“Most people who grew up as nerds — as I was — love romance.” — Mindy Kaling.
Tonight marks the debut of Mindy Kaling’s new comedy “The Mindy Project.” It’s Kaling’s first post-“Office” gig which finds her working both behind the camera as creator-executive producer and in front of it as star.
In “Mindy,” Kaling stars as Mindy Lahiri, a romantic comedy obsessed OB/GYN who’s attempting to balance the pressures of a successful professional life with her lifelong dream of finding her perfect Prince Charming. The series also stars Chris Messina as Danny Castellano, Mindy’s hotheaded colleague and Ed Weeks as Jeremy Reed, another colleague and occasional bedfellow.
With critical response to the pilot at a high — The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman uses adjectives like “funny” and “important” to describe it — and a plum “New Girl” lead-in, “Mindy” is poised for breakout success.
Below, Kaling offers everything you need to know about the show in time for tonight’s premiere.
The Mom Factor: In “Mindy,” Kaling plays a skilled OB/GYN. Kaling reveals the character was based on her mother, an OB/GYN who passed away the day the series was picked up by Fox. “I’ve done a lot of research [on gynecology] throughout my life. Her hours were also very similar to my hours as a writer-performer,” Kaling adds. “We have the same sleep-deprived schedule.”
How the idea came about: “I’ve loved romantic comedies for a long time,” she tells XfinityTV.com. “The story just seemed like, you know that old saying, write what you know? On every level this just personified in a pilot. What is it like to have crazy hours, to have love and romance, but to be both professional and a nerd. It’s like I’ve been working on it since I was a kid because it’s my life in so many ways.”
Watch a Sneak Peek:
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The meaning behind the title: “The really fun thing about this character which is not unlike Michael Scott [Steve Carell] is that she wants to be a better person in so much of her life,” Kaling admits. “But she wants to be a better catch, and a better friend, and she wants to work out and read books instead of magazines. She wants to try to be a little more intellectual. That’s the “project,” with this woman who is not 21 or 22.”
On headlining her own show: “It’s awesome,” she says. “Every day I wake up and I’m like, Oh I’m the star of my own show that has my own name in it and I get to write it and hire actors I love. I’m going to turn into a monster. Like, I can’t handle it.”
On who she wants the “Mindy Project” audience to be: “We’re hoping for prison inmates and the elderly,” she jokes.
On joining Fox’s new Tuesday night comedy block: “To be paired with them [‘New Girl’] feels like we’re hanging out with them,” she says. “[Executive producer] Liz [Meriwether] and Zooey [Deschanel] are both good friends of mine.”
How her book and Twitter gave her the confidence to move forward with the show: “In November my book came out,” she tells us. “Writing a book, like — I was really nervous. I was like, Okay, this isn’t ‘The Office.’ I thought, If people are interested in it, it’ll just be because they’re into me and it’ll send a message to me in a way. And I was really psyched about the way it was received. It made it to No. 6 on the New York Times Bestseller list and stayed there for a while. And Twitter [played a part, too]. I’m so lucky to be here in the time of Twitter. I get feedback from fans all the time and it started changing…that gave me a lot of confidence that people were interested in me outside of ‘The Office.’ The book I would say was kind of a turning point.”
Why she decided to leave “The Office” after eight years: “I think with anything you’ve been doing for eight years – it’s like going to college twice,” she reveals. “You get very cozy. I spent all day with people like BJ Novak and Ed Helms and it’s pretty awesome and I get paid well and I get to be on camera on a show where they’re never like, “lose weight!” You know? There’s never like a bad personality. But after eight years it becomes easier to say goodbye. I mean, people don’t stay married for eight years.
On the will-they, won’t-they between Mindy and Danny: “I wanted to do something with two people who were very different from each other,” she says of their potential romance. “His character is more serious and doesn’t maybe believe in marriage and is kind of cynical. My character isn’t so it’s kind of fun to do that kind of storytelling. I feel like I want them to be diametrically opposites. It’s so fun to write yourself out of that hole. It’s impossible, no one can ever do it.”
Who’s Banned?: “Very early on in the series my character has been banned from the Empire State Building because she goes there so often looking for romance,” Kaling admits. “Maybe she’s a terrorist. The flip side of that is Chris’s [Messina] character who’s been banned from Fenway park and gets in huge fights.”
How “The Mindy Project” will tackle cliches in new ways: “I want to see two people fall in love and two people learn how to be better people and mature and find love,” she says of her view of romantic comedies.”It’s old fashioned but it’s kind of the kind of movies and TV shows people want to see. And they want formula so badly they’ll even see it if it’s terrible. You get a lot of, like, Oh can she balance work and life kind of thing. But that’s the single biggest issue that me and all my friends talk about. So I’m not going to not write about it just because people might think it’s a cliche. You can’t start thinking too much about what people are going to say. I wrote the first five scripts of the series and we’re tackling stuff that people have seen before. One episode we go into a nightclub; one episode is like stuff that people have seen before. But I think we’re just going to tackle it in a really fresh way that’s funny. [So often] people forget the comedy part of the romantic comedy. They don’t make them funny anymore. They’re like, ‘Oh, we’ll show them like a montage of dresses or like a beautiful Victorian mansion,’ and you’re like, ‘No, I want jokes.'”
“The Mindy Project” premieres on Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 9:30/8:30c on Fox.