A groundbreaker in the TV world, Mindy Kaling is now a pioneer in the feature film arena. She’s the first Indian-American woman to write and star in a mainstream U.S. comedy. That film is LATE NIGHT, the Sundance premiere being released by Amazon Studios, which satirizes the world of nightly talk shows.
Kaling stars in the movie as an aspiring humorist who joins the all-white, all-male writing staff working for an overbearing star played by Emma Thompson. Here’s how Kaling got to the top.
Breaking Barriers From the Beginning
One year after graduating from Dartmouth, Kaling co-wrote and starred in the off-Broadway hit “Matt & Ben,“ a sly takeoff on the real-life friendship between Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. (She played Ben.) Soon after that show did the rounds, Kaling was hired as the only female writer on the American version of “The Office,” and she joined the acting ensemble as chatty customer service rep Kelly Kapoor. Kaling was the credited writer on 22 episodes of “The Office” and directed 10.
That experience on one of NBC’s biggest hits primed the multitalented young comedian with ideas that would eventually inform the script for LATE NIGHT. First, however, Kaling’s triple-threat skillset opened the door to her own starring comedy series for Fox, “The Mindy Project.”
That show, about the romantic and career struggles of a zany New York gynecologist named Mindy Lahiri, ran for three seasons on the network. After that run, it was picked up by Hulu for another three years. “The Mindy Project” wasn’t just another sitcom — the show blended rom-com homage and parody with sharp wit and a lead character who could revel in being great at her job, even if the rest of her life was a mess.
Mindy Moves to the Movies
After supporting roles in a set of comedies such as THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT, Kaling got her first high-profile movie credit as the voice of Disgust in Pixar’s 2015 Oscar®-winning feature, INSIDE OUT. Three years later, she was a key cast member in two major studio releases, playing Mrs. Who in Ava DuVernay’s fantasy A WRINKLE IN TIME and appearing as jewelry artisan Amita in OCEAN’S EIGHT.
With roles as writer, producer and co-star, Kaling has been busy with LATE NIGHT for months. She tapped into her own experience as a TV comedy writer, and her memories of being the only woman and the only minority in the room, to create the film’s vision of the TV comedy landscape.
Rewriting the Late Night Rules
Always able to understand the limitations of her own characters, Kaling wrote her LATE NIGHT persona, Molly Patel, as a deeply inexperienced writer who lands her TV gig purely by chance, as the ratings-challenged host, Katherine Newbury, is pressured to diversify her staff. (Curiously for a female TV icon, Katherine is not especially disposed to support other women, though Molly does have an impact on her retrograde views.)
Kaling wrote the part of Katherine specifically for Thompson, and the dual Oscar winner (Thompson has statues for both acting and writing) jumped at the offer. “I was astonished and honored that she had written it with me in mind,” Thompson said. “The quality of the script is extraordinary. When people say they’ve written something for you, it can be touch-and-go, but her comic take, her timing, the cadences in her writing are just beautiful for all the characters.”
LATE NIGHT opens on June 7.