The untold truth of Ashley Park

As actress Lily Collins is getting all the heat thanks to her title role on Emily in Paris, fans of the new Darren Star-created Netflix series are curious to know more about the actress behind Emily Cooper's on-screen best friend Mindy Chen. The series — which follows Collins' character Emily, an American, to Paris through love woes, a new language and culture, and jumping up the corporate ladder — also highlights a new friendship between Emily and Mindy, played by Ashley Park.

"I think she's the kind of friend that I would want and I aspire to be" Park told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in October 2020 about her favorite part of playing Mindy. As Collins' Emily embarks on learning the ins and outs of a new city, Park is learning to take her acting skills from the stage to the camera — the actress has previously made her claim to fame on Broadway.

"I come from one of the most high energy cities in the world, and one of the most high energy ten-block radiuses in the city — Broadway," Park told Oprah Magazine also in October. Broadway fans may recognize Park from roles in Mamma Mia!, The King and I, and Cinderella. "I don't want to do anything that I'm not completely humbled by," the actress told Playbill Magazine in February 2020. "All I can bring is my experience and the core of who I am — and the openness to learn."

So, who exactly is Ashley Park? Let's take a look.

Ashley Park battled leukemia in high school

Ashley Park got her first big Broadway break in 2014, landing a role in Mamma Mia!, according to Interview Magazine. The star had just graduated from a musical theater program at the University of Michigan. "I was just out of school," she told the mag. "To be in a show like that, which had been running for so long and where everyone had a routine, was incredibly valuable. I got to learn what life as a working actor is."

Park first got into Broadway in high school after being diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 15. "I survived cancer in high school and was a Make A Wish kid. So my wish was to come to New York and watch a Broadway show," the Emily in Paris star told ShowTickets.com.

"I had never been to one. But I thought that maybe performing was something I wanted to do," Park recalled. "So the summer before my senior year of high school, my family and I were brought to New York and stayed in a hotel. We saw The Lion King, Spring Awakening, A Chorus Line and Wicked." After all those shows, she was hooked. "It's not until you can tangibly be around something that you discover how accessible it is," she explained. "I realized it was something that I could manifest for myself. That was a big deal."

Ashley Park is known for her Broadway role in 'Mean Girls'

One of Ashley Park's biggest Broadway jobs has been her role as Gretchen Wieners in Mean Girls. Speaking to Interview Magazine in May 2018, Park revealed how she took the infamous daughter of the man who invented Toaster Strudel, and made the character her own.

"Everyone knows Lacey Chabert as Gretchen. I would never want to do an imitation of that," said the actress. "So whenever I've done a revival on Broadway, I go back to the text and figure out what the spine of the character is. And what I realized is that no matter what Gretchen's doing, no matter what secrets she's spilling, she's trying to be a good friend. She wants so badly to be good."

Park continued to share how she related to Gretchen herself. "What I love about Gretchen is she doesn't want to be anything but the beta. She doesn't want to be the leader," she said. "I could relate to that. I love how in this show Gretchen is not the quirky Asian girl. She's the fragile wannabe, tender, dance party, just-wants-to-please-her-leader girl. She's just a teenager."

The actress' role as Gretchen landed her a Tony nomination in 2018 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Ashley Park wants to work with the Obamas next

Ashley Park's obsession with Mean Girls growing up may have been her helping hand in her Broadway role. Other inspirations came from her memorization of Friends and her small crush on animated Disney characters Simba and Aladdin. "I didn't watch that much TV as a kid. I think I watched a lot of Nickelodeon," the actress told Harper's Bazaar while reflecting on her favorite TV series. "But I think when I really got into my high school and college years, Friends. I know every episode back and forth."

Looking forward though, Park hopes to one day work with former President Obama. When asked who would be her "dream collaborator," the actress answered simply, "Right now, Obama." She continued, "Both Michelle and Barack. I'd just do anything, really. Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock. I've been thinking about Sandra Bullock a lot."

Until her dreams of an Obama-Sandra Bullock-Tom Hanks production come to be (we're waiting to see that), Park is focusing on her role as Mindy in Emily in Paris and how being Korean-American is opening doors for other Asian actresses.

Ashley Park is a proud Korean-American

While working on Mean Girls, Ashley Park was simultaneously practicing for a role on KPOP, a show about the music genre. Her dad convinced her to do both. "He said, 'If there's going to be a show about Koreans that comes to New York and you want to be a part of this story, you should just try to find any way to do it,'" she told Billboard in 2018. "For about a month, I was rehearsing for Mean Girls during the day and then doing KPOP at night."

Park leaned into her role in the industry as an Asian-American actress and what that could mean for fans. "I'd spent so long growing up trying to convince myself and everybody else that I was white in an industry that I felt like that's how I would get ahead, as if I just make everyone forget I was Asian... I forget how many people it can impact and what that can mean for their lives, in a way, just by seeing somebody or being moved by a certain performance," the Emily in Paris star told Harper's Bazaar.

She continued, "I think a lot of young people especially and people of color would be like, 'Oh, my God, I can be this kind of person,' and feel empowered and be funny and be vulnerable and be all of these things that we see beautifully painted with Mindy." Similarly, all those things are beautifully painted with Park.