Meet Emily In Paris, Darren Star’s New TV Heroine

The creator of Sex and the City speaks to Grazia about his stylish everywoman for the social media generation.

Lily Collins in Emily In Paris

by Guy Pewsey |
Updated on

‘Smoking is a pleasure, and without pleasure, what are we?’ asks Sylvie, the no-nonsense boss at a Parisian marketing firm asks her new employee, vaguely rhetorically.

‘German?’ a colleague interjects. If you weren’t already clear on what to expect from Emily In Paris – Darren Star’s new series with Netflix – then this clinches it. It’s a little bit cliched, but undeniably fun. Trust us, this is your latest TV obsession, and Emily your new heroine.

But first: location, location, location. Paris has always held a unique place in hearts and minds. Romantic, picturesque and so, so chic, it has provided the perfect backdrop for everything from Amelie to Funny Face to Ratatouille. For Darren, among other things the creator of Sex and the City, it has always had a strong appeal, ever since he spent some time there in his teens. ‘There is this really American idea of Paris’, he tells Grazia via Zoom call from his home in New York. ‘It's goes back to Hemingway's A Moveable Feast: I was really inspired by that book as a kid. There's just this idea of artists loving to be in Paris, to get lost in the city, where no one's judging you for sitting in a cafe for four hours.’

It is this clash of cultures that kicks off proceedings. Emily, a young woman working in Chicago, is sent to provide a French marketing agency with an American perspective. Chaos, of course, ensues. The Parisians – classically disdainful, substituting lunch with cigarettes and the epitome of sophistication – take an instant dislike to Emily’s keenness, her lack of French language skills and her unapologetic, earnest fashion, complete with red beret. The concept of an American in Paris has been explored regularly – not least when Carrie Bradshaw tries and fails to fit in. But here, Emily refuses to be beaten. Lily Collins, star of Love, Rosie, face of Lancome and daughter of Phil, is the perfect, plucky heroine for a new age.

‘I love Lily’s sense of inner toughness’, says Darren. ‘She's just so resilient. Emily gets knocked a lot, but she just keeps going.’

Indeed, watching Lily feels so natural that you get the sense the role was written for her. ‘Right?’ Darren responds. ‘I think she recognised that when she read the script: she was very keen on wanting to do it. l like when an actor has that real confidence. I like that she saw something in the role that she was really connecting with.’

She also, incidentally, looks divine in the catwalk of couture she wears to the office and as she explores the city. It will come as no surprise that the show sees Darren return to working with Patricia Field, Sex and the City’s costume designer. He told her he had the idea for the programme, and wanted her to be a part of it, before he’d even finished the script.

‘What's great about what Patricia does with wardrobe is that she has a sense of humour behind it’, says Darren. ‘It just adds an extra layer on everything. That dress that Emily wears in the first day, for example, is so wrong, but for Emily it's this expression of love for the city.’ The dress in question contains an Eiffel tower print, and earns her the immediate nickname of ‘The Hick’. Later in the series, she is branded the ultimate insult for a style-obsessed woman: ‘A basic bitch.’ Her retort is a perfect middle finger to snobs everywhere. You’ll love it.

Darren has always written female characters well. From Sex and the City, to Younger, to the more short-lived Miss Match. He thinks it just comes down to writing people well, rather than having a specific code o the female psyche. ‘I think I like writing women because they're very verbal,’ he explains. ‘They express their emotions, and their vulnerability. And when you're writing about relationships, you want characters that are expressive. I think women are funny. I mean, men are funny too, but I like the way in which women are funny.’

Emily – naïve, kind but implacable – is a unique, refreshing heroine that continues the legacy Darren began with Carrie. I ask if he consciously avoids repeating her flaws and foibles in his newer creations.

‘I guess I don't worry about it too much’, he replies. ‘At the beginning, I'm thinking of her as a very separate character. Yes, they share similarities: they're strong women who have a lot of agency, are asking questions about the world, and aren’t afraid to take risks.’

Darren had no idea that this show would debut at a time of such uncertainty. ‘But I think it's great timing,’ he says. ‘The show was always meant to give the audience a vicarious trip to Paris and the experience of being there. So I think it’s even better now that we actually can't go.’

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