Darren Star Wanted to Act
Eliot and I watched “Emily in Paris,” not so much for the story line, but rather for all of the Parisian sites. It was wonderful to spot the streets and landmarks we know so well. The following story appeared the other day in the WSJ about its creator, Darren Star, and I thought you would enjoy it. If you watch the series take notice of the camera cover Emily uses on her smartphone. I loved it so much that I ordered it on Amazon. I should be getting it this week.
Before He Created ‘90210’ and ‘Emily in Paris,’ Darren Star Wanted to Act
Despite his love for theater, the writer, producer and director realized in college that acting wasn’t his strength
Darren Star, 59, is a TV writer, producer and director best known for creating “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “Melrose Place,” “Sex and the City” and “Younger.” His latest comedy series is “Emily in Paris” (Netflix). He spoke with Marc Myers.
Even as a little kid, I was a film geek. My grandfather, Lou, and I often sat in front of the TV together watching old movies. I loved screwball comedies, like “What’s Up, Doc?” They had lots of dialogue and fast-talking actors.
My family first lived in Bethesda, Md., but when I was 13 we moved to Potomac. My parents were young when they bravely built a one-story contemporary with lots of glass.
Potomac was a bucolic suburb of Washington, D.C., in the early ’70s. There was a horse trail in our backyard, so I’d often go on long hikes. Summers were spent at the Delaware shore. My family had a place there at Bethany Beach.
My mother, Debra, was supportive. When I was in junior high school, she went back to college and got her journalism degree. She remains a creative force.
My father, Milton, was an or-thodontist and an avid tennis player. I was never able to match him on the court.
My younger sister, Bonnie, and I are a year apart in age. Growing up, she was smart and headstrong. She was the model for Brenda Walsh in “90210.” My brother, Marc, is 8½ years younger than me.
Everyone in my family was a big reader and liked to tell stories, so writing at an early age wasn’t a stretch for me. By third grade, I was writing plays and staging them at home with my cousins and sister.
At 12, I heard about an audition for Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!” at George Washington University. I asked my parents if I could go, and they took me. They probably regretted it. I got the role and they had to drive me to Georgetown three days a week to rehearse.
Sensing my passion for film and directing, my father bought me a Super-8 camera. I enlisted my friends as actors and made short films. I edited them on a little set-up with tape and a splicer. Editing made me realize that moving scenes around let me tell a film’s story differently.
In high school, I loved theater and performed in plays. I also audited a screenwriting course at American University. But acting wasn’t my strong suit. After I applied to USC as a cinema major, I was accepted only in their theater department. There, I saw kids who were talented actors and realized quickly that I wasn’t in their league.
Because I didn’t get into the film department, I transferred to UCLA. But I was rejected by their film department, too, so I majored in English and creative writing. That turned out to be a great move. I read all the classics and had an amazing instructor—Irish novelist Brian Moore. He urged me to become a TV and film screenwriter.
At UCLA, I managed to talk my way into every undergrad film class and benefitted from terrific teachers, including Lew Hunter. The first film I worked on as a production assistant there was “The Dorm That Dripped Blood.” I recommended my roommate, Daphne Zuniga, for a role. Later, she was cast in “Melrose Place.”
After I graduated, I took a job as a waiter at Hamburger Hamlet in Brentwood. The money was good, and I had free time to write. But I began to notice that some waiters had been there for 10 years waiting for a break. That scared me.
I decided to find a job closer to the movie business. I found an opening at a publicity firm—Guttman & Pam—working for Susan Geller, a PR dynamo. She gave one of my screenplays to friends of hers who had a deal at Warner Bros.
Then an executive I had written a screenplay for at TriStar became head of drama at Fox. He asked me to write a TV pilot about a high school in Beverly Hills. Aaron Spelling produced “90210,” which took off in its second season. The show’s Walsh family was a bit of a stand-in for my own.
Today, I have homes in Los Angeles, New York and the Hamptons. I spend as much time in the Hamp-tons as possible, all year round. The two-story shingled carriage house was built by Francis Fleetwood and is open and light. It’s my happy place.
My parents moved out to California, and I see them often. My mother calls with books for me to read and TV series to check out. My dad still keeps me in line on the tennis court.
What’s “Emily in Paris” about? A hip, upbeat 20-something relocates to Paris to work at a marketing firm acquired by her Chicago company.
Why is she there? To advise on American-style social-media marketing.
Inspiration? At 19, I backpacked in Europe and fell in love with Paris. I visited often over the years, eventually renting an apartment for a few months.
Lightbulb moment? I wanted to do a show about an American in Paris—to live out my dream of living and working there.