As co-creator, star, writer and producer of The Mindy Project, Mindy Kaling is extremely busy. The show is an exuberant, laugh-out-loud comedy that is spot-on when it comes to calling out romantic-comedy clichés, to hilarious effect.
Kaling stars as Mindy Lahiri, an OB/GYN whose professional life is hampered by her over-the-top chaotic personal life. She’s an accomplished doctor, but she’s also a problematic drinker who rides a stolen bike into a pool during the show’s pilot episode. She’s a serial dater who is looking for Mr. Right but has no problem with a booty call from Mr. Wrong. She’s quite unlike any character we’ve seen on television before. The morning Fox picked up nine additional episodes of her show, Kaling took some time out of her schedule to talk to reporters about The Mindy Project.
While Kaling and her character share a first name, she swore that the similarities between the two end there. “The character is pretty different than me,” she said. “I have the lifestyle of a nerdy, boring writer. That’s my lifestyle. The character has a great, glamorous job, an at-times even noble job, as an OB/GYN. She loves to party and drink, and she’s way more boy-crazy than I am.” When pressed, Kaling admitted to a few more similarities: “We both have arrested development, and we were both nerds in elementary school, high school and college. But that’s where me and my character differ. If I wrote a character that was actually like me in my life, no one would watch it. It would be incredibly boring.”
Once she starts describing a day in her life, you realize that she may be right. Kaling works incredibly hard on her show. “I wake up between 5:30 and 6 and I walk like a zombie to my shower. I listen to some Justin Timberlake in the car. I check in with the writers when they get in at 10 a.m. When I get to work it’s like a ghost town – it’s like The Walking Dead. When they finally arrive, I’m so excited to see them. I nap at 5 or 6 at night. And I stay until between 10 and midnight with the writers. It sounds like a long work schedule, but because I’m working with what are basically my best friends, it feels like a very grueling vacation.”
Kaling attributes her ability to accomplish everything required of her to two things: a top-notch staff and a “weird green fruit vegetable smoothie” that she drinks every morning. She also seems to subscribe to a work ethic that prevents her from sweating the small stuff. “I’m so busy that I can’t fixate on any one thing, because there are too many things going on at once,” she said. “I constantly have to shift focus, which is good.”
Besides working on The Mindy Project, Kaling has also penned the romantic comedy The Low Self-Esteem of Lizzie Gillespie. Anne Hathaway has been cast as the lead, playing an average woman whose life changes when a really hot guy wants to date her. When asked about the project, Kaling offered, “I’ve been a fan of Anne Hathaway’s for as long as I can remember. She’s in such different kinds of movies. This movie that I wrote, I’ve had her in mind for a while, but she’s not playing, like, a gorgeous heroine. The character is not glamorous – she’s pretty dowdy. I like that she’s into that. I mean, it’s not like North Country or anything, but she’s not being a sexy leading lady in this movie.”
When crafting her own character for The Mindy Project, Kaling aimed for authenticity above all else. “On Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is one of my favorite shows, Larry David often acts in a way that could be characterized as obnoxious. Most people who watch the show say, ‘Oh, Larry’s doing something that I wish I could do, but I can’t.’ My goal with the character is that women – and guys – watching it would see that she’s doing what they wish they could do, but can’t. When a man does it, maybe you call it obnoxious. When a woman does it . . . maybe it’s rarer? I just wanted her to be really realistic and authentic. So many female characters I see on TV are put-upon and kind of boring, and they are so worried about viewers not being able to handle the woman being nuanced or selfish. Every woman I know is occasionally selfish. I’m just trying to make her interesting and nuanced, and if people think she’s obnoxious sometimes, well, people are obnoxious sometimes. They can be obnoxious and still heroic.”
As a comedy writer, when she took on the role of creator and producer, she knew there were certain stereotypes and script pitfalls that she wanted to avoid. “There is a trap that comedy writers fall into of making things too meta,” she said. “I really wanted the show to appeal to a wide audience and not to do anything too specific or niche. I didn’t want something that just a few hipsters in L.A. or New York would kind of understand or like. I just didn’t want the characters to be too stock – not the sassy black woman or the bimbo. You see those sometimes, but they’re not very fresh.”
She also had to bypass some of her favorite subjects in order to make The Mindy Project authentic: “As someone who loves singing and dancing a lot, as evidenced by The Office, I just don’t think there’s going to be too much singing or dancing on the show.” Fans of The Office also shouldn’t hope for a Kelly and Ryan reunion any time soon. While Office denizen Ed Helms did appear in the pilot (and according to Kaling will return in the near future), Kaling has no immediate plans to invite Office co-stars Rainn Wilson or B.J. Novak onto The Mindy Project any time soon.
“The show is still new, and I wanted people to see my character as my character,” she said. “I didn’t want people to think, ‘Oh, it’s Ryan and Kelly again!'” That said, Kaling didn’t rule out the possibility. “I love those guys and I can’t imagine a world where I didn’t ask both of them to be on the show,” she said. Just not any time soon.
There are certain lessons that Kaling’s character could take away from The Office, though. When asked about Dr. Mindy’s love of romantic comedies, she answered, “A good heroine will change and evolve. My character isn’t 19, she’s 31 or 32 . . . A love of romance is a good thing, but she should grow and mature. Like Michael Scott on The Office was very different when he left than he was in the beginning. Part of loving romantic comedies is that she’s a little bit childish. There’s definitely some arrested development. If the show is on for years, I would love to see her shed some of that and embrace her own life a little. ”
When a writer and actress steps into the role of producer and creator, there may be some questions about her temperament. Kaling admits that she has her flaws, but thinks her personality makes for a pretty good work place. “A lot of creative people can be very mercurial,” she said. “I’m pretty cheerful. My temperament is pretty even-keeled. I don’t have freak-outs. I have other bad qualities, in spades, but that one as a manager, I don’t have. I like having an easy set. I hate fights, I hate snippiness, I hate sarcasm in the workplace. I also want to go home. I want to go party and go on dates and stuff. If the series goes on for years, I would like to not have a schedule where no one gets to see their families or anything.
“We have really long days because it’s a single-camera show. I’m not going to romanticize our long days, but that’s because we’re a first-year show and everything has to be perfect. But I don’t want that to always be the case. I love this job – it’s an amazing dream come true, and everyone working on it is great, but I want to live. I wouldn’t be a good writer or a good actor if I can’t see other things. There’s a tendency in this business to make it your whole life.” She paused for a beat or two before blurting, “But I am doing it right now. It’s all I think about for 26 hours a day.”