Mindy Kaling | Interview

The former Kelly Kapoor slips into scrubs for her new Fox sitcom, The Mindy Project.

Photograph: Warwick Saint/Fox; Photo illustration: Jamie DiVecchio Ramsay
Mindy Kaling

In honor of our Fall Fashion Issue, comedy actor-writer (and sometime fashion blogger) Mindy Kaling offers her style do and don’t this season. “Do: smiling,” she says. “Don’t: harem pants.” (Though, with the poor phone reception, it sounds like she might well be saying “harem dance.” Also a don’t?) The 33-year-old will be engaging in plenty of the former and presumably not much of the latter in the new series she’s created, The Mindy Project. On the Fox sitcom premiering September 25, the former Kelly Kapoor on The Office plays an OB/GYN who’s great at her work life, not so much her love life.

Your character’s an OB/GYN, as your mom was before she passed earlier this year. Are you using any of her stories for the show?
Not really, because my mother’s life was very different than the life of this character, but the trappings of my mom’s professional life I definitely am pulling from for the show. She knew about the show and had always known that was a dream of mine. My mother was always proud of all of me, all the time. I was just the apple of her eye all the time.

You’ve said “there’s something inherently funny about being an OB/GYN.” Why is that?
It’s a job that leads to incredibly happy and also dramatic situations. I wish I could spend 80 percent of my hours with women. I enjoy the company of women so much. But because I’m a comedy writer, I spend 80 percent of my time with men. So I thought this world would allow me to spend more time with female guest stars. I just loved the world of my mom’s office, her and her nurses and her patients.

Speaking of gender, you’ve noted girls and gay men really respond to you.
[Laughs] I would love if gay men responded to me. All I want is for many gay men to dress up as me for Halloween.

You’ve just determined my Halloween costume this year.
[Laughs] That would be a real feather in my cap.

Kids of immigrant doctors face the expectation they’ll become doctors as well. Is this show a way of fulfilling that expectation: “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV”?
I know the Indian-doctor thing is a stereotype, but it’s a stereotype based on some truth. My parents could not be more proud of what I’m doing, but they would’ve loved for me to be a doctor, too. So it’s great to be vicariously a doctor. It’s a fun thing for the character to be un-P.C. and frivolous and a little bit selfish and drink too much if she’s also a doctor.

In the pilot, an Iranian kid explains to his mom in Farsi how much your character likes to drink. Being in the rare position of a woman of Indian descent leading a sitcom, do you want to show more cultural diversity?
I try not to put anything political on the forefront of what I’m trying to do creatively. At the same time, I do think it’s wonderful when I hear people say that it’s inspirational that I’m an Indian woman on camera. My life is very diverse, and my friends are a diverse group of people. If that can just be reflected in [the show], then that’d be great.

There’s also a casualness here around joking about race, like when your character quips she wants only white patients who’ll pay.
The funniest racism is the racism between minorities. [Laughs] It’s something you don’t see dramatized, but almost every minority I know who’s my age, they have these funny stories about their parents stereotyping other minorities.

So, apparently The Office could survive Steve Carell’s departure but not yours.
[Laughs] If you can make that the way people perceive The Office this season, that would be wonderful. I love The Office. I’m in the [season] premiere, and I’m maybe gonna shoot another episode this season, but I’ve been there since the very beginning, so when I found out this is the last year—I am a good Asian kid who was an A student [so] I wish I could be there to the end to see things through. I didn’t have any idea that was going to happen, but I do feel a little wistful about that.

The Office’s executive producer, Greg Daniels, said you were the best writer on that show.
I can’t say that I agree, but I will say that Greg Daniels is a very smart man.

NBC passed on The Mindy Project. Do you feel a sense of “I’ll show you, NBC”? As you’ve written, “The best revenge is acid in the face.”
[Laughs] I’m not gonna lie. I was disappointed when NBC passed on my pilot. That’s the only place I had ever worked for eight years. But I cannot imagine a better boss or source of inspiration than [Fox chairman of entertainment] Kevin Reilly, who, by the way, hired me at The Office.

And I understand your parents love Fox News. Your dad must be thrilled.
Oh, my God. My dad calls me and he tells me that every other ad on all his favorite Fox News shows is The Mindy Project, so he’s elated.

Do you get into political spats with him?
I have weird contrarian streaks in me, so I don’t always necessarily disagree with my father.

What are you saying, you’re a Romney voter?
[Laughs] I’m not talking about politics! This is not my first rodeo.

The Mindy Project premieres September 25 on Fox.

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