On the new Fox comedy series The Mindy Project, premiering on September 25th, follows Mindy Lahiri (The Office’s Mindy Kaling) who, despite having a successful career, is unlucky in love and desperately needs to get her personal life back on track before her friends and colleagues are forced to stage an intervention. The show also stars Chris Messina, Ed Weeks, Ike Barinholtz, Stephen Tobolowsky, Anna Camp, Zoe Jarman and Amanda Setton.
While at the Fox portion of the TCA Press Tour, show star/executive producer Mindy Kaling talked about wearing both the actor and producer hats for this series, why she decided to make the character a doctor, her love of romance and the desire to address the damage done by romantic comedies to real relationships, how much her ethnicity will play into the story, whether headlining a series is anything like she imagined it would be, and how she’ll be returning to The Office for an episode or two. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Question: Why did you decide to make this character a doctor? Was that to balance out how messed up the rest of her life is?
MINDY KALING: I picked a doctor because my mother was an OB/GYN, and it was just a job that I had done a lot of research on, accidentally, throughout my life. Weirdly, her hours are really similar to my hours as a writer/performer. I could call her in the middle of the night and she would be awake. She lives in Boston and it seems like we have the same sleep-deprived schedule.
Did you want to address some of the damage done by romantic comedies to real relationships?
KALING: I think that a big, funny part of the series is the characters’ expectations of how things should work out. How they actually work out in real life is so much of where the comedy comes from, in this series.
Have you had moments of expectation versus reality, in real life?
KALING: Oh, every day, like seeing that handsome guy and immediately finding out he’s gay. One of the things that’s funny about Chris Messina’s character is that Chris is a handsome-looking guy, and his character on the show doesn’t want to be part of that world. He’s resisting it.
What made you think of doing this particular show? All of the characters have wonderfully messed-up lives, but are there parts of your life that are as messed-up as hers?
KALING: Well, I’m someone who loves romance. I always have loved it. Most people who grew up as nerds, as I was, surprisingly, have loved romance. On The Office, so much of the show is about disguising your true feelings and your romantic feelings because it was a mock documentary. In a lot of ways, I think it’s a reaction to that because I just wanted to explore love and romance, but with people who are legitimately busy and have busy lives. Especially with women my age, if you have a career, you’re thinking, “When is this other side of my life going to click into place?”
How much are you going to play off of the cliches and conventions of a woman who is great at her job, but awful at her personal life?
KALING: Well, it’s interesting. There is this cliche of, “Oh, your professional life is fine, but your romantic life isn’t.” But, that’s also really true of me and all my friends. You don’t want to not do something that’s relatable simply because you’re worried that it might be cliche. Also, it’s about execution. I have the best writing staff in all of Hollywood, and we have the best, funniest cast. A formula isn’t bad, if it’s executed at a really high level. In fact, it can be kind of cozy and nice, if the jokes are amazing and the acting is great. I think the character really wants to picture herself as the protagonist in a romantic comedy.
Can you talk about producer hat versus your actor hat, when you’re in every scene?
KALING: Well, I won’t be in every scene. Part of the reason this cast is so big is that it’s great to watch them and go back to the writers’ room. That’s why we have a pretty awesome, big cast of lots of different characters. And Matt [Warburton], who is showrunning this, is going to be helping out a lot, too.
How did you pull this cast together?
KALING: It’s like Ocean’s Eleven. It’s funny. Some were more traditional casting, but some people we had just been fans of.
Do you feel like this series and your starring role is a culmination of the rise of Indian-American actors on television? Will you talk about ethnicity at all, on the show?
KALING: In terms of my Indianness, I try not to rely on it nor deny it. When it comes up organically in my writing, we can address it. About five years ago, we wrote this episode of The Office, called “Diwali,” which seemed like an organic way of using it. It’s really exciting, with Danny [Pudi] and Aziz [Ansari] in their shows, and The Good Wife, and things like that. There are lots of Indian actors. I don’t think about it all the time. It is a cool time for Indian actors.
What’s it like to headline your own show after your time on The Office?
KALING: It’s awesome!
Is it everything you imagined it would be?
KALING: Even more! Every day, I wake up and I’m like, “Oh, I’m the star of my own show that has my name in it and I get to write it and hire actors that I’ve loved for such a long time!” It’s amazing! I’m going to turn into a monster. I can’t handle it. It’s a great job! Getting to do this is really awesome!
What is having a heavily male writing staff going to bring to the topics you’ll be covering on the show?
KALING: One of the most exciting things is finding female writers. That is definitely a great energy with the stories that we’re telling. We just read scripts. We are looking for people who can write women really well and people who are super funny, and these are the people we found. That said, we are always looking for really funny female writers and writer/performers. That’s what we’re looking forward to, in the future, when we have more money and can hire more people.
Are you going to have a chance to go back to The Office and get closure, or are they just going to have to have someone explain your character’s absence?
KALING: I’m actually headed back for the premiere, which I’m really excited about, and maybe another episode. It’s great because I got so attached to that character, even though I have like a line in every episode. It’s fun to see what’s going to happen to Kelly.
Generally speaking, do you think that the target audience for this show is the same audience that you would get for The Office, or is it different?
KALING: We’re hoping for prison inmates and the elderly. We’re aiming for everybody. One of the challenges we had, in terms of writing the series, is that we want to make this partially a workplace comedy. There’s lots of relatable stuff, in terms of that. I’m hoping that people who’ve read my book will follow me along in this, and really get to see me have more of a platform and a bigger part. But, one of the things about the show, which I like, is that there’s a bunch of dudes in the cast. I love this dude energy that we have here. It’s so nice.
As the daughter of a doctor and someone playing a doctor, was there ever a point, when you were little, that you thought that was what you were going to do? Did you dream of being a doctor first, or did you know, early on, that you wanted to do comedy?
KALING: Oh, my parents would have loved for me to have been a doctor, but I was bad at science. And I actually wasn’t a theatrical kid. I didn’t do plays, or anything. I was largely silent, until I was about 15 or 16 years old. But, I was always a silent comedy nerd. I would stay up late and sneak downstairs to watch Saturday Night Live and Kids in the Hall, and things like that. Very early on, my parents realized that I was not going to be an engineer or a doctor. I just don’t have those inclinations, at all.
Very early on, you wrote that satire of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Have you since met Matt Damon and Ben Affleck?
KALING: I’ve never run into them or met them, in the eight years that I’ve been out here. Who wouldn’t want to meet Matt Damon and Ben Affleck? I’m trying to make Chris [Messina] take me to the Argo premiere, so that I can run into him.
What exactly is The Mindy Project and what is she searching for?
KALING: The really fun thing about this character, which is not unlike Michael Scott (Steve Carell), in some ways, is that she wants to just be a better person. In some ways, she’s a great doctor. She’s hyper-educated, but wants to be a better catch, a better friend, work out, and actually read books instead of magazines. That’s something I also strive to be, a little bit. She tries to be a little bit more intellectual, and I just think that’s super-relatable. The project part is this woman who’s not 21 or 22, and who’s trying to get her life together.
You drop references to Downton Abbey and Hugh Grant, on the show. What is your philosophy on dropping references, and what other references might viewers see, in future episodes?
KALING: I think references, where they fit organically, are great. It’s great to do a show that’s real and relatable, and so much of what is real, is using real things and instances that are specific. Specificity is the best tool you can have, as a writer. That said, we don’t want to overdo it. Mostly, it’s Game of Thrones references. My writing staff are just obsessed with Game of Thrones. It might just become a violent, strange show with lots of sex in it. I’m trying to watch it, so I can feel a part of the writers.