By Marjorie Korn
Above: Lucien wears Versace. @versace
We met at The Plaza, but The Plaza was having none of it. Lucien Laviscount had just arrived at the iconic hotel across from New York’s Central Park, coming from a sit-down on Good Morning America to herald in season three of his hit Netflix show Emily in Paris. Though less than half of the Palm Court restaurant was occupied, the hostess politely but firmly informed us that one must be a guest of The Plaza to have breakfast at The Plaza. Let them eat cake! So we traipsed through the rain one avenue east and three blocks north to the comparatively proletariat Viand Coffee Shop, trading in the hotel’s oversized, bauble-laden Christmas tree and jazzy holiday music for drugstore decorations and the steady thwack of a fork beating eggs in a metal bowl, the crashing stacks of white diner plates hot from the dishwasher and a chorus of “more coffee” — either an offer or a request.
Laviscount told me afterwards he liked the location change, but I suspect he was primed to be in a good mood because in 24 hours he was returning to Antigua, where he moved in 2020. The last few days in Manhattan were filled with premieres, after parties, fashion shoots and television appearances. In each encounter he enthusiastically recounted how his character, Alfie, a season two “banker wanker” (what the Brits call banker bros) who hates his job and lives for the weekend, blossoms into a fully formed, thinking and feeling person in the presence of Emily.
If you’ve never watched the show, just ask the rom-com lover in your life what they think and you’ll get an earful. And there are plenty of Emily fans. Its freshman and sophomore seasons were both top 10 globally, meaning pretty much anyone who’s in the target demo for the story of the 20-something monoglot marketing pro from Chicago dispatched to France has seen it. The will-they-won’t-they romance of season one between Emily and a chef turned into a season two love triangle with the introduction of Alfie. It’s 40 minutes of over-the-top outfits, Champagne-drenched meals and location shoots in Le Jardin du Palais Royal and Café de Flore and Versailles.
It’s a pleasure to watch Alfie morph from uptight wanker to finding his own je ne sais quoi. According to the actor, it’s fun to play, too — and the cues come from the costumes. Alfie’s fashion in most of season two tended toward Savile Row with custom suits in predictable hues, but season three will see him flourishing in streetwear and big colors. In real life, Laviscount is all Left Bank. Take, for example, the highlighter pink, uber-saturated double-breasted Valentino suit designed by Pierpaolo Piccioli he wore to the Emily premiere. Days later, Laviscount donned a peachy cream full-length Louis Vuitton monogram coat with Easter egg-colored floral brocade from the venerable Virgil Abloh.
Laviscount shares the light. He does it with his fashion, with his fans (ask him for a selfie and he’ll usually oblige) and his art. His work and presence are both antidotes to the damned times we’re living in.
“We do a show called Emily in Paris,” Laviscount reflects in between bites of a vegetable, ham, and cheese omelet. “We live in the Emily in Paris universe. It’s a fun show. We don’t have murders, there’s no gang shit.” It’s got the pizzaz of one of those technicolor big-budget musicals from the 1950s — just without the singing.
Antigua is Laviscount’s antidote. His father is from there. It’s away from actorly hubs. He spent a few years in LA, but at 30 years old, Laviscount has figured out he’s better off surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. “I think when you are in New York, Los Angeles in particular, it’s easy to get lost in everyone else’s downfalls and success,” he says. “People spend so much time there they lose the most important thing, which is what makes them authentic and that’s what makes them special.”
Stagnation isn’t all of it. Finding facets of your better self in different places is part of it too. “I get to reinvent myself every time I get off a flight,” he says. “I think it’s difficult for people to break habits if they do the same routine every single day. If I’m in the same place too long, I can’t put all the pieces of the jigsaw together.”
One piece of Laviscount’s geographical puzzle is a place he doesn’t go back to often: Burnley. The small town is an hour from Manchester, and the place where Laviscount grew up as the middle child of three boys. “The north of England is like America’s south,” he says. “We’ve got the hospitality, and also what comes with that.” It’s a middle-class area where racism was rampant, and the Laviscounts were one of the few families of color. He tells the story of watching television with his father. “I was like nine years old. My dad turned the telly over and I said, ‘why did you do that, you c–n?’ My dad said, ‘where did you hear that?’” From his mate’s father. It was a term he heard so casually that it didn’t register as derogatory.
“I can tell my story in two different ways,” Laviscount says. “I can make people cry because they feel so sorry for me. Or they say wow, your parents gave you every opportunity. There’s only one way to go when you start from a place like that. You’ve got to spin a negative into a positive. I can handle so much because of that sort of vibe. I wouldn’t be where I am if that wasn’t part of my journey. It’s instrumental to who I am now.”
