- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
In mid-July, Darren Star’s 10-year-old son, Evan, called to make sure his father had remembered to tune in for the 2021 Emmy nominations. But Star — the Hollywood vet behind such culture-defining hits as Sex and the City, Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place — said he’d be skipping the annual reveal, and he urged his son to steer clear too. “I didn’t want him to be disappointed,” he tells THR.
Not five minutes later, Star’s phone rang again: His Netflix rom-com, Emily in Paris, was nominated for best comedy series. And though champagne wouldn’t start flowing until his cast wrapped later that day, Star says it was “the shot in the arm” his French production needed. “And we all went crazy,” he added, during part of a larger conversation about his — and his show’s — journey.
Emily in Paris centers on a character who’s a bit of an “ugly American” …
Well, she’s a beautiful “ugly American,” since she’s played by Lily Collins.
Yes, of course. You’ve said that you went in wondering if people would get the joke. Were you surprised by how many people seemed not to?
Honestly, I was surprised that people would ever be offended by anything in the show. It’s a lighthearted romantic comedy. I kept thinking, “Nobody can really be that thin-skinned” — we’re poking fun at a cliché, but they’re clichés that everyone has experienced at one time or another, both from the American point of view and the French point of view. That’s what it’s about. If it were about a character who came to France and spoke perfect French and knew her place in a French company and behaved according to all the cultural dictates, there wouldn’t be a show.
I’ve heard you talk about the significance of a show’s second season. As you thought about Emily in Paris‘ season two, what did you want to do that you hadn’t done already?
You discover you have this very rich ensemble and while you don’t want to lose what the show’s about — it’s still Emily’s journey — you do try to find ways to dig into some of these other characters. And it’s such a talented group of actors, and many of them French actors who [U.S. audiences have] never really seen before. And for the second season, they have more opportunity to act in French because there are a lot more scenes in French. You know, when I did the first season, it was for an American network [it later moved to Netflix], and I was a little nervous about how much French an American audience can handle. So if Emily was in a scene — and she was in every scene — the dialogue was in English. Second season, there are going to be some scenes where she’s not present and we’re going to hear the French characters talking to each other in French — and they’re even better in their own language. I also think we’ve all been so accustomed to reading subtitles that I don’t have the [same worry].
You were also shooting during the pandemic. In what ways did it impact what we’ll ultimately see onscreen?
We filmed Younger in New York from November to February, which was far worse than what we had to deal with in France. I’m not saying it was without its complications, but it was much, much easier. Honestly, I don’t think it impacted anything, story-wise. We filmed in the South of France, which was shut down, so we were able to get some really beautiful locations and maybe even film in places we ordinarily might not be able to get to because they might’ve been impossibly crowded. And we were outdoors a lot too, which is great, though it was maybe the most unseasonably cold spring and summer in the history of France — we were there dodging the rain every day for three months. I think our crew gift is raincoats.
You’ve been making hit TV shows for three decades. How has the job, with regard to how you tell a story and capture the zeitgeist, changed in that time?
I’ve always told stories in fairly serialized ways, starting with 90210 and Melrose Place. With Sex and the City, I wanted to do a serialized comedy, and it had a serialized element from the beginning. In a sense, I’ve been making shows for streaming services from the beginning of my career, so it’s not a big change in that respect. And really, all sitcoms eventually become soaps. The audience cares about the characters and they want to know what’s happening with them. And once you get invested in the reality of characters, you have to start telling their continuing story over years. So that’s what I’ve been doing, and the difference now is that, in some cases, you have the ability to see a whole season at once.
What about the role of a showrunner? We’re in an era now where the showrunner can be as well-known as the talent, and increasingly is expected, or at least encouraged, to build an empire of shows. How have you adjusted?
I only know how to do it the way I do it. And to me, being a showrunner means being a hundred percent invested in developing the stories for your show. I don’t know how anybody can run multiple shows. I think they can be the executives of other people’s creativity. But I feel like I’m best and most successful when I’m writing and running a show. And I only want to be able to do as much as I know I can do well.
Do you feel pressure to keep adding shows? We’re in a market now where everyone wants sequels and franchises.
I mean, I can’t do the next chapter of Sex and the City because I’m doing new shows. And it’s amazing that those stories will continue to be told — I love all the talented people who are working on it and, for the audience, I think that’s fantastic — but I know what my bandwidth allows me to do, and it allows me to do what I’m doing now.
Does it bum you out that you can’t be a part of something that’s so tied to you and your name?
It doesn’t. I’m happy that those who want to do it are doing it, but if it were up to me, I wouldn’t do it because it’s not what’s moving me right now. What’s moving me are the new things — I’m always about, like, what’s next?
It also means you don’t have to field too many questions about Kim Cattrall’s involvement or lack of involvement …
Yes. Thank goodness I’m not the person who has to answer those questions. (Laughs.)
For a while, you were talking about a Younger spinoff.
Yes, though had we gone forward with it, it would have been a very separate and distinct show. It wasn’t a continuation of Younger.
And I assume your star, Hilary Duff, being cast in the How I Met Your Father spinoff means we have no hope of getting that?
Not today. But as you know, some shows never end. Who knows what the future is? I’m always looking for a chance to work with Hilary Duff.
In the meantime, you’ve sold another show, Uncoupled, which, unlike many of your shows, is not told from the female perspective. How did it come to be?
Actually, it was a show that I’d thought about telling from a female point of view. And then I got together with Jeffrey Richman from Modern Family and we thought, “Let’s reinvent it.” So we’re telling the same general story, because it’s a universal one about someone whose relationship ends abruptly after 15 or 16 years and he has to put the pieces of his life back together and start dating again after thinking his life was all figured out. But instead of it being about a straight couple, it’s about a gay couple, and it’s told with a lot of heart and humor. We wrote it together this past year and it felt like something that was relevant to both of us. We were really grateful that Netflix stepped up, and now we’re making the series in October in New York.
Well, that largely answers my final question, which was how has the pandemic impacted you creatively?
Yeah, I’ve never worked harder. And for me, the distraction of work has been helpful. But it came after a March-to-August hiatus. And during that time, I didn’t do the millions of things one would think they’d do when they’re not working. I certainly wasn’t reading every great Russian novel that I’d always wanted to get to.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
And the Odds Are…
For proof that 2021 is truly a bizarre year in TV comedy, look no further than the inclusion of Emily in Paris. Deemed a guilty pleasure at the time of its premiere, the Netflix series earned surprise Golden Globe nominations and became a major talking point in the discreditation of the Hollywood Foreign Press. Its inclusion in the Emmy race may not completely silence its haters, but creator Darren Star has got to be feeling vindicated that its entry into the awards conversation was not a fluke. — Mikey O’Connell
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day