Mel Ottenberg and Jeremy O. Harris in Paris: An Honest Conversation About the World’s Most Polarizing TV Show
Emily in Paris is the world’s favorite thing to hate. The Netflix series, created by Darren Starr (Younger, Sex and the City) and starring Lily Collins as an American social media influencer transplanted to the City of Love, has been described as “embarrassing,” “vain, obnoxious,” and “an excruciating exorcism of French clichés.” Its fashion, designed by the SATC costume designer Patricia Field, is equally polarizing, sparing no amount of berets, Off-White puffers, and a bourguignon of color and pattern.
But here at Interview, we’re never one to be swayed by the masses. Au contraire, argue our Creative Director Mel Ottenberg and the playwright Jeremy O. Harris, Emily in Paris is iconic in its earnestness, transporting us to a world where people still wear berets, smoke cigarettes, and fuck strangers they meet at cafes (sans mask). On the evening Harris made Broadway history, earning a record-setting 12 Tony nominations for Slave Play, Ottenberg called him up to discuss the real 2020 emergency on everyone’s minds.
MEL OTTENBERG: Hi, Jeremy! So, the Tony Nominations were today, and you got 12 nominations for Slave Play. What a day for you. I’m not shocked, but I’m sure this is actually so shocking for you because no new play has even gotten this many nominations. How many did you think you were going to get? What did you think?
JEREMY O. HARRIS: I thought maybe four.
OTTENBERG: Can you please name these nominations for our readership please?
HARRIS: I think that if they hadn’t nominated us for Best Actress and Best Play, they would have been actively racist. There’s no getting around that.
OTTENBERG: That’s two.
HARRIS: That’s two. The fact that we got five of our eight actors nominated is insane in a good way because they deserve it. Every designer was nominated, including our sound designer who is nominated twice because of the way he composed the score. The Rihanna song, he really chopped and screwed it, and they were like, “We hear it”! The play was heard. We were heard and affirmed.
OTTENBERG: What are you doing to celebrate? Are you raging tonight, or are you mellow?
HARRIS: I got 45,000 bottles of champagne sent to me from various corners of the world, including one from Vogue. I’m waiting for my Interview Magazine bottle. Are you guys sending the ketamine?
OTTENBERG: We’ll see. I’ll ask my people where the champagne and the ketamine are, and I’ll get back to you. So listen, we have an emergency to talk about, and that emergency is Emily in Paris. I kept seeing all this babble about this show on Insta, like “This sucks; it’s so bad.” Or, “God, Lily Collins is wearing a tabi shoe” or “wtf is this HBA look.” Then you said to me, “Oh no, no, no, we’re living.” So I stayed up until two in the morning last night and I watched the whole fucking thing. We need to talk about it. Jeremy, you are in Paris?
OTTENBERG: Basically you are, in some ways, serving Emily right now.
OTTENBERG: I said basically, in some ways, you’re giving me Emily, babe. It’s all happening for you, and you’re in major looks while it’s all happening. You’re giving an American in Paris, and you’ve got all the answers.
HARRIS: I want to feel like I’m Emily in Paris. Mainly because I left my boyfriend right as I was going to Paris. The difference is… My boyfriend was like, “I’m not traveling to Paris”. He was in Italy. The difference is we didn’t break up. I just was like, “I guess I’ll come to Italy”. I was walking around in Chanel at the Chanel show. Well, I was wearing Gucci at the Chanel show. After the show, I got vintage Chanel and I felt like Emily in Paris.
OTTENBERG: Glamour. Okay. First of all, I think the people that hate this show are hating the wrong thing because Emily in Paris is so entertaining. The real world of 2020 is so horrible. I mean, there might not even be a world soon. There might not be a Chicago for Emily to go come home to, honey, in like two months. You know what I’m saying?
HARRIS: My biggest thing is that Darren Star has always been that bitch, will continue to be that bitch, and collect these hoes like THAT bitch. It’s like a present bitchiness with him. People forget because Ryan Murphy sort of took the spot in our imagination that Darren Star had for so long. Darren Star will always be that bitch.
The thing about Emily in Paris is that it’s not good. It’s not bad. It’s Emily in Paris. You have to just accept that, the same way Sex and the City wasn’t good or bad, it was Sex and the City. We accept the transphobia, we accept the gay men in white women’s bodies. We understand all of that because it’s Sex and the City. I don’t know why people aren’t giving the same leeway to Emily in Paris, even though they secretly are because they’re watching it like a guilty pleasure. I think if most of us had been the age that we are now when Sex and the City had come out, we would have said Sex and the City sucks. But we watched it as teenagers and died.
