Ashley Park is making waves for her performance as Mindy in Netflix’s new show Emily in Paris. The 29-year-old made her Broadway debut in 2014 in Mamma Mia! and later went on to star in The King and I, Sunday In the Park With George and of course, Mean Girls, in which she played Gretchen Wieners.
Despite nabbing amazing roles over the years, Park revealed her teenage years were really tough. So much so, she was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia during her sophomore year of high school when she was just 15 years old.
"At that time as a teenager, I thought, 'I’m invincible!' Boys were starting to like me, and I was doing all the things, and my life was great," she previously told Playbill. "I was starting to think about college and then … just nothing."
Her life, she said, was completely put on hold. "To the point where you don’t have hair on your body. Everything is taken away, and that is the most human thing that you can ever go through," she shared. "What we do on stage … we’re successful when we tell the truth of a human, and that’s why people, when they watch any show — when they laugh or they cry, it’s because they’re completely relating to the story that’s being told on stage … I remember people, right after I was done being sick, said, ‘You should go to therapy,’ but my therapy is theatre.
"I’ve been reflecting more about it recently, and I realize the whole putting on a wig and putting on shoes and costume and being a different person was the best escape from being just the girl who had cancer,” she admitted. "Three months after I left the hospital room in a wheelchair, I was Millie in some high school production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, and that was the best therapy I could ask for. I didn’t want anyone to come to the show and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s so amazing because she just survived cancer.’ I want them to be like, 'She’s so amazing because she’s dancing and singing and acting.'"
The Netflix star was a "Make-a-Wish Kid," which ultimately led her to Broadway. The foundation — which lets a child suffering from a life-threatening medical condition pick anything they want to do — sent Park and her family to New York City, where they watched The Lion King, Wicked, Spring Awakening and A Chorus Line. "Being a lead in a Broadway show years later, that is a cool, surreal thing," she gushed.
At the end of the day, being diagnosed with cancer changed her life, and as a result, she doesn't take anything for granted. "For me, there was never an option that I wasn’t going to get better — ever — so it was just about, 'What can I do right now?' It’s the most profound form of living in the present in order to keep going," she said.
These days, fans can't get enough of Park on the small screen, and she certainly cherished her time filming the series in Europe. "It was the best time of my life because I’ve had to work on a Broadway schedule, eight shows at week. I’m very grateful to have worked from show to show," she told Vulture. "But I’ve had very little time to ever travel or study abroad. Sometimes with Emily in Paris I would have a week off at a time, so I traveled alone for the first time ever. I went to Milan, Geneva, Budapest, Greece, London. It is insane now thinking about everything I did at this time last year, because I obviously can’t right now."