Mindy Kaling – Ten years ago and she’s never looked back

                        August 2013  By Philip Berk

She’s the first Asian woman to have a U.S. TV show. Her eponymously titled The Mindy Project was a surprise hit last year and has just been renewed for a second season. 

Q: Playing an Asian American, is that a heavy burden for you?

A: I’m proud of it, but when I’m writing and acting I try not to think about it that much because you can get kind of mired down with the political side.  If there were more Indian women in comedy and TV, I wouldn’t have to represent them all, would I? What I try to do on the show is play a flawed character who makes mistakes and is selfish sometimes and occasionally has sex with the wrong guy, and is funny. Saying that about all Indian women is daunting, it’s intimidating, but I’m also excited about doing it.

Q: How much of Mindy comes from your own experience?

A: Well for instance, not a lot of people think about how if you’re a dark skinned Indian person there are issues with lighter skinned Indian people, and resulting conceptions about beauty, but almost everyone I know is interested in hearing about that, which is something that’s true of me, so I incorporate it in the script. 

Q: On the show you’re kind of bossy. Is that true of you in real life, or are there misconceptions resulting from people assuming you are the Mindy Project?

A: Larry David once said the reason why people like Curb Your Enthusiasm is because he does the things people wish they could do, and that’s how I’ve been looking at the character.  She is very confident, she’s very un-PC and  impulsive, she parties and drinks a lot. Nothing like me. I’m a nerd. But as a comedy writer, I want to make big mistakes and do those things that have not been representative of my life. Do  those situations overlap in my life? Maybe 30% of the time. Our cadences are the same.  We have a big overlap in our sensibilities, but this is a character who has probably drunk herself to blackout drunk many times, which has never happened to me…

Q: You started out as a writer on The Office and then segued into acting. Was that accidental?

A: I’ve always acted, in junior high and high school, and really enjoyed it, but was always cast as the best friend of the lead. I always thought I was a funny performer, but there wasn’t a lot of opportunity, until I got to act in The Office which was a great thing to have for eight years. But then I thought I want to try being a lead and let’s see if America is ready for that.

Q: How difficult was it convincing a network a show with an Indian woman could be a hit?

A: I originally wrote it for Bob Greenblatt and NBC, and they passed on it; but the next day we brought it to Kevin Riley of Fox who had hired me on The Office when he was at NBC, and he picked it up a day later; so there was this rollercoaster when I thought, well, that dream is dead. I’m going to stay at The Office until, 2030 when all the characters have their children. I’m going to be working on the show forever, which would have been  great because that working environment is really fun. And then the next day hearing that Fox wanted to take a shot at it…

Q: You not only write all the scripts, you play the lead and have a producer credit. Do you have control over the casting as well?

A: So far I have had say over all of the casting. But I think that’s normal for anyone who’s the showrunner and the star of their own show, specifically for my character and how she looks. For instance in the episode where I get punched in the face, they said how much blood do you want, and I said a lot. I don’t think you need to look as glamorous as you would want to on a red carpet, so I try to have a nice mix of horribly unflattering and the occasional Cinderella moment so people might say, oh, she cleans up well.