Samuel (back) in Paris

PHOTOS / STYLING: Jasmine Perrier
TALENT: Samuel Arnold
LOCATION: Shangri-La Paris
WORDS: Vicente
PRODUCTION: Studio J•T•P
SPECIAL THANKS: Polaroid

Landing a role in one of the most anticipated and extensively discussed Netflix series can sure lead to a breakthrough start in the industry. Love it or hate it, Emily in Paris is still trending more than a month after its original release on October 2nd. We caught up with one of the finest members of the international cast, Samuel Arnold, that we first met for our photoshoot in the Signature Suite of the jaw-dropping Shangri-La Paris. Born and raised in Montereau, the French actor caused quite a stir as Julien, the sassy and flamboyant co-worker of the eponymous lead character portrayed by Lily Collins. Throughout our Franglish conversation, Samuel gets candid about his experience on the show and the criticism it has received, while reminiscing over his acting debuts on stage in London and his background as a dancer.

We reconnected on Zoom about a month later. However, Samuel made it feel like it has only been a day. The last time we saw him stayed etched in our memories. The 120-square-meter hotel room provided with a bird’s eye view of Paris and its very own Eiffel Tower might have something to do with it. “I can’t say that I’ve been doing photoshoots in places like this before,” he admits. The atmosphere was quite different though as our interview took place right after the French government announced the second lockdown. Despite the restrictions, Samuel Arnold remains a busy man and has no plan to slow down anytime soon. “Being in lockdown doesn’t change much. I’ve been working and doing a lot of auditions from my house,” he shares. Even though he is currently confined in France, Samuel really feels at home across the Channel. After studying acting and filmmaking in Paris, he quickly got scouted by an acting coach who advised him to consider moving to London in order to pursue a two-year training at his drama school. “That’s how I moved away. I wanted an international vision for myself,” he tells. However, he realized the extent to which he needed to improve his English skills in the first place. “I couldn’t understand anything they were saying. I was not familiar with the British accent, that was a struggle.” Motivated by his passion for acting, he eventually overcame the language barrier. “You learn pretty fast when you don’t only speak, but also act in English.”

While living in London, Samuel worked on multiple local theater stages and gained significant acting experience. His latest stage production even granted him access to the prestigious National Theatre as he was part of the critically acclaimed play Antony & Cleopatra, opposite acting powerhouses and Tony Award winners Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo. “These people are monsters on stage, it’s crazy,” he starts. “They have such a big energy. I’ve learned a lot over there.” Following the success of the play which lasted over six months, Samuel was called back to Paris in order to audition for what was set to become his breakthrough role. “It’s funny how I got back to Paris. I was kind of running away from [it] since I love London so much,” he says about his return. “It was also very comfortable to do my first big series here in Paris. It was good to start something at home.”


Created by Darren Star (Sex & the City, Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Younger), Emily in Paris follows the journey of Emily Cooper, a young American from Chicago who confronts a clash of cultures after moving to Paris to pursue an unexpected job opportunity at a luxurious French marketing firm. As she is tasked with bringing a (not-so-wanted) American perspective, Emily quickly crosses Julien’s path — her shady, sassy, and fashion-forward co-worker brilliantly portrayed by Samuel. When asked about similarities with his character, Samuel answers, “I think we are quite alike. He is just an upgraded version of me. He’s way more free, cool, and bold than I am. Maybe because I’m in real life and I’m a real person. Also, I mind what people think. I do not want to hurt feelings. [Julien] is not like that. He doesn’t care at all. That would be the difference between him and I.” Embodying Julien with his diva-like attitude felt highly “enjoyable,” he adds. “It allowed me to discover those sides of me that I have, but I never showed. It allowed me to enjoy my persona in another way that I usually do. You don’t act like Julien on a daily basis.” Starring in a series created by Darren Star is likely a job that comes with a fancy on-screen closet, and Julien didn’t fail to prove it with his strong and colorful wardrobe game. Although some of Julien and Samuel’s personality traits set them apart, both of them can be fashionably daring. “I truly believe that it is not about how beautiful or expensive they are. If you feel good and great, you should wear it… even if you are the brightest person in the room and everybody stares at you.”

 

Emily in Paris has nevertheless been fraught with controversy shortly after its release. Critics and viewers — particularly the French — were quite a few to point out a certain perpetuation of stereotypes, while dismissing the unrealistic version of Paris depicted on-screen — French characters being continuously late for work, overly flirtatious and pretty grumpy in general, in addition to an exceedingly glamorous vision of Paris. Such criticism has resulted in several online mockery campaigns — some of which showing Emily cheerily stuck in the overcrowded Parisian subway or depicted as SpongeBob wearing a beret and holding a baguette. “We [the cast] were exchanging memes,” Samuel responds when questioned about it. Yet without ignoring or neglecting the flood of criticism, he insists that the series focuses on one specific side of Paris. “I understand the criticism,” he begins. “Obviously, we don’t all have access to that — that is a fact. But it’s still real! This is still Paris. It might just be 2% of it, but this Paris is also real. Some people live this way. I don’t think that Julien or any other French character represent the French population. We should see them as characters, not as French [people].”  Notwithstanding, Emily in Paris keeps trending on Netflix quite as much as it does on social media. It is thus not surprising that the series has officially been renewed for a second season — the whole cast was waiting for the good news to come, as Samuel told us in confidence on set that they were more than willing to carry on with the show if they were given the green light. Talking about the multicultural group, Samuel asserts that their on-screen chemistry is nothing but a true reflection of the reality. “The connections and friendships that I got to create with the cast and crew is something strong that you can not value.”

Prior to breaking into acting, Samuel — who also appeared in the popular French sitcom Platane — started off as a dancer. “I don’t even remember when and where I learnt how to dance. I started with hip hop,” he says. After joining a dance crew and performing on multiple occasions all around Paris, while teaching on his own out of his sister’s dance studio, Samuel and his fellows raised the bar even higher when they auditioned for the fourth season of La France a un incroyable talent — the French version of America’s Got Talent — which led them to the finals. They went under the name of “Secret of Moonwalk” as their impressively choreographed performances were mostly based on Michael Jackson’s discography. Even if his experience as a dancer played a huge part in his life, Samuel never thought of it as a work or a job. “I have always seen dancing as something as natural as talking, walking, and breathing. If I had to choose what I wanted to do for a living, telling stories was my favorite thing to do.”

Driven by this mindset, he explains how he is willing to develop narratives on his own once he will “reach a certain stability” in his career. “I will be able to tell my own stories, direct, and produce my stuff.” This goal first came to mind when he completed his acting training. “First thing I did when I graduated from drama school was to direct, produce, and star in my own web-series. I wanted to do something international so I involved Italian, British, and French people in it. I saw things big.” He may have put the project aside, but this only highlights Samuel’s interest in extending his skills beyond acting and becoming an accomplished border-free artist. “To be an international actor was the goal since the beginning. I’m open to working anywhere in the world,”  he assures. Whereas it might be too soon for Samuel to reveal any of his future projects, he desires to actively work on “building bridges with the US,” as he states, “Hopefully I’ll be working on some stuff over there. That’s the plan.” Getting to know Samuel led us to talk about his dream collaborations — a question artists are often asked. However, his answer sounded quite surprising, but yet much relevant. “I haven’t met them (yet). I’ve seen movies and performances that I like, but I think that a dream collaboration is all about meeting someone that speaks the same language as you do. So even if it’s a no-name person, if this person speaks the same language as I do and we both want to tell a story, that would be a dream collaboration.”

EMILY IN PARIS IS NOW STREAMING ON NETFLIX

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