Mindy Kaling on Her TV Parents, Dream Guest Stars

Mindy Kaling 15th annual New Yorker Festival - H 2014
Thos Robinson/Getty Images for The New Yorker

Mindy Kaling 15th annual New Yorker Festival - H 2014

Viewers of Fox's The Mindy Project have gotten to know Danny Castellano's family, recently meeting his mother, played by Rhea Perlman. But what about Mindy Lahiri's family?

Although Mindy's younger brother, Rishi, has received some screen time, her mother and father have yet to make an appearance, apart from that picture of her and her dad that she gave to Morgan in last week's episode.

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Speaking at the New Yorker Festival on Saturday, showrunner and star Mindy Kaling said that one of the reasons why viewers have yet to meet her TV alter ego's parents is because she's had trouble finding someone that her late mother would have approved of to play her.

"To cast my father would be fairly easy…. To cast my mother would have been a challenge for me personally," Kaling explained. "It's the kind of thing where I know if my mom were alive, she would want only the most young and beautiful Bollywood actress to play her. [She'd be like,] 'I don't want that old crone to play me!' "

Kaling's mother died in 2012, just months before The Mindy Project premiered. But Kaling said she has recently come up with the backstory for Mindy's parents.

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"My dad was very studious and kind of round, and he's a pharmacist," she explained. "And my mother was a very theatrical woman who in India wanted to be an actress but it didn't work out…she would always play like a gypsy woman in Boston regional shows…. She took her acting career very seriously. So that's where that side of Mindy's personality came from. That seems very funny to me, that that was her mom."

Kaling said that she wanted to do more with Mindy's family, listing that as one of the many potential story lines on the show that there just isn't enough time to explore in the 21-minute, 30-second episodes she submits to Fox. But it's unclear when viewers will meet Mindy's parents.

Kaling also indicated that Mindy and Danny will remain together for the near future, after she alluded to their relationship possibly ending and her comment prompted a chorus of disappointed sounds from the crowd of superfans.

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But she said it has been tough to make long-term plans because she doesn't know how many episodes the show will have, noting that Fox has given the third season of The Mindy Project a 15-episode order, but that the network could give it a few more episodes.

She added that in the first two seasons, she'd create boyfriend arcs based on the availability of the guest star who was playing her love interest.

"Her romantic life would be this finite amount of time based on the availability of the actor," she said. "Like, we better have a serious breakup here, because Anders [Holm, who played Mindy's former fiancé Casey] has to go back to Workaholics." Kaling added that she learned that practice of creating mini-arcs from her time as a writer on The Office, citing the Michael Scott Paper Company story line that came about partly because Idris Elba wanted to be on the show but was only in the U.S. for a month.

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While Kaling listed Elba as one of the people she'd like to have as a guest star on The Mindy Project, along with Jessica Chastain and Sam Rockwell, she said her dream guest star would be one of Danny Castellano's favorite politicians, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.

She also has a specific role in mind for Judge Judy.

"I always wanted Judge Judy to play Morgan's grandmother," she said. Kaling added that Niecy Nash guest stars on this week's episode as a professional friend that Mindy has "a very interesting dynamic with."

Kaling revealed that the most recurrent note she's gotten from Fox this season is that the show is too sexual, which she agrees with.

And while she reiterated her frustration with having people think that she is her character, she described the politics of her TV alter ego.

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"Her politics are just kind of like the politics of 'Who can help me?', which I think is kind of fun. She has a libertarian streak to her," Kaling said, adding that she assumes her character is pro-choice and generous fiscally and in other ways but very pro-death penalty.

"She thinks the West Memphis Three, they did it," Kaling continued, noting that her character "can't be bothered" to watch the documentaries; she just thinks one of them "looks weird."

The wide-ranging discussion with New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum also spent a great deal of time on Kaling's life and career, including playing Ben Affleck in Matt & Ben and writing for The Office. She also expounded on her love of romantic comedies, connecting what are now seen as guilty pleasures to Homer's The Odyssey.

"I studied the classics and I'm obsessed with The Odyssey, and I'm only just now realizing that the journey that Odysseus has to go through to get back to his Penelope is like the journey that all of the girls in these movies have to go through — it's just so many trials," she said.

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At the top of the panel, which Kaling had jokingly called "Race Sex Confidence Weight" on Twitter, she talked about her frustration with getting questions that white male showrunners don't, revealing that she was planning to do a Funny or Die video about that topic but couldn't because her show was starting production.

But the idea was to get white male showrunners she's friends with, such as Greg Daniels, Aaron Sorkin and Beau Willimon, and the premise would be that she was interviewing them but lost the questions she had for them and only had the ones that were asked of her the previous night at a panel that she was on.

"And I'd sit there with Greg Daniels and Aaron Sorkin and Beau Willimon and go, 'How do you feel writing for male characters? Is that challenging for you? How do you balance your schedule? It's so much work.' And someone like Aaron Sorkin was like, 'How do I write for male characters? It's expected of me. How do I balance a workload? It's expected of me. I'm a professional person.' And I joke about it because, and I think it's coming from a good place, but female showrunners are a bit underestimated," she said.