'The Mindy Project's' Fortune Feimster on Colette's "Weird" Evolution

Originally set for a three-episode arc, the comedian has since become a series regular and a fan-favorite on the Hulu half-hour.
Evans Vestal Ward/Universal Television

When Fortune Feimster first arrived on The Mindy Project at the beginning of season four, she was part of a package deal. Her character, Colette, joined the practice where Mindy & Co. work as a nurse alongside her doctor brother, Jody (Garret Dillahunt), who eventually became a (somewhat short-lived) love interest for Mindy (Mindy Kaling).

However, it didn't take long for Colette to break out in her own way as the female counterpart to longtime fan-favorite Morgan (Ike Barinholtz), and Feimster was upgraded to series regular midway through season four.

"I'm always baffled by the amount of people that come up to me that watch The Mindy Project," she tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Now, in the midst of the Hulu comedy's fifth season, Feimster is breaking out with a recurring role on Life in Pieces, and an upcoming part in the Jennifer Aniston film Office Christmas Party, among others.

Although Feimster is having a moment, she's no stranger to the comedy world. The North Carolina native and Groundlings grad first appeared on Last Comic Standing before finding notoriety as a writer and performer on Chelsea Lately. She then segued into acting, recurring on the Fox comedy Mulaney and starring in two Tina Fey-produced TV pilots (Cabot College for Fox in 2014 and Family Fortune for ABC in 2015). Neither were picked up to series, but she landed the Mindy role within months of shooting Family Fortune.

All this in addition to stand-up, which Feimster continues to perform around the country on her days off.

Feimster spoke to THR about finding her groove on Mindy Project, making the leap to acting and why she won't be leaving stand-up anytime soon. "It just keeps you humble," she says.

How were you first approached about the show?

I had just done my own pilot called Family Fortune that shot for ABC with Tina Fey as a producer. It didn't get picked up, I was super bummed and I was like, "Ahh, what's next?," because as an actor you never know what's around the corner. Universal [TV] was our studio [on the pilot] so I think they mentioned to Mindy and [co-showrunner] Matt [Warburton], "We have this actress who you'll really like and we know you were talking about this particular character." So then Mindy watched my pilot and then called me with Matt and explained what their idea was. I think at first they thought I would come in as Jody's sister and be sort of the cool chick that Mindy's like, "I want to hang out with her." So I came and then slowly morphed into another Morgan. I became weirder and they liked that and I think they just liked our dynamic. We were only supposed to be here, I think, for three episodes and now we're here so I don't know what’s going to happen. I don't know how long we'll be around but hopefully we're not going anywhere.

You have a very specific voice in your stand-up work. How has the process been to craft this role to play to your strengths as a comedian and really find that character?

Its been nice because I feel like Mindy and the writers really pay attention to who all of us are as people so we definitely find our own characteristics finding their way into these scripts and into these characters. But its cool because then I feel like you have a more authentic rapport with each other, even though Ike's not quite like Morgan. (Laughs.) Morgan is like nobody else you've ever met. But I feel like they play to our strengths and that helps as an actor because you're getting to do things that you know you're best at.

How has it been for your personally to come from the stand-up world and dip more into acting and improving?

I started at the Groundlings so improv was sort of my forte before stand-up happening, but then stand-up took off so I didn’t get to do much as improv and acting. I left Chelsea Lately early, actually to do a Tina Fey pilot for Fox and that was kind of my first big break as far as acting, getting to do a real show and then we did my own pilot. I think Mindy's been helpful for me because it's showing people I'm not just a stand-up. They're getting to see my acting side so it's opened up this whole new world for me which I am grateful for. Because a lot of stand-ups don't get that opportunity. A lot of us are like, 'We can do other things,' but people don't know.

Are you looking at other things to do once the show wraps for the season? How are you approaching acting projects now that you've been on the show for some time?

They're pretty good about letting us pop up on other things here and there which is nice when you as an actor want to step into different worlds when you can just to grow. So I have a small part in Office Christmas Party movie. I only was there a couple days, I got to shoot a really fun scene with Jennifer Aniston so I'm excited to see how that turns out. And I pop up on Life in Pieces a little bit here and there and just little things, but yeah, it's in between our shooting schedule because with Hulu, our schedule is not the same as network. You just try to find little projects in between. I did a silly movie called Deported. So hopefully I'll be here for awhile and get to do other little things when I can.

