How Mindy Kaling Protects Her 'Project'

by Jarett Wieselman 2:45 PM PDT, October 15, 2013
Photo: FOX

There hasn't been a great big screen rom-coms in quite a while, but every single week Fox airs one of the funniest, most winning, endlessly charming and hopeful romantic comedies to come out of Hollywood in ages. Yes, The Mindy Project may seem like a standard workplace sitcom, but under all the professional hijinks lies the beating heart of an epic romantic comedy -- and it's all thanks to Mindy Kaling.

As the creator, star and executive producer, Kaling's DNA is all over this comedic juggernaut and now that the season one kinks have been worked out, the show has nowhere to go but up. ETonline sat down with Kaling on The Mindy Project set to talk about the evolution of her sitcom, the surprising discoveries along the way and what she's excited for audiences to see in the coming weeks.

ETonline: Looking at where you started with Mindy and where she is today, has anything about who this character revealed herself to be surprised you?
Mindy Kaling: One of the things I love about the character, partly because I don't personally have it, is her resilience. Everyone always talks about her confidence, and where it comes from, but more than that, I think she has a wonderful resilience. I think she does feel things when people hurt her, but she bounces back in a really fast way. There's a scene coming up where Adam Pally tries to set her up with this terrible guy, we call him Hit and Ron because he was involved in a hit and run accident in college, and she doesn't understand why Peter would set them up and he goes, "I dunno, you're like both 5's." And Mindy's like, "How dare you Peter" in this incredibly hurt way and then turns to say, "I'm an 8, everybody knows that" and marches out. Very rarely does she get wounded to the core, which is nice. This is partially because it’s a comedy show, but I like that she's turned out to be a very happy-go-lucky character.

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ETonline: Coming into season two, was there anything you wanted to change about the show, or felt was lacking in season one?
Kaling: I love feedback. As a writer, I love hearing feedback from all sources, but what I realized this summer was that if I go online, every blogger has their reasons for how they would "fix" this show. On the one hand, that's great because they’re invested, but on the other hand, I can't listen to everything that's said. There are a million ways you could execute something, and on some level they're all valid, but ultimately I had to do the stories I want to tell. We have 22 episodes this year, and they're all stories that make me and the writers laugh. That's, ultimately, the only barometer I think we should be using.

ETonline: What is it about tonight's episode, Weiner Night, that makes you guys laugh?
Kaling: We have such a wonderful staff of hilarious, witty writers and the jokes they come up with are very smart. But we also love things like naked penis photos of Chris Messina. What's great about this episode is it's actually about snobbery. Mindy falls for a snob played by the hilarious Ben Feldman. It has a mix of really hilarious stuff, but is also talking about populism versus snobbery. In general, that's a pretty brainy thing for a sitcom to tackle, but I like that we can do highbrow/lowbrow in the same episode.

ETonline: Where does "Make A Statement About Society" fall in your list of episode priorities?
Kaling: I think funny is the most important. Funny is what keeps you on the air. But we really want a freshness to the show, which is more than referencing One Direction. To me the death of comedy is familiarity, and with a subject like dating, it's been done. There are so many lame, familiar tropes with that, so finding fresh takes on those subjects is more important than making political statements. However, that said, racism, religion, feminism; that's what makes us laugh. Like my character is so crazily narcissistic she thinks she should have a gun because someone would try to kill her. And for a female character in a sitcom to think she should have a gun, and be that comedically narcissistic is pretty hilarious.

ETonline: That particular moment caused a small stir online and you had to come out and say, "I'm not a republican." Is Mindy?
Kaling: Mindy's not even a republican. I don't think she'd identify with being a republican, but I get so bored of seeing the same politics on in every character in every TV show. I love Jack Donaghy and Alex P. Keaton, so the fact she'd have these libertarian streaks in her is pretty amazing.

ETonline: Which upcoming episode are you most excited about?
Kaling: We have an episode called You've Got Sext coming up that I'm really excited about. You've Got Mail is one of my favorite movies, and I've been wanting to do an episode that tackles technology and dating. I wrote it from a very farcical place while thinking of Frasier, which is one of my favorite shows, ever. So if anyone thinks of Fraiser while watching it, I'll be so happy.

ETonline: You love a rom-com; are there any current ones you think are worthy of forever inclusion alongside You've Got Mail?
Kaling: Well, it's not that current, but I loved Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which Chris Messina was in. I'm very excited for the new Bridget Jones movie. The third one!

ETonline: Every though they kill ... well, I don't want to ruin it.
Kaling: No, it's OK, tell me.

ETonline: Mark Darcy dies.
Kaling: Noooooo! Wait, what? Mark Darcy's dead?

ETonline: Yeah. I feel like I just ruined Christmas for you, or something.
Kaling: No, not at all. But wow. I'm already sad thinking of Mark Darcy as dead, but you know what, he was too good for this world! He's in a better place. He was destined to burn brightly and then flame out.

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ETonline: Speaking of too good, I feel like Danny and Mindy as an actual couple might be too good.
Kaling: Really? That's so nice. I feel like a lot of people don’t want them together.

ETonline: You do? Hmm. Well, it's all in the execution. But do you feel like Danny and Mindy as a full-fledged couple is something you want to explore before the end of the show?
Kaling: My feeling is when there's a couple that has very similar personalities, like Jim and Pam, they were such a romantic story, but ultimately they were so compatible that you hope they don't have a ton of problems. You don't want them to have marital problems. But with a couple that's very contentious, it could be more fun to see them married. I think there's a whole other world of stories that open up if you're a couple without kids. Especially people who are set in their ways because they've been single for so long. If you feel like the love is true and deep, it can be some of the best comedy ever because there's a nice safety net of love since their marriage is so stable. I think that could be a fun show although Danny and Mindy are so different it seems impossible that they could live under the same roof without killing each other. But that also seems fun. So whether it's with Danny or another character, Mindy is a character I would love to see married. And maybe divorced!

The Mindy Project airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on Fox.