Mindy Kaling on 'The Mindy Project', leaving 'The Office,' and the show title that could have been

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Image Credit: Warwick Saint

If you’ve been waiting for the perfect ob-gyn office-set romantic comedy, Mindy Kaling hopes to deliver something special on your television Tuesday night: In Fox’s The Mindy Project (Fox, Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.), the former star/executive producer of The Office plays Mindy Lahiri, a highly skilled gynecologist whose romantic life is in need of urgent care. (The multi-talented Kaling is also serving as executive producer in addition to writing the first three episodes.) Check out EW’s Fall TV Preview for the scoop on The Mindy Project, read on for some bonus quotes from Kaling (as well as co-star Chris Messina, producer B.J. Novak, and showrunner Matt Warburton), and ask your gynecologist if this show might be right for you.

On how The Mindy Project feels different from The Office
MINDY KALING: It is a reaction to The Office in terms of the way it’s shot, and also the main central love story. In The Office were Jim and Pam, characters that are so deeply good and in many ways don’t have a ton of flaws. But they were so compatible that in many ways maybe their personalities overlapped with each other’s. And I love that Much Ado About Nothing, passionate, smart fighting. I love fighting with guys, and that’s something that I don’t get to see: arguing at a high level with a member of the opposite sex. That didn’t really happen that much on The Office. I just like that Moonlighting, Benedick-Beatrice type of thing.

On setting the show in a ob-gyn office, where her late mother worked as a doctor
KALING: “I feel like the high-concept shows that have some kind of gimmick tend not to be the hit classic shows of all time. So I wanted to do something very simple that would be interesting to me for many years, especially in the years of 31 to 38, if the show lasts for seven years. I definitely wanted to do a character that has a great professional life, but not my exact job because no one could do comedy writer better than Tina [Fey] has in 30 Rock. And I happened to have a mom whose job was really similar in terms of hours and how much she loved her job and how juicy the stories were — they’re actually juicier in my mom’s job than my job… Plus I get to interact a lot with women, and personally, I, Mindy Kaling want to spend like 80 percent of my life hanging out with women.”

On what percentage of Mindy Kaling can be found in Mindy Lahiri
KALING: 40 percent. At the same time, Mindy Kaling is not show-worthy. I’m not as dramatic as the characters that I like to play. But the character is very fun. She’s just so entitled and confident. She’s nothing like Michael Scott, but he always thought that he was going to marry Teri Hatcher even though there was no evidence of that. That’s a really fun, resilient character, and I think that my character has those same kinds of blind spots.”
B.J. NOVAK (Consulting producer, The Mindy Project and Office executive producer, star): I think it’s 90 percent. She’s not a doctor but it really is her worldview. There are little differences. I think her character drinks coffee; Mindy doesn’t really drink coffee. [Her character] is a doctor so she has less time to watch the NBA playoffs. That’s really all I can think of.”

On being an Indian-American woman headlining her own sitcom
KALING: “I would never to say that’s not important, for any young Indian girls or boys who look at me as an encouraging figure, or that I don’t think that’s so great and makes me feel wonderful. At the same time, I am a super-confident writer, and as a joke writer and as an actress, I’m like, “I want to go head-to-head with every person.” I am an Indian woman and I’m a kind of double minority in this world, but I felt like my pilot was a great pilot, not just for all Indian-American women writing pilots that year.”

On seeing her face plastered on billboards everywhere
KALING: “I can handle the typical 13-year-old boy defacing a billboard of me with a penis, and I would actually think it was funny. I would take a photo of that and put it on Instagram. Maybe you haven’t made it until someone has put an Italian mustache and a phallic image on your poster.”

On co-star Chris Messina, who plays macho-but-wounded gynecologist Danny
KALING: “He is such a dude. Not only is he like from a Scorsese movie, it’s like a Scorsese movie from the 1970s.…. I feel like we have cunningly trapped an about-to-break-out superstar, like a Bruce Willis pre-Moonlighting type of guy. He’s such a good actor, and so funny. And the greatest thing about him is he’s like, “I’m not funny. I don’t feel like I’m a funny guy.” Every girl falls in love with him. It feels like such an exciting discovery.
CHRIS MESSINA: “Danny has a lot of that Bruce Willis swagger. I’ve been pulling from Judd Hirsch, the way he’s so simple and honest and he’s not pushing for the laugh. I’m begging to have just a little piece of that in my performance. And at the same time I’m trying to pull from Bruce Willis or even Harrison Ford in Star Wars, the way Han Solo was with Princess Leia.”

On the show title (which originally was It’s Messy)
KALING: “I had so many people trying to help me think of titles. The worst/most wonderful was OMGYN. It’s so bad it really made me laugh.”

On exiting The Office
KALING: “I was nervous, leaving a show after eight years, having to say goodbye to my friends and the people that made it feel like a comfy place and a hit show. So I took the ones that I thought were available and I had great relationships with to come with me. They were people like B.J. Novak, who was an executive producer on the pilot, and Ed Helms, who plays a love interest of mine. There’s a lot of crossover, so it felt seamless.”

On the possibility of returning to The Office for another episode
KALING: “I will do anything for [executive producer] Greg Daniels. And if he wanted me to be in another couple episodes, if it was possible given my current schedule, I would do anything to make that possible. I love that group of people.”

On Mindy Kaling
MATT WARBURTON (executive producer): “Her ability to be feminine without being girly is amazing. Her viewpoint is so contemporary, and her take on pop culture and fashion — she has a way of synthesizing these things that they’re welcoming. She’s sort of America’s best friend. She’s able to show people something they wouldn’t see otherwise from these different worlds. It’s something we hope to do on the show too.”
MESSINA: She is able to make fun of herself, and at the same time she’s got a real sense of how people talk. When I read the script, I don’t feel like there are a lot of jokes — [the humor] comes out of character behavior. And she’s like that in her acting. She’s really, really honest, and she’s really simple.
NOVAK: She knows who she is and she isn’t afraid of showing any aspect of herself. That’s one thing guys respond to, whether she’s talking about online shopping or NBA stars that she finds hot. There is a ‘That’s just who I am’ honesty to it that is probably refreshing to a lot of guys. She isn’t coquettishly pretending that she’s interested in what you’re interested in. If something’s boring, she’ll say it’s boring. And in terms of her show, she’s not writing a girls’ fantasy of a man — she’s writing men that men recognize.”

Read more:
NBA players Amar’e Stoudemire, Baron Davis, and Danny Granger to guest on ‘The Mindy Project’
Fall TV: Comedy We’re Tuning In For

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