The Laviscount children were fed a steady diet of self-esteem and motivation — as well as unseasoned chicken, broccoli and rice. That’s because parents Eugene and Sonia were world-class bodybuilders, competing in Mr. and Miss Universe. No salt, either. (It retains water.) If Lucien grew up in a regimented family, it did nothing to temper his outsized personality. At 10 years old, he was chatting up a girl in Manchester — trying to ask her out, in his recollection. His cheeky campaign for a phone number was overheard by a casting director who urged his mother to take him to an audition for a Marks & Spencer commercial. He got the department store gig. Bonus: he’d be doing it with David Beckham.
“I can tell my story in two different ways. I can make people cry because they feel so sorry for me. Or they say wow, your parents gave you every opportunity. I wouldn’t be where I am if that wasn’t part of my journey. It’s instrumental to who I am now.”– Lucien Laviscount
“I had a big afro, confident as anything, fearless, I could take over the world,” he recalls. Beckham suggested his pint-size co-star consider acting. Laviscount’s mother drove him to two acting classes in Manchester, but gas prices were high and money was tight, so they could no longer make the trip. Fortunately it only took two classes. Weeks later, Laviscount landed his first TV show and he’s been on-screen ever since. His acting career is who he is, but it’s not all of who he is.
“I live and breathe it and I love it, but it doesn’t define me,” Laviscount says. “There are so many things that make up Lucien. It’s very important for me to navigate and survive the actor’s life.”
He does that by keeping fit — kickboxing, Muay Thai, recently Brazilian jiu jitsu. He lifts weights and stretches and hits the golf course. Yoga and running aren’t his jam, but he’s trying. “Fitness is all mental for me — everything is to feed the mental,” Laviscount says. He invokes the lessons of the movie Thor. “I always want to be prepared for what the end of the world might look like, or what any other job might look like.”
Laviscount realizes he gives off an all-work-and-no-play vibe. (When he told me that he didn’t care about food that much and would be happy taking a tablet in the morning instead of eating all day, I thought wistfully of all the croissant au beurre and chaussons aux pommes he was missing out on.) But he swears he can put it into neutral.
“My release is definitely keeping my head straight on,” Laviscount says. “I love to dance, I love to have a good time, I love to be around people who know so much more than me. All my friends are really intelligent, and we will just sit there and someone will just drop a poem out of nowhere, someone will just spit a few bars, someone will sing a song, someone’ll start talking about some philosopher they’ve been reading about. And to just be around them kinda people, that’s my release. I guess learning is my best release.”
He seems to be getting some of that on the Emily set, too. He gushes about his co-stars, the writers and the crew. The show’s got a fourth season in the pipeline, but it’s prudent to think ahead. These types of shows don’t go on forever. Gossip Girl went six seasons, but that was a decade ago. Bridgerton is heading into season three sometime next year and going strong, and erudite rom-coms Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin topped out at four and five seasons, respectively.
So there will be a next. When I suggest theater, Laviscount says London’s West End is on the to-do list. But he seems content not to have his vision board fully laid out (or he keeps it close to the vest). “It’s great to have goals and ambitions, and I’m goal-oriented and ambitious and I manifest, but there are so many successful people I meet, I look at them and think, you’ve got it all and you are not happy. Either you didn’t enjoy the journey or you’re still chasing and you don’t enjoy what you’ve got around you.”
Antigua is its own balance. He’s gotten back into scriptwriting. In New York and LA, London and even Paris, you need a five-year plan. Antigua is on island time.
“I love to dance, I love to have a good time, I love to be around people who know so much more than me. I guess learning is my best release.”– Lucien Laviscount
And so Laviscount has turned his attention to giving back to the island he calls home. The day before new Emily episodes are released in the U.S., he holds a premiere in Antigua. Laviscount filmed an Instagram video dropping off a ticket to a fan. He’s relaxed in a black T-shirt, shorts and adidas slides, and the woman is having a controlled, gleeful breakdown. “I’m so happy you’re coming tomorrow,” Laviscount says. “Is it OK if I cry?” she responds, hugging the celebrity who is standing in her front yard and fanning her face as he hands her a ticket. More than the clothes and the locations, this seems to be what Laviscount enjoys about his breakout star status.
It fits into how Laviscount approaches his spirituality. “It’s a blessing to be able to know that when I look up at the stars, I feel like I’m so insignificant,” he says. “If I can make a little bit of a difference, I’ve done my job.”