing is a physical release for me. The surprise came from the realization that somewhere along the way of training and performing professionally, singing became synonymous with a job, rather than something that is personal to me and my own self-expression. To clarify, I’ve loved singing onstage as my job, but I didn’t realize that I had compartmentalized it and music in general as something to be shared and sold even, rather than as an activity or passion enjoyed privately for my own soul, and one which can relieve stress. I performed over 500 shows of Broadway’s revival of THE KING AND I, in the role of Tuptim who sings three soprano arias over a 30-piece live orchestra, narrates a 20-minute ballet, and screams through a beating scene every day (or twice a day). I was young, with an enormous amount of pressure on my shoulders, and learned so much about the stamina of Broadway: how vital it is to pace and respect my voice as an instrument. But singing also became the source of tension for me as I tried to control my voice and make the “right” and “perfect” sounds, ones that would satisfy others.
Over the years, I think I’ve relinquished control while singing in order to find my truest sound. There is no wrong way to sing. Sure you can hit a wrong note or sound stuffy when you have allergies, but I think singing is always right when it’s coming from deep in the heart. Singing “La Vie en Rose” and “Chandelier” as Mindy in “Emily in Paris” was perhaps one of the first times I’ve heard my own actual voice. I didn’t even realize that I had gotten used to adapting to different styles dependent on the show or role or audience I was singing for. The fact that Darren Star and the creative team gave a window into Mindy’s raw soul and story through her singing, really did that for me, Ashley, as well. Recently, Drew Barrymore (she is BEYOND amazing in every way) asked me to sing “Over the Rainbow” a cappella on her new talk show’s Halloween special. It’s something I think I would have been completely terrified to do even a year ago. But I was so grateful for the experience of rediscovering the meaning of that song, and singing dressed as a Christian Siriano rainbow was an incredibly cathartic physical release.
My creativity comes from the vibrations with other people.
EW Any creative surprises that have emerged from these strange times?
AP See above 🙂 Also, not a surprise but I feel most creative when collaborating with other people. I’ve always known that, but the current situation has really amplified that for me. I’m always someone who’d rather sing a duet with someone over singing a solo. The experience feels more alive and communicative and exciting and present. I think that’s what is captivating about art… the human connection and relationships: with fellow artists, directors, crew members, writers, between the audience and performer, between generations as we learn from artists before us. My creativity comes from the vibrations with other people.
EW Do you harbor plans like in the way of a 5 year plan or a 10 year plan? What are your main hopes professionally?
AP I live more in the world of 5 minute plans and 10 minute plans hahaha! No, but really. I think most people who know me would agree that I am one who deeeeeeply lives in the present. That spontaneity gives me great fulfillment, but also takes its toll. It’s an anomaly if I know where I’ll be or who I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in the next week. Every time I’ve had a ‘clear plan’ for myself, life has taken me in a most challengingly delightful twist of direction. So I’ve tried to give up controlling that, because if I scramble eggs and it can come out as a souffle with the openness of help and inspiration from those around me… then lets go with the souffle!?? Wowwww, that analogy was a stretch… if that made no sense then my answer is, “no i do not have a 5 or 10 year plan. The only thing I want to plan is to strive to live in happiness and help others to be happy too.
EW Let’s talk representation, particularly for Asian-Americans. The list of standard stereotypes is so long and the opportunity for authentic representation was ignored by Hollywood for many, many years. What brings you hope in terms of things changing? Do you have a responsibility in this process?
AP I do feel a sense of responsibility now. To be intentional with the work and stories I tell. Honestly for a while, I had shied away from being recognized as a boundary-breaker for young POC because I didn’t think I deserved that. Similar to how I’d felt uncomfortable as a teen being called a “hero” when I survived cancer. Because I felt like the only thing I had done was try to live. Which meant I was only thinking of myself. How was that heroic? With being an Asian-American actress, I just wanted to keep surprising myself and everyone else with every new role and challenge. All I was doing was trying to get a job, and then to do my best at it. To keep learning and growing as a performer. And that also didn’t feel like i deserved to be lauded as a role model for representation.
But now I realized that just by existing, sometimes we are living examples of what people can be and can do, and that hope moves us all forward. Inspiring others to follow their paths or to explore paths that they didn’t even think was open to them is the greatest honor.
You know, “Emily in Paris” is exactly the kind of show I’d obsess over. And MEAN GIRLS is exactly the Broadway musical cast recording I would’ve memorized as a kid. And if I had seen an Asian actress in this kind of Darren Star role and universe, or on the poster of MEAN GIRLS while I was growing up… it would have meant the world to me. But every journey, especially in this business, is so unique and individual. My hope and my responsibility is to show this next generation that anybody can forge their own path. Everyone deserves to be the protagonist in their own story. My face on that poster doesn’t only show Asian girls that they can play Gretchen Wieners. I hope it shows them that they can play ANY part in that show. Or in any show.
EW What is your go-to meal?
AP I wish it was Thanksgiving dinner, but to call that a go-to meal means a lotttt of daily meal prep. And I’m more of the “microwave the gravy and sip a glass of wine and don’t get in the way while morally supporting the chefs” during Friendsgivings anyway. Sometimes I crave all the Thanksgiving flavors so much that I find myself Googling the nearest Boston Market. On a daily basis, I’ll never say no to a giant salad with more toppings than lettuce, with some kind of salmon maybe and lotsssss of cheese. Any kind of cheese. And if there is a bolognese pasta on the menu… that’s what I’m ordering. Hands down.
EW What is your go-to read?
AP Recently, I’ve realized that for quite a few years, I haven’t read a single fiction book or really read for pleasure at all. Over the past few months in quarantine, I’ve devoured and enjoyed reading realistic fiction and historical fiction novels by Korean-American female authors such as Min Jin Lee’s epic Pachinko and Free Food For Millionaires, Jayci Lee’s A Sweet Mess, Maurene Goo’s Somewhere Only We Know, and Patricia Park’s Re Jane. Ooh and now that I’m settled in NYC again, I’ve been geeking out over my daily subscription of the New York Times. I ordered it because I’m so scared that hard copy publications will only be a relic one day, but now I’m obsessed with starting my mornings with reading the paper with a coffee… and it keeps me from looking at a screen as soon as I wake up.
EW Anything in the way of a mantra?
AP “Yes, and…” (perhaps it will be my next tattoo…) “Work Hard. Play Hard. Work Harder.” I said that by accident, appropriately after one cocktail too many, and it’s been a guiding principle ever since.
EW Ashley, what’s your SBJCT? What really moves and drives you?
AP Sunshine, because even on the cloudiest day, the sun is still there. Yes, we have proof that it is, but you also must believe. I hope to share and help and witness as many people as possible find their own sunshine within themselves. Most probably through laughter, music, and stories. That would make me happy. Let’s live life to its fullest. The potential is infinite if you believe.