BWWTVWorld Interview: Mindy Kaling, Creator & Star of FOX's THE MINDY PROJECT
The new sitcom THE MINDY PROJECT premiered on Fox on September 25 and has hit the ground running. The show follows a talented doctor, played by Mindy Kaling, who has an obsession with romantic comedies. As she makes her way through her career and her dating life with the help of her witty coworkers, she comes to find that love isn't always like the movies.
Mindy Kaling, THE MINDY PROJECT's star, creator, and executive producer, is often known as the actress behind the character Kelly Kapoor on NBC's THE OFFICE. After co-writing a successful play in New York City, she joined the writing staff of THE OFFICE at age 24 and spent several seasons with the series. She is the winner of a Screen Actors Guild Award, an Asian Excellence Award, and a Writers Guild of America Award. These days, Kaling can be found on the set of THE MINDY PROJECT. Amid her grueling schedule, Kaling took the time to share the latest about her love of comedy, her new series, and Justin Timberlake.
As an executive producer, actress, and writer, one would find it difficult to imagine that Kaling finds any time to sleep. "Typical day is I wake up between 5:30 and 6:00 in the morning. I walk like a zombie to my shower and take a shower. Drive to work, listen to some Justin Timberlake in the car on the way there. Hair and make-up...I check in with the writers, they get in around 10:00 a.m. and I've been acting for a couple of hours and am always excited to see them because when I get to work it's like a ghost town; it's like the walking dead when I first show up."
The vibrant cast she works with brings positivity to the set on rough days. "Because I created the show I'm not shy around strangers because I...either auditioned them or approached them for the part...I like having an easy set. I hate fights. I hate snippiness. I hate sarcasm in the work place."
The television world is known for its tendency to churn out one-dimensional characters, especially when it comes to women, and Kaling aims to give her character a more well-rounded personality. "My goal with the character is that she is doing stuff that we all-you know, women watching and guys watching it, they wish they could do that but they just can't. When a man does it I don't know if you call it obnoxious, when a woman does it maybe it's rarer, so that's what it seems like. I just wanted her to be really realistic and authentic. So many of the female characters I see on TV are there just kind of put upon and kind of boring and they're so worried about viewers not being able to handle them...and occasionally selfish, but every woman I know can be occasionally selfish, and also can be heroic and funny. I'm just trying to make her interesting and nuanced, and if some people think she's obnoxious sometimes then yes, people are obnoxious sometimes, I think, and they can still be like heroes, I guess."
When considering television stereotypes, Kaling said "at least on my staff, we have lists of things that we try not to do. I think there's a trap that comedy writers can fall into which is like making things too meta. I really want this show to appeal to a really wide audience, so I didn't want it to be too specific or niche to just a really small group of hipsters in LA and New York that would...understand...In general, I just didn't want the characters to be stock, you know, I don't want a character to be a 'bimbo' or the 'sassy black woman.' Those are things you see sometimes and I think they're not very fresh. I just try not to do stock characters."
The cast made sure to celebrate the season with a Halloween episode.. "I can tell you that I wear a series of costumes," laughed Kaling. "The premise is that I'm going on a Halloween date with the character Josh who we met in the last episode. The Halloween costume is stressing my character out a lot, which that is very true of me, myself...But there is some pretty awful and some pretty, I think, hilarious costumes that you get to see during the show. I look crazy in a lot of them too; by the way, they're not sexy hot girl costumes. They're pretty funny, I think."
Kaling's character may have some pretty rigid ideas about the definition of love, but don't expect her to remain stubborn in her ways throughout the series. "I always think in a good series the hero or heroine in the show will change and evolve. My character isn't 19; she's 31 or 32 in the pilot and I think if she were to cling to-I think having a love of romance is a great thing for any age, but I think the character should mature over the years. I think she should learn and she should grow, and in a little bit like how Michael Scott on THE OFFICE, he was very different when he left at the end of his time at THE OFFICE than he was at the beginning. A part of loving romantic comedies is a little bit childish. It's a little bit-the character definitely has arrested development. I would hope, and who knows if we're lucky enough to go for many years, I would love to see her shed some of that adoration for romantic comedies and kind of embrace her own life a little."
