The actress speaks to CR about her meta-Francophile experience filming her new Netflix show Emily in Paris
CR FASHION BOOK – When Lily Collins found herself on Avenue Montaigne in Paris just over a year ago it was not to kick off a week of catwalks and fashionable fêtes as per Septembers’ past. Fashion Week would go on indeed, but the actress would for once not be in attendance. Instead, Collins, who moved to the French capital for a few months for filming, had one only one show on her mind. Debuting today on Netflix, Emily in Paris brings the 31-year-old to the streaming screen as Emily, a Chicago millennial who is transferred to Paris temporarily when the marketing conglomerate she works at acquires a boutique fashion firm. When she arrives to her new setting with an Eiffel Tower charm in tow, Emily is greeted with a grimace and what can only be described as a haute couture critique. The quick-paced, over-the-top series is a mix of Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City—and for good reason, it was created by TV legend Darren Star (SATC, Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place) with costume design by the incomparable Patricia Field. (In fact, Emily uses Field’s own vintage camera-themed iPhone case throughout the entire show as her signature.) Here, Collins speaks to CR about relocating to the City of Love, how the lines between the show and real life blurred, and what she’s learned about social media.
Emily in Paris is such a fun, easy watch, but it’s pretty different than some of your past works. What drew you to the project?
“Emily herself is such a fun character to get to play because she’s funny, she’s driven, and she doesn’t take herself too seriously. She loves fashion but she’s also really good at her job—all these things that so many people can relate to. For an actor to be able to have fun with a role like that was such a blast. And also, hello, it’s Paris! It was a no brainer. I grew up loving Sex and the City, and I think that the worlds that Darren creates in his shows are ones that you can just disappear into as you binge-watch.”
In the show you play Emily, a—for lack of better phrase—basic midwestern American girl who upends her life and moves to Paris for work. But you yourself were born in Britain and moved to California when you were very young—kind of the reverse dynamic. Were there any challenges in the parallels between the show and your personal life?
“For me to get to really dive into my European side and to live in Paris for a couple of months while filming was such a fish out of water experience. In a way it definitely was similar to when I first moved to LA when I was younger; there was so much of Emily that I could relate to. When I was in England I grew up studying French—that was my language of choice—and I became pretty good at speaking it. I was studying it in school everyday and my little brothers spoke it, too. I even started dreaming in French! Eventually I stopped practicing it as much, and it just kind of became dormant. So years later when I was preparing for the show, I started to brush up on it again. And then when I got to Paris, the dreams in French began again! But I’m supposed to be playing someone who knows nothing about the French language. So living and breathing that character everyday, 24/7, it was really hard to disassociate from her lack of knowledge to then jump back into fully immersing myself in speaking it. It was this weird thing where I thought, ‘Okay, Emily has never been here and doesn’t know anything about the culture, but I love Europe and I’ve traveled to France many times and I know a lot about the culture.’ It was hard to remember I wasn’t supposed to know a lot.”
Were there any moments where your own back knowledge almost made you break character?
“Not really, but it was always something I was aware of. There’s that scene where Emily is in French class, and the students are all repeating words back and forth. She has to practice a conversation where she gets disinvited to a party. I knew everything that everyone was saying, but Emily the character had no idea. And that was the same throughout the entire production. It was kind of funny to have to play like I had no idea what people were saying meanwhile I could completely follow every conversation.”
One of the funniest moments of the series is when Emily’s shower breaks and her landlady calls the plumber, who tells her it cannot be fixed—there’s no explanation, it’s just impossible. It’s such a typical Parisian situation. Did you have any similar moments occur while filming?
“It was uncanny how many experiences like Emily’s I actually had while being there. Whether it was getting the numbering of apartments wrong or just trying to order the correct entrée in French and other little cultural differences. Another example: just as in the show, my hot water actually stopped working in my Paris apartment. It was the fall, and it was getting colder and colder every day. Of course I was told it wasn’t possible to have it fixed for two weeks! I ended up having to shower at the studio a couple times. I would finish filming, and Patricia would give me a robe and slippers that were meant for Emily, and I would go into the shower that they had for work. Our writers were really adamant that they did a lot of the writing while living in Paris, because that’s how they were best able to explain the nuances of what it’s like to be there. There have obviously been so many projects that have been based in Paris or have had people travel to Paris, but we wanted to highlight the small things that you wouldn’t even think of until you spoke to someone that has experienced something similar and they go, ‘Oh my god, that happened to me!’”
How much did this role make you think about your social media presence or identity?
“I think it’s very fateful that the show is coming out right now when we’re relying on social media more than ever. Emily is a professional in that field, and she’s teaching a French office about the American ways. Playing that kind of person actually allowed me to understand social media far more than I think that I did before—to see the way that she experienced the city through her social media eyes. It was really interesting to see how many times a person can pivot and create a new idea and new content. And that’s what we’re all kind of doing right now; the world has had to pivot. We’ve had to figure out when enough is enough and when content is not useful and what’s the best way to use our voice, how can we allow others to be involved. Especially right now with voting. How can we campaign properly? How can we educate? Playing Emily almost felt like a precursor to how we would have to function right now, and so I’m really grateful that this character exists.”
After spending months there filming, what is your favorite thing to do in Paris?
“I enjoyed exploring the city the most. Just getting to just scooter around t and cross the bridges and go to the summer fairs and the ferris wheel and the museums was amazing. I love going to Boulangerie, walking through the Tuileries; going down side streets in the Marais, and wandering around little vintage shops; walking down from the Arc de Triomphe all the way to the Louvre. I didn’t understand the city enough until I got there. When you go for Fashion Week, you’re usually in the car going from one thing to another. You’re sitting in a back seat and just using it as transport. When I was living there, I was sitting in the front seat looking out the front and actually seeing where I was going, and actually appreciating the direction of everything. I miss wandering down side streets and finding the beautiful architecture and sitting and having a coffee. It’s just such a romantic city. It’s one of those places where even if you get lost, you feel like you’ve found something. And that to me was the most special.”