Film Independent recently presented An Evening with… Mindy Kaling before an enthusiastic, female-dominated audience inside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater. The crowd was there to experience the wonder that is Kaling, a trailblazing comedian, actress, writer, producer and creator of The Mindy Project, now in its fourth season on Hulu.
After a screening of episode 13, “When Mindy Met Danny” (which Kaling wrote) film critic and curator Elvis Mitchell welcomed the guest of honor for an insightful hour-long conversation on several subjects, including The Mindy Project, her latest book, Why Not Me?, the writing process, her love of theater and The Intern. From Kaling’s stories and anecdotes, we collected eight of our favorite moments/lines/insights from the conversation.
While most stars at these types of events are usually politically correct with water bottles at their sides (presumably filled with water) we knew from the outset that this talk was going to be a little different. After the screening, the production crew put out two chairs, a table, two wine glasses and a bottle of wine chilling in an ice bucket for the conversation. We were too far back to read the vintner or vintage, but it was a white—with a screwcap. (As if the audience didn’t have reason enough to adore her.)
Once the glasses were poured, Mitchell asked Kaling about her show’s transition from three seasons on FOX to its fourth, now on Hulu. She noted that Hulu allows her “total creative freedom” and pointed to the winter finale “When Mindy Met Danny” as an example. The episode clocked in at 28 minutes, and that’s a big deal for a network, where half-hour comedies are generally 22 minutes to make room for the commercials. The episode also ended—SPOILER ALERT—with the lead heroine in a puddle of tears to Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me” playing in the background—something that doesn’t usually happen on holiday-themed episodes of comedy series.
Even after writing 24 episodes for The Office and now for The Mindy Project, Kaling admitted that writing is still torturous: “I have the same blind panic when I write. Even at The Office, even [after] my 22nd episode of the show, I was, ‘I’m f*cked, I’m a fraud, what am I doing here?’”
If there were a theme to emerge from the hour-long conversation, it’s that Kaling’s really really into a certain type of film/TV genre (and Quentin Tarantino). She had just come from a screening of The Revenant. “I love The Revenant because one of my favorite movies is Kill Bill. I am obsessed with vengeance, and I am obsessed with justice.” (She also hilariously derailed the conversation a few times to quiz Mitchell about his friendship with Quentin Tarantino.)
The conversation later returned to the same topic, and she explained further, “Because of my show, I really like violent dramas, so Peaky Blinders, I love—to the point where I was talking about it too much in the [writer’s] room, and everyone’s like, ‘No one’s seen this, we hate that you talk about it.’” Still, she was profuse in her love for the BBC 1920s-set gangster drama. “I love how incomprehensible Tom Hardy is in that show. But he’s almost incomprehensible in everything he does…” To which Mitchell added, “We can almost understand him in The Revenant.”
Kaling went on to name other characters she admired, including Denzel Washington in American Gangster or Michael Corleone in The Godfather. “Someone give me a gun… like… come on!” she blurted out, before clarifying, “In a movie, give me a gun. Guns are a huge systemic problem in America.”
When asked to describe Dr. Lahiri, Kaling said of her character: “Someone once said, ‘She’s an incredibly complicated character who thinks that she’s very simple.’ And I agree. She’s quick to anger and quick to let it fall off her shoulders. What I like about her is that she’s very resilient, [and] she’s delusionally confident.”
Kaling, who’s a big fan of writer/director/producer Nancy Meyers (Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated), probably surprised a lot of people in the audience with this one: “The Intern, I think, is one of the best movies that came out this year. I loved it.” She said she related to the film’s story about an entrepreneurial woman and the challenges she faced in the workplace, and learning from a 70-year-old intern. “Me and my dad were like, ‘This is our story.”
Several times throughout the evening, Kaling professed her love for the stage and her theatrical background. Mitchell mentioned Matt and Ben, a reference to the 2002 off-Broadway play in which Kaling scored her big break. (Though she called the show “loosely theater.”) The production, which Kaling co-wrote and starred in with her best friend from college, Brenda Withers, focused on the lives of Ben Affleck (Kaling) and Matt Damon (Withers) in 1995, and how they really wrote Good Will Hunting.
Mitchell asked Kaling to recount a theater experience with Novak that she wrote about in Why Not Me? “He hates theater. He hates the medium. He can’t sit through a play. It’s one of the only surprisingly kind of neanderthal-ish things about him.” She told the audience that she tricked him into seeing Doubt with her on Broadway, and he promptly fell asleep within 20 minutes… on the older man sitting next to him. “He woke up and all these people rushed towards us, and BJ and I assumed that it was for The Office. ‘Ah, the trappings of fame. Of course, we’ll sign autographs,’” she said, exaggeratedly. “[The rush] was for the older guy he had been asleep on… which was Edward Albee.”
The Mindy Project returns in early 2016 for the second half of Season 4 on Hulu.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.