Q & A: Mindy Kaling Talks ‘The Mindy Project’, ‘The Office’ and Inspiration

Mindy: "I like being on set with other writers and actors. I think it makes the whole process more fun and more efficient"

mindy-kaling-the-mindy-projectMindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project is back on the air tonight and Thursday and to get the word out, she did a press call to chat about the show.

I’m a big fan of Mindy’s and talking to her is always a treat. She seems to work non-stop and has a bunch of projects in the works. In fact, the day after The Mindy Project wrapped, she was back at her laptop working on a follow up to her debut book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).

In the interview, she talks about the show, working with guest star Seth Rogen, where her inspiration came from, The Office finale and how a picture of Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) ended up in The Mindy Project.

The Mindy Project airs at 9:30 on Tuesday (and Thursday) on FOX

You have such a great dynamic with all of the cast on the show, but you have a cuter dynamic sometimes with your brother Rishi.  Is that based on your real experiences of your family?

Mindy Kaling: Well, I have an older brother who is very different than the character Rishi on the show, but I just love Utkarsh who plays the character.  I have a very like, we immediately slipped into like a very big sister/little brother relationship with him and I like how his character…he just always calls me “woman.”  He’s like, “Woman, what are you doing?” which I find very funny and appealing.

And it was great seeing Seth Rogen on not long ago.  He was wonderful chemistry with you, too.  Can you talk about some of the upcoming relationships you’ll have?  We heard “My Christian Boyfriend” is coming up.

Mindy Kaling: Yes, well the great thing with Seth was that maybe because he was also a ..performer, because we had like a real ease with each other, which I loved, and I’ve known him since I did “40 Year Old Virgin”, I’ve known for a long time, but he’s just so, he just has, he’s so natural, which is wonderful.  And this “My Christian Boyfriend,” the next big boyfriend or after …was on the show workaholic… Seth, and he is doing kind of a big arc playing this really funny character, like this minister that has like a lot of swagger.  It’s almost like it’s a minister with a party promoter in Vegas kind of, and he has like celebrity friends and mobies in the episode.  So that’s on Tuesday we meet him and I just see him and I’m like have this, like the raciest relationship yet.  So it’s a very funny dynamic to have that with a Christian minister. 


I wanted to ask about Ike Barinholtz and if you can talk a little bit about what he brings to the show and a little bit about his evolution.  I believe he started as a writer and you’ve increasingly bumped up his role.  So could you talk a little bit about him?

Mindy Kaling: I like to really attracted to Ike coming on to the show because he is a writer/performer in a way that I was used to, like B. J. Novak and Paul Lieberstein on The Office.  I like being on set with other writers and actors.  I think it makes the whole process more fun and more efficient.  He’s also a great improviser.  So I had seen him on Eastbound & Down and in that he was playing a Russian pitcher and a total jock.  In this show he’s playing a very different kind of character, like an earnest nurse who is an ex-con.  But he’s kind of like, he comes out of a defacto onset producer …all the time and we’ve had to write jokes in between takes and do little rewrites for the ….

His dynamic with me is huge.  He’s now become one of my closest friends and he’s just a wonderful guy who loves working, he loves working and understanding the show with like a female lead, as he loves women and he’s like such a feminist.  So he’s been great.

What part will Kelly play in The Office finale? 

Mindy Kaling: Kelly in the finale, I shot for a day the finale and I can’t say too much about it except that it is a nice unexpected reunion with  Ryan, with, there’s a very satisfying and dramatic ending for the two of them. 

Growing up or as you were sort of forming your creativity and where to put it, who inspired you in the comedy realm and the writing realm?

Mindy Kaling: You know, when I was little, my parents used to listen to like a lot of Nichols & May.  …and things.  And so before I even knew what they looked like, Elaine May and Mike Nichols were big inspirations to me.  Later that kind of like conversational, writerly way of being, as a performer writer, is something I have always thought was awesome.  John Cleese and Fawlty Towers I always really admired.  And even in my 20’s, sometimes you don’t think of people who are your own age as inspiration, but like Seth Rogan has been so, he’s such a good writer and he’s such a great performer, and he doesn’t look like your typical kind of leading man and he’s just so charming and everyone gets such a big crush on him and I think he’s been very inspiring. 

And now, I mean, this isn’t strictly a crush on like I’d get very tired by like people nearer to me, like Simon … and …., two fantastic writers and just really, and is just a wonderful performer. 