"I think the character is pretty different than me, Mindy Kaling," she mused. "I have the lifestyle of a nerdy, boring writer; that's my lifestyle. The character has a kind of a great glamorous job, and an exciting job, and a kind of even noble job...and loves to party and to go out. I think that the character wishes she could do that, and...isn't able to. We both had arrested development, I think that's where we're very similar, like we're both nerds. Elementary school, high school, college; that's where me and my character really differ, when she finished medical school she really likes to party, she likes to drink, she is definitely more boy crazy than me. Whereas I just don't have that in me, but I like writing that character; I think that's really fun. If I wrote characters that were actually me and my life no one would watch it...She puts herself out there...I'm not nearly so confident, which is why my character is so fun to play."
Even while working on her series, Kaling has other plans on the horizon, including a film that she wrote with Anne Hathaway in mind. "What I like about her is that this movie that I wrote, this part, which I had her in mind for a while, she's not playing like a gorgeous heroine, like the character is kind of pretty unglamorous, a little dowdy, and a little down on herself and I just like that she's into that. One of my favorite movies is BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY because Renee Zellweger just totally goes for it in terms of being imperfect and is so funny and so sort of down to do that kind of thing."
With the many hats she wears each day, it's hard to not wonder how Kaling keeps it all together. Her secret? "Well, the good part of it is I can't fixate on any one thing because there's too many things happening at once, so that's very good. I constantly have to shift focus, which I think is really good in keeping me not fixating on things. I have an amazing team. I spent a lot of time hiring people. It was really tough getting people out of contracts and things like that, so I spent a really long time hiring amazing writers, heads of department, all the actors and everything so that I trust them a lot so I can delegate things that I wouldn't normally necessarily do. If it wasn't for that then I actually couldn't do this job. I also every morning drink a blend of vegetables and fruits that's a disgusting green potion that I believe keeps me alive. That's my secret trick is that I eat terribly so that's my little-that's the second part of the question is I could not do this job if I didn't have the weird green fruit and vegetables that I eat every morning." Of course, her infectious optimism can't hurt either. "I can be a very anxious person and I work very hard, but...a lot of creative people can be a little mercurial...I'm not that way...in general I'm a pretty cheerful person; I'm not a manic depressive writer. My temperament is pretty even keeled, so I don't freak out, which I think is good, and I have seen that in the past."
In the face of so much responsibility, she made sure to emphasize the importance of balance in the long run. "We have really long days because it's a single camera show and I'm not going to romanticize our long days, but that's because we're a first year show and we have to make it perfect. I don't want that to be the case all the time. I mean this is a job and I love this job; it's an amazing dream come true and everyone's working on it and it's great, but I want to live. I wouldn't be a good writer or good actor if I can't see other things. I also want to go home go and go on dates and hang out and party and stuff. I would love if the series goes on for many years, if we're that lucky, to be able to have more of not one of these schedules where no one ever gets to see their families and things."
When asked about whether she prefers television to theater (Kaling got her start with MATT & BEN, the play she co-wrote and starred in with best friend Brenda Withers), she had mixed feelings. "Well, they're both kind of grueling in their own way," she said. "I miss theater because a live audience is so fun. I mean you get such instant feedback. When you're doing the show there is a little audience there is a crew and other actors and everything on the set, but largely you have to wait six weeks or whatever for it to air, and I do miss instant feedback; that is really fun. But I have a little stage fright. When I did plays I was always scared every single night and I don't miss that. I really envy live performers. I think it's a really frightening skill set."
Be sure to check out what Mindy has up her sleeve next on THE MINDY PROJECT, airing on FOX Tuesdays at 9:30 pm!