OTTENBERG: Well, for the record, I’m much older than you. So I was very much a young manchild making my way in The Big Apple throughout Sex and the City. And fuck reality. It was like, “Thank God they’re always at fucking brunch”. Yeah, I get it, she’s a lawyer, she’s busy, who has time for all that brunch and champagne. But so what? This is a fucking TV show. I want glamour, I want Mugler vintage, I want the J’Adore Dior and the furs and the shoes—I want it ALL. And we got it. That’s what’s great about Patricia Field. Her work is over the top and like it or not, it’s iconic and genuine. I could sit around and destroy most of Emily’s outfits with you, or I can just totally love it. And you know what? Fuck that. I’m gonna love it. But I really hate that red hat. I don’t like a beret, but you told me that people are really wearing berets in Paris right now.
HARRIS: The girls on the streets are wearing berets and I vibe to it. I just love someone being like, “I am in Paris,” which is what Emily’s doing with her vintage camera iPhone case. She’s like, “I am in Paris. I am that girl.” The thing that is a complicating factor for people watching this is that even if you didn’t like parts of Sex and the City, you still felt like Carrie was cool. And so you aspire to be Carrie. No one aspires to be a lame blogger, Instagram influencer, unless they’re, like, whack. None of our friends want to be that girl. The thing that’s sad, is that we do have to go to dinner with that girl. And we do know that girl does do those bad hashtags.
OTTENBERG: I hear that. You can say that a million things in this show are tropes, but Paris really is the best. Watching these scenes happen in all these places I go when I’m around Paris is sort of insane right now considering I’m trapped in America. I desperately wanted to go to Paris while watching this ridiculous show. Sitting at home in 2020 hell, I really appreciate how Emily’s a real go-getter. I’m really shocked saying that I kind of like Emily. I mean, everything’s garbage compared to, like, pre-9/11 anything. Emily can’t be as cool as Carrie. Like, she can’t smoke cigarettes. She can’t even Juul. She did get fucked, once, which I appreciated.
HARRIS: All the times she got fucked, it looked bad. It looked like she was having bad sex.
OTTENBERG: Oh, you’re right. She gets fucked twice. She got fucked by the kid, then she got fucked by that philosophy guy from Cafe Flore that was wearing that gray wool femme-y jacket with a tight black v-neck sweater.
HARRIS: I want to out someone who thinks the philosopher is cute, and I hope he doesn’t get mad at me. I thought the philosopher was gross, but Daniel Roseberry said he was cute.
OTTENBERG: So one time I was at Le Depot in like 2006 and I fell in love with a philosophy professor in the basement. He was so so so hot and we made out all night in the hallways, in a cabine, etc. And I went home with this philosophy professor and he lived in the 18th, like at the top of Sacre de Coeur in this great apartment with a mattress, condoms, desk, and philosophy books. And an incredible view. Montparnasse maybe? He was really the hottest guy ever—intellectual, swarthy, well-hung and extremely damaged. TROP CHAUD! INCROYABLE!!!
HARRIS: I just have to say one thing. That was genius. Everyone needs to know that your accent was amazing. Second of all, a storyline from an HBO show should have been in Emily in Paris, which is that she should have been freaked out that all the men have uncut dicks because she’s the type of girl who’s never seen one. She should have been uncomfortable with the uncut dick.
OTTENBERG: I really think she could have covered up that hickey at breakfast a lot better, considering all the scarves she was working at the time. I guess we should talk about the clothes.
HARRIS: Can we talk about the HBA?
OTTENBERG: She wore the HBA jacket twice. She wore it once with a floral garden party Connecticut girl dress. But I think she wore it another time too. Was she wearing it in the car ride?
HARRIS: Yes, she wears it on the car ride.
OTTENBERG: Gabriel’s so hot.
HARRIS: He’s really hot. They really knew what they were doing.
OTTENBERG: Like, sitting on his lap when you’re in the car with the Camille Rowe-inspired friend on the show, who I think is also named Camille, it’s a vibe. Gabriel’s really hot.
HARRIS: When you were watching that scene, did you feel his dick when she sat on his lap? Because I did.
OTTENBERG: I did feel his dick and I liked it. Anyways, she’s major, that Pat Field, like, she really is major, because here we are still talking about that HBA moment.
