'The Mindy Project' at PaleyFest: 6 things we learned about that kiss, that dance, and more

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Image Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

The Mindy Project is back next week! I repeat: The Mindy Project is back next week!

We’ve been patiently waiting for our Shulman & Associates fix since January, but enough is enough. After the midseason finale fireworks — as Mindy flew back to New York to get Cliff back, Danny grabbed her for a passionate mile-high make-out sesh — it’s a wonder we haven’t combusted from the anticipation. To help you hold out one more week, the Mindy cast hit PaleyFest at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre on Tuesday night for a revealing and laugh-filled panel.

So what does the future hold for Mindy and Danny? Well, hopefully more making out (if the April 1 episode title — “French Me, You Idiot” — is any indication, we’re in luck). Let’s hear from the stars themselves — the panel included Mindy Kaling, Chris Messina, Ed Weeks, Ike Barinholtz, Beth Grant, Xosha Roquemore, and Zoe Jarman, along with executive producer Matt Warburton — about the return of season 2 and the just-announced (yay!) season 3:

How did that kiss come to be? Very, very carefully. The writers knew they wanted Danny and Mindy to lock lips, they just didn’t know how to make it happen. “As writers, we can write dialogue and arcs and stories, but we can’t write chemistry,” Kaling said. “And for the longest time, we didn’t know. We had very smart people who liked the show who said, ‘They can be like Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon [from 30 Rock] and just be colleagues.’ And then other people thought, ‘No, no, no, it’s inevitable.’ But you can’t script chemistry. You can’t script when Chris makes the choice as Danny to always touch my back as I walk across the street. After a while, it became not if they would do it, but when would they do it.” And Mindy was very sensitive to jerking around the audience for too long with the will-they-or-won’t-they, Warburton added. “You can’t have Danny dance and then take it away. At a certain point, you’ve got to deliver. Because these are adults, and clearly there’s something there.” But will that spark still be alive when the show returns? “The only thing we can say moving forward is there are more bumps in the road,” Warburton teased.

If they’re not Liz and Jack, are they Pam and Jim? Not in the least. As an Office alum, Kaling was quick to dismiss any comparisons to her previous show’s main couple. “Jim and Pam, their love was a beautiful and pristine and sacred thing, and they were so like-minded, and they were very young. [Our] kiss was more of an expression of passion and lust pent up than it was ‘I love you’ feelings. … Jim went into the kiss like, ‘I have to do this because this is my great love.’ You feel like Danny went into it being like, ‘I kind of wish I didn’t have to do this, but I have to do it.’ Like ‘I can’t take it anymore.’” And that pent-up passion is what led Danny’s hands to stray during their kiss, as he revealed to a delighted Paley crowd that his Mindy butt-grab was improvised. “The writers had written [a previous] episode … and Danny mentions that that’s his move, the butt-grab,” Messina said, which caused Barinholtz to break out his best New-Yawk Danny impression: “‘I remembered that my character likes asses. I applied that knowledge and that information, and the neurons in my brain went to my hands.’”

What about the show’s other potential couple? As Barinholtz’s Twitter followers already know, Morgan and Tamra have some action of their own, as seen in this half-naked Twitpic. “When your body looks as good as mine does in that photo, you want to show the world your haunches and your pockets of weird fat,” Barinholtz joked to the crowd, before Kaling put the picture in context: “We accelerate, in a very pleasing way, Morgan and Tamra. … Chris’ character, late night at work, walks in on the two of them. And weirdly, I don’t know who made the decision, but Tamra’s fully clothed and [Ike is] almost completely naked. Xosha is a beautiful model, and we would get high ratings if she were to wear a bikini. But we kept her in her scrubs.” For her part, Roquemore has a theory about Tamra’s taste in dudes, given her track record: “No shade to Morgan or to Ray Ron, but Tamra’s kind of into, like, pale creeps. It makes sense.”

Keep Beverly weird. Beth Grant is more than happy to let her freak flag fly as the elder stateswoman of Shulman & Associates. “She has no restraint,” Grant said. “Beverly will just say anything that comes to her mind. And it’s great for me, because I grew up in the South and I’m so repressed. And I still am. I was taught good manners are more important than anything else in life. … It is so freeing to say something weird and dark and strange.” And her efforts don’t go unnoticed — especially by a certain über-famous guest star. “James Franco came to set — noted weirdo — said hello to us, sat, we’re trying to make small talk with him,” Kaling recalled. “It’s impossible to make small talk with James Franco. But when he saw Beth, he lit up.”

OK, back to Chris Messina. The stoic actor was the panel’s silent star, hitting the stage with a beer in hand and looking down sheepishly as he was complimented throughout the night (“He hates praise — which is crazy, because I love praise,” Kaling noted). Barinholtz explained why Messina’s Danny can get away with some of the show’s meanest lines. “He’s able to take lines that if other characters had said to her, you would hate him — making fun of her ethnicity and how she looks. But he’s so likable and so charming as a guy that he gets away with it. I remember when you guys were walking down the street, and she’s like, ‘When my mom was my age, she was already married,’ and he’s like, ‘Yeah, but she was probably a child bride. It’s all messed up over there.’ It’s a testament to how likable and special he is.” There’s also that aforementioned dance ability, which he showed off during the Christmas episode, giving Mindy the gift of his choreographed routine to Aaliyah’s “Try Again.” “My mom was a dance teacher,” Messina explained. “I got beat up most of the time. I wanted to take karate as a kid, and my mom was like, ‘You’ll go to dancing school.’ But when [the writers] first presented it to me, I was extremely nervous and mad that I told them that I could dance. But I thought it was a very original and fresh and romantic thing to come up with. It’s a great gift.” And viewers wanted more Danny and less Mindy during that dance number: “People were mad that they cut to my reaction,” Kaling recalled. “‘Why must I look at this Indian middle-aged woman?’” Last Chris story (we swear): Barinholtz loved teasing the tech-illiterate Messina about the many social-media mentions throughout the night. Below are those priceless exchanges:

Ike: Tell me what you think Twitter is.

Chris: It’s like a text message?

Ike: What do you think Tinder is?

Chris: It’s like Twitter with some pictures?

Four times the Mindy! As a reward for their patience, viewers will be treated to two weeks of back-to-back new episodes — so two full hours of Mindy are coming at you on April 1 and April 8. “It’s going to play out like a roller coaster straight through,” Warburton promises. And Mindy is quite proud of what’s coming up. “The next eight episodes are the best eight episodes of television I’ve been a party to in my entire career. And I hope that people watch them … because it really builds up like a roller coaster.” An audience member asked Kaling if she felt like she’d attained the perfect, Conan O’Brien level of fame that she wrote about in her best-selling book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). The answer: Sort of. “My level of fame is perfect, because people just think they went to space camp with me,” she joked. “‘You were a nerd at my high school.’” We have a feeling the longer The Mindy Project is on, the less likely that will be.

The Mindy Project
returns Tuesday, April 1, at 9 p.m. on Fox for back-to-back new episodes.

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