What do you love most about writing comedy?

Mindy Kaling: I love that it is, the experience of writing comedy is like it’s very similar to the experience of enjoying comedy, which is when you have a thought that is funny, it’s like it makes you laugh when you think it up, so it’s like watching a very funny movie with long boring in between’s when you’re not thinking up funny stuff.  But it’s one of the only jobs where the outcome is the same as the process of making it.  So that’s a great thought, that’s a great part of the job.

You do a lot for The Mindy Project and you’re kind of still shocked that you’ve achieved such great success.  How do you handle all of the attention that you’re getting? 

Mindy Kaling: Well in terms of handling the success, first of all, thank you for saying that …  I’m not, it’s not that hard for me, because in general if people recognize me, they don’t necessarily think I’m a show, they think they went to school with me or high school with me.  I’m not the kind of person that people want to snap paparazzi photos of because I live a pretty like boring kind of life.  That said, also, because I’m writing and acting on the show, I work so much that I’m not really super affected by the show.  Now that I’m on hiatus, it will be more fun to see people and how they’re responding to it. 

You obviously get to input a lot of your own life on the show.  Is there anything that you were kind of hesitant to write into the show?

Mindy Kaling: And as far as what I decide not to put in the show, it’s easy to be an open book when you have a fairly boring personal life.  So for me, I’ve had like three boyfriends in my entire life.  For me it’s not that hard to be open about that. 

I really try hard to …with my dad and my brother, and the show isn’t really about her relationships with her dad and brother like all the time.  So for me that would be something that I would want to keep private, but nothing else, really, because I’m single so I don’t have a boyfriend who’s like, “Oh, don’t put that in the show.” 

This weeks’ episode showed the return of Ellie Kemper, and I know you just wrapped production on Season One, but are there any plans to bring her back for Season Two? 

Mindy Kaling: I would like nothing better than to work with Ellie Kemper for the rest of my life.  I love her.  She’s so fun to work with.  She’s so naturally funny.  Guys love her and girls want to be her friend; that would be a dream.

Ellie, of course, she has a pilot … and she’s so busy with various projects and things, that I don’t know how possible that would be, but there is just a complete open-door policy for whenever she wanted to show up to do anything on the show.  I love her.  She’s one of my closest friends and it would be great to use her as much as we can.

You’ve said that you were starting to write more books.  Do you have any more plans about that?

Mindy Kaling: We wrapped, we really wrapped yesterday, so today I have been like after I hang up I’m just going to go look at my computer and stare at an empty page.  But even with the show I’ve been jotting down things that I don’t necessarily sit and…essay ideas and things like that.  So I’ve been thinking about it kind of in the margins of when I’ve not been working on this.  But I’m really …hiatus…

You are one of the first minority women to be writing and directing and starring in a show on a major TV network, and I was wondering if that’s something that adds pressure to your everyday work routine or is it something that you think about that often? 

Mindy Kaling: It’s something that I think is more interesting to other people than it is to me, only because I’ve only ever lived in my skin and don’t know what it’s like to be anything else.  So for me, I forget sometimes, like my trappings of what I look like all the time.  But obviously like everyday something reminds me of it. 

Because of all the different pressures of my job since, you know, …and things, starting the show and everything else, I try not to think about it because you think it’s pretty interesting and I think that I could get too caught up in that or start to be self-conscious if I let is color how I view things.  I’ve had like, I’ve been rewarded by that line of thinking and I’m just going to keep doing that. 

I will say, it is very, very nice when young women, especially women of color or Indian, say that I’m an inspiration or that they never thought that they could do that.  That is really, that makes me feel really good and I can, if that is, if you look to me as a symbol of that, then that’s fantastic.

There’s a picture behind Dr. Lahiri’s desk that’s of Liz Lemon and I think it’s Jason Sudekis’ character from 30 Rock.  Was that given to you by Tina Fey?

Mindy Kaling: Yes, when 30 Rock wrapped this season, Tina sent the framed photo of Lloyd and Liz to put on our set as like kind of a well wishes, like just as a gesture.  She’s such an amazing inspiration for me and I’m just so, I love her so much personally and professionally she’s amazing, and I just thought I’m going to put it behind my desk in the show.  And I guess in the world of the show, Mindy Lahiri like knew Liz Lemon or Liz Lemon was her patient or something like that.  But there is like a backstory, like a deep, deep backstory that connects them that she thought she was her perfect patient. 

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