HARRIS: The logic of Emily’s clothes makes less sense than the logic of Sex and the City clothes. Because the logic of Sex in the City clothes is literally that Carrie Bradshaw is a coke addict. Right? The way they tell us that is by her clothing; she’s excessive, she has credit card debt, she’s doing all this. I think Emily is too sensible to have credit card debt. Her parents aren’t rich; she says that twice. How does she afford her outfits then?
OTTENBERG: Well, how does she have a black tweed Chanel bag and a green tweed one? I didn’t look up any of the fashion credits before this emergency phone call. I really didn’t like that green tweed jacket. I hate her hats. I guess sort of maybe the Carrie hat, the Dior one, is a thing, but no, I can’t. I hope that next season, and I really hope they have a next season because of COVID, that she gets messy sexy French Vogue girl hair. ‘Cause that would just look much better on her. An upgrade. You fuck some French dudes, you get that French Vogue hair, etc.
HARRIS: I also must say one thing that I did think was major: her owning that weird little Marc Jacobs-esque babble on her purse in front of the couture designer, the one who said that she was basic. Like, I actually loved what she articulates. That was a monologue worthy of Devil Wears Prada.
OTTENBERG: Yeah. And also, I believe her in that monologue. She’s right. These basic bitches, they rule the world, honey. I mean, like, Addison Rae, the new reigning queen of the bikini. She’s not ruling 2020 because of her “get out the vote campaign.” It’s actually kinda the opposite.
HARRIS: Telfar always understood that the money was just in the thing that the normal woman could get. He made the normal woman the cool kid, which is why it’s fucked up that there’s no Telfar credits on the show.
OTTENBERG: Yeah. I was just thinking she needs that boot that Solange is wearing on the cover of Bazaar. She needs that. The one other thing I want to say is that boss lady Sylvie looks great, but she’s not even like a smidge as mean as a real French evil diva is. The real French evil lady is so much more evil and I’m here for it. That’s not a read, it’s a fact. I really love the French people and I miss them. Fuck. Have we made our burning points? Is there a point? We really don’t need to talk about the fashion show. I’d rather not speak of it.
HARRIS: I would say the most burning point is that the biggest mistake of Emily in Paris is that they did not give Ashley Parker a bigger role. What makes Sex and the City work is that the city was really her three friends. The fact that they made Emily in Paris such a lonely human in Paris, that she didn’t just find three other random American girls or three other random English speakers that could be like a clique for her is a real misstep of the show. And there needs to be a faggot, like a real faggot.
OTTENBERG: Yeah, I agree. Oh, you know what? I also realized they ripped off the Ugly Betty workplace dynamic. You’ve got the vixen evil boss and then they turned the frantic queen into the Black gay and then they turned the evil blonde girl into the straight frizzy-haired white. Am I right?
HARRIS: Yes. 100 percent. Also, the fact that there’s no threesome—that’s a spoiler, but there’s no threesome. And that’s a mess.
OTTENBERG: There’s no threesome.
HARRIS: Literally, it’s a ménage à trois; it’s already a French word. So she should have to engage with that.
OTTENBERG: I really wish we could be in Paris right now. I want to smoke your cigarettes and go out to dinner.
HARRIS: I know. That’s one thing I love about Paris. It is a smoking supremacist society.
OTTENBERG: It is a smoking supremacist society. Does everyone look good right now? Or does everyone look terrible? Everyone in New York looks pretty good.
HARRIS: Everyone looks sickening in Paris. Everyone looks so fucking good. Okay, one last thing: Amy Coney Barrett. Her style. What?
OTTENBERG: Amy Coney Barrett is a monster. She hates us and I’m cool with hating her right back. Her style is exactly what she wants it to be, up there in the hot seat serving SNL church lady drag. She’s really giving you that conservo drag down. She’s giving you that handmaid drag, honey. She’s a goddamn handmaid. Originalism is a sin! One last thing, what are you wearing right now?
HARRIS: Right now, I’m actually wearing a Daniel Roseberry, a suit that he designed for himself.
OTTENBERG: Okay, work it Daniel Roseberry, and you better work too, Jeremy. Congratulations on your 12 Tony noms. It’s going to be great.
HARRIS: It’s insane. I love it. I love you. I miss you. Let’s have another fashion emergency moment soon.
OTTENBERG: Okay. Another one will arise. Love you.