Mindy Kaling tells Michelle Manelis about her journey from junior writer to writer, star and producer of the new film Late Night
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY AS A WOMAN OF COLOUR IN THE HOLLYWOOD WORKPLACE?
Having written on The Office for eight years, I had lots of chances for storytelling but never an opportunity to tell the story of how I got into the business. That's the thing people want to know about, particularly young women. When I started at The Office I was the only woman and I was the only minority on the staff. And I always try to be careful, because that staff was filled with great writers like Michael Shur and BJ Novak who would identify as feminists, but it was still terrifying because I had this feeling that if you're the only woman or the only minority and you have an off-day, and the rest of the staff is white you think, "Oh God, this is what they're going to think of all Indian people, all Indian women." I was the diversity hire there.
DID YOU WRITE THE ROLE OF MOLLY PATEL FOR YOURSELF IN THE MOVIE?
Yes I did. But stranger things have happened. I could have been replaced by somebody else!
HAVE YOU HEARD ANY FEEDBACK FROM PEOPLE WHO WORK IN LATE-NIGHT TV?
Yeah and I was really nervous about it. Steven Colbert saw the movie and I was so nervous about what he would think. I was so relieved that he loved the movie and thought it was accurate. I had writers from his show and Jimmy Fallon's show and Seth Meyers' show come to our table read to make sure that everything was real in it.
SETH MEYERS IS IN THE MOVIE. WAS HE HARD TO GET?
I've known Seth for a while. When The Mindy Project first came out he did me this great favour of playing one of my boyfriends. And he already had his own show, so he was really busy. So I've known him forever. But even Bill Maher, Jake Tapper, all of them did it for no money just because they wanted to be supportive of the project.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT EMMA THOMPSON? SHE IS FUNNY AND FANTASTIC, BUT WHY HER?
In my opinion, she's the greatest living actor. And one of the reasons I love her so much is she can do comedy and she can do drama and comedy is harder than drama. When I was 13 and she won an Oscar for Best Actress and then a couple of years later won an Oscar for Best Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility, it was extremely informative to me because I didn't know that a woman could do that. That she could do both of those things so well. And so as a writer/performer I look up to her and I just selfishly wanted an opportunity to write for someone that talented in a comedic role but then also learn from someone like her.
YOU'VE BEEN ON THE OTHER END MANY TIMES AS A GUEST ON A LATE-NIGHT SHOW. WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU'RE SITTING ON THAT COUCH? It's pretty terrifying, especially as an actress because you want to be hilarious but seem spontaneous, also likeable, beautiful, and frankly you want to know which way to cross your legs to make you look the thinnest. So a lot of things are going on in your head. But mostly you just want to seem real and funny, so they like the project you're doing. The really good hosts are trained to make you look funny and to make you look good. Also, they never mock you, which would be so easy for them to do. I cringe looking at some of the earliest things I've done on those shows. I'm so nervous, I'm so thirsty, and when I get nervous, I gesticulate a lot. So it's hard to watch.
ANY ANECDOTES THAT COME TO MIND AS PARTICULARLY MEMORABLE?
I remember going on Letterman, which was always especially terrifying. David Letterman always had very high standards and was very intellectual and snobby; not in a bad way but very snobby. You'd always want to be introduced as either funny or beautiful. And I remember thinking, 'Okay, what is he going to say, funny, talented or beautiful?' And for years I'd go on the show and he'd say nothing. He would just go, 'Everyone, Mindy Kaling!' The third time, I was so nervous that I had about three shots of vodka before I went on. In the commercial break I said, 'Dave, am I funny or beautiful? I've got to be one or the other.' He laughed. And then the next time I came on the show when I came out, he said, 'The funny AND beautiful Mindy Kaling!' So that's my favourite story about that and it was just born of drunkenness, I guess.
The ultimate superpower-ranking of every X-Men movie
VODKA ALWAYS HELPS!
Vodka always helps, yes, for sure!
HOW HAS SUCCESS CHANGED YOU?
I have nicer things, which is good. How has success changed me? It makes me feel more confident and the confidence lets me help other people more.
Lowdown: Late Night – Mindy Kaling, in New Zealand cinemas from July 25