Sex And The City creator's new romcom set in Paris

CANNES (France) • He has a string of hits from Sex And The City (1998 to 2004) to Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990 to 2000) under his belt, but legendary showrunner Darren Star wanted the ground to open underneath him on the first day of shooting his new television show.

Emily In Paris is a fish-out-ofwater romantic comedy about an American marketing executive living the dream in the French capital.

Except that Emily - played by Lily Collins, the actress daughter of pop star Phil Collins - is in over her head and does not know a word of the language.

"The first scene we actually shot was with her Chinese friend, who is telling her how mean the French are," said Star, one of the most successful TV producers ever.

"I thought, 'Oh no, we are filming this in Paris with all these nice French people in the crew'. But actually, I think they got a kick out of it," he added with a laugh.

The frisson of cultural tension runs almost as strongly through the show - which is due to air next year - as the romance, with Star admitting he "has great fun with cultural misunderstandings, but also the exchanges".

"We play on it a bit," Star said. "But the French bash us too and the French characters just kill her. We try to see their side too."

After all, he said, "she is an American who comes in tone-deaf to the culture".

Television producer Darren Star, known for Sex And The City and Beverly Hills, 90210, with the Canneseries Award at international entertainment market Mipcom in Cannes, France last week. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

French bashing may have become a social media blood sport in the United States, but Star is a fan of both France and its people.

While US President Donald Trump has complained on Twitter that "Paris is no longer Paris" and rarely misses a chance to put France down, Star begs to differ.

"It is a good time to leave the United States for a while," he observed wryly of his four months shooting the first series in the French capital. "And the longer I am here, the more I like it."

Star said Mr Trump has a "love-hate relationship with Paris. And a lot of Americans have that attitude for sure".

But underneath all that, he added, "people have a real affinity with France and a real love affair with Paris in particular. And there has never been a TV series that taps into that".

A little like Sex In The City did with New York, the show gives the viewer the opportunity to go on a vicarious journey with Emily, Star said.

"We are living through her and it is definitely romantic and glamorous," he said.

Collins' character works in the luxury goods trade, which brings her into contact with the worlds of fashion, wine and haute cuisine.

"But she also has struggles. She is from Chicago and she wasn't the person who was meant to go to Paris for her job. And really, (her new Parisian colleagues) are not happy to see her.

"She is also a strong-willed Midwestern girl who comes in with a lot of ideas. She is bubbly and nice, and they do not like that either," Star said amid meetings at Mipcom, the world's biggest entertainment market, in the French Riviera resort of Cannes.

"So she gets stepped on a lot at the beginning, but she kind of catches on," he said.

Star believes the series could "run and run" and was lavish in his praise of Collins, 30, who won rave reviews for her performance as Fantine in the BBC adaptation of Les Miserables earlier this year.

"Lily is such a star," he declared. "It is dangerous to do a show with her if you only want to do one season. People are going to like her."

The writer and producer said Collins has a "real gift for romantic comedy and she brings so much of herself to it".

French actress Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu from the hit series Call My Agent! (2015 to present) stars opposite Collins, with the French cast translating their lines from English.

Star said that series was shot "like a movie" and "very much in the vein of the wonderful romantic comedies" no longer made in Hollywood.

Even after nearly four months in Paris, the beauty of the place still takes him by surprise.

"I have the opposite of Paris Syndrome," he said, referring to a condition sometimes suffered by Japanese tourists who are shocked that the city is different from their expectations.

"I think the show meets all your fantasies of Paris. And we don't have to work hard to find it."

He said Emily may live in a tiny attic apartment, but "all she has to do is to stick her head out the window to see beauty".

Star's only worry is that his main locations in the Latin Quarter are so pretty that "people will think it is not real, it looks so like a backlot. But it is".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2019, with the headline 'Sex And The City creator's new romcom set in Paris'. Print Edition | Subscribe