Do you see yourself just doing acting and not stand-up or will continue to do both?

I definitely see stand-up being part of my life just because once you're a live performer, you always have that desire to get up in front of an audience. It grounds you, I think, too, getting back on the road. Like here on set, you're catered to a little bit and on the road, you're sort of road-dogging it. You're in these random hotels and tiny little green rooms that are like broom closets and some shows are sold out, some are less frequented. It just humbles you a little bit and makes you remember why you got into this and then you get to meet fans that are appreciative of your work and that definitely reminds you  even though we're not doing brain surgery here  what I do matters to certain people and it makes them feel good for a little bit and that's the best feeling when you can actually meet someone and see them forget their problems for the day.

Looking at your character specifically, what do you think we'll kind of learn more about her as we get further into the season? Will we see love interests?

You definitely see different sides of Colette. I think the first season I was here, it was more like happy-go-lucky, so you see her complexities a little bit more. She gets aggressive sometimes, which is funny. She's obviously very protective of her brother, that's always been the case. But she does get a lady friend at some point. But even I don't know, does it last? Is it one episode? Is it someone that's sticking around? We'll see, but I think as the season continues we'll delve more into the lives of the characters.

You described your character as the female Morgan. Why do you think those two complement each other so well?

I'm almost more intrigued about their friendship than I am about Colette and a love interest because I think they're so funny together. Ike and I get along really well off the show and we both come from improv backgrounds, so our brains think very similarly to the point where we can almost finish each other's sentence. Because they're roommates, we do have them at home, but I do want to see some more of them just interacting on their own. What I like is that Colette grounds Morgan a little bit because he's so out there and then Morgan makes her a little bit more out there so we're kind of picking up each other's traits a little bit, which I like.

You've said the character has become increasingly weird over time. How has it been to find that line of knowing how far you can go and where you can't go?

They'll reel us in. I remember from season four, I remember doing certain takes where we would say the weirdest stuff ever and its hilarious in the moment as actors, we start cracking up and laughing, and then I start watching the final cut and they used the more realistic version. So they look out for us too. They make sure they keep the tone of the show in check whereas we just want to trail off to these crazy worlds. (Laughs.) At least we can do it in the moment, but then they’ll take care of us after.

Sometimes coming into the fourth season of the show can be tricky. There are already established dynamics and such. What was your personal experience coming onto the show later in its run?

I was nervous for sure because I'd only done guest spots and pilots at that point and I was a guest star at the moment so I thought it would be a quick thing, but everyone was so nice. Beth Grant's a very personable person and we're both from North Carolina so she immediately took me in, so that made me feel better and Mindy was lovely, and I had already talked to her on the phone. They really did a good job of, when you get here, seeming excited, so it makes you feel like you're wanted. And then my [episodes] just kept growing and I think I just immediately felt like apart of the family. And I've noticed a lot of guest stars say that, that like everybody's so nice, from the crew to the cast but that stars at the top. It starts with how the person in charge treats everybody and she's very professional and very lovely so it makes us follow that example. 

You mentioned being from North Carolina and your character is from the South. Is that a coincidence or did they write that in after you were cast?

I meant to ask [Mindy]. I don't know which came first…. But I think we're from more like Georgia, the deep south, but its funny because Jody's accent is so different from mine. He's that more old-school, southern gentleman and I'm just like a weird, southern person. So, yeah, its funny that we're siblings. We don't look alike, we don't sound alike, but the love is definitely there. (Laughs.)

It's interesting because Garret is sometimes in different scenes then you are, or in different episodes. How has it been to find your character outside of that sibling relationship in which you were originally introduced?

You explore that a lot more in this season. With him being a doctor and me a nurse, you see some divide happening in the fifth season already. We're on different ends of the coin so already we're having to explore our own worlds. … They're definitely finding their lives outside of each other. Sometimes, I forget he's my brother because I've not had scenes with him for a little awhile. I'm like, 'Oh yeah!' (Laughs.)

New episodes of The Mindy Project come out Tuesdays on Hulu.

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