'The Mindy Project' Boss on "Controversial" New Romance, Chris Messina's Reduced Role and Season 5

The Mindy Project H 2016
Courtesy of Hulu

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season four finale of The Mindy Project, "Homewrecker."]

The kid is staying in the picture, at least for now. After spending much of the second half of season four on the sidelines following his split from Mindy (Mindy Kaling), Danny (Chris Messina) made a big comeback in Tuesday's season finale when he and his former fiancee found themselves stuck together in a broken elevator for hours. After sleeping together, Danny walked Mindy home and the two said "I love you" to each other.

However, it's not quite so cut-and-dried for the on-and-off couple. Danny is engaged — a fact which he struggled to tell Mindy throughout the episode. Meanwhile, after her date with Jody (Garret Dillahunt) ended with her kicking him out of her apartment, Jody tried to win her back by buying her the apartment upstairs so she could give Leo the room he deserves, and so Mindy could have her walk-in closet back. Jody told Mindy he was in love with her mere moments after her sweet exchange with Danny. All a shell-shocked Mindy could muster was "Holy shit!" as Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" played and the camera closed in on Danny's wedding invitation sitting on Mindy's kitchen island, unbeknownst to her.

So what does this latest big move mean? And what comes next? The Hollywood Reporter spoke with showrunner Matt Warburton about the decision to bring Danny and Mindy back together in the finale, the Jody factor and the real reason behind Chris Messina's shift from series regular to recurring.

What was behind the decision to bring Mindy and Danny back together in this episode? Why now?

I think that over the second part of this long season that we just did, Danny's sort of a cloud that's hovering over Mindy. We've seen Mindy having these various dating adventures and stuff, and we would ask ourselves: "I wonder what Danny's up to right now?" So we thought we would do almost a reverse clip show where we go back and see the crazy adventures Danny's been having while we've been focusing on Mindy the whole season. We also know that the fans love the character of Danny, and we do too, so we wanted to have the last two [episodes] to bring him back and check in with where Mindy and Danny are in their relationship and throw forward to a big, exciting choice that Mindy's going to have to make.

As Mindy asks in the episode: What does it mean when they sleep together again? What can you tease?

Well, I mean, she has a bunch of choices available to her right now with crazy consequences. We're working on the next season, so the challenge for us is what is the most interesting choice she can make that puts her in a new position, and I think that fans are going to like what we landed on. Some people will be mad; they always are. (Laughs.) I'm used to that at this point. I read all the tweets. … Yeah, I mean, I think the way the way we broke them up in the middle of the season — we still understand that these characters do love each other on some level, but it's just not working for any number of reasons and I think it was important to remind people that that's still true, but those reasons are still there, too.

So we found with Sarah, Greta Gerwig's character, that this is a woman who is less resistant to all the things Mindy was resistant to when they broke up. So there's definitely a world where that's better for him because we already saw what happens when these two really try and make it work — it didn't go very well. They're both smart people and they know that, too. Whereas Jody seems like a new opportunity where it's also not perfect in a lot of ways and he's some done terrible stuff — almost gave her chlamydia, for example — but he has also done something really sweet for her. And she's a character who has a lot of outward confidence but inner self doubts she's been wrestling with all season, like, 'How picky do I get to be as a single mom? Am I OK with settling? Am I OK with saying no to both? Or am I going to do a risky thing and go back with Danny? Is that going to wreck his engagement?' That's what we meant by "what does it mean?"

Mindy and Danny both say "I love you," but then a worried look comes across Danny's face. What's behind that look?

It's like they had magical little experience where they were forced together for awhile and the entire world was gone, and they got to remind each other what was great about their relationship when the rest of the world isn't there. And the spell get's broken, and I think he just remembers, 'I'm going home. Oh right, my fiancee's there.' I don't think the thing he said to Mindy isn't true; it can be true in a much more complicated way, the "I love you." Chris is such a great actor. I think it took me just 30 seconds to explain all that and he can just make a look that tells that to you.

The episode ends with Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black." What were you trying to say with that song choice?

It has such an exciting but dark edge to it. We wanted the moment to just be very suspenseful and so to have a song that sounds kind of hot and romantic in a certain way, but also a little scary, there aren't that many great songs that do that. Hopefully, it will help people drive themselves nuts over the summer wondering what decision Mindy's going to make.

You're already working on the new season, so how soon will the premiere pick up after the finale?

We're going to pick up, more or less, exactly where Mindy's head is at at the end of finale.

And she'll definitely make a choice in the matter?

I think people will be excited by how quickly we move things forward with the decision that she makes.

Danny moved on fairly quickly with someone new. What was the thinking behind that?

The biggest change that Danny has had from the beginning of the show to now is his interest in family relationships and all the stuff he said at the beginning of the series after he got divorced from first wife: "Never again." Now, he wants that stuff even more than Mindy does, the world's most romantic person, who at the beginning of the series, that's all she wanted. So this season, we've been having fun with the character going back to her lighter romantic adventures from earlier in the show and showing her going on dates with funny guys and having smaller, lighter stories. That wasn't what Danny's plan was when they broke up. Danny wanted to settle down and have more kids as soon as possible.

This, I think, is a way that protects Danny's character and shows that that problem was very real that they had. He is willing to do pretty much anything to keep growing his family and that was the thing that broke them up. So for us, it was just a way to show Danny's growth through the show was real and it's not going anywhere. And Mindy is either going to have to move on or deal with that.

Chris Messina has appeared in just five of the 13 episodes during this second half of the season and it's been reported he won't be a series regular in season five. Whose decision was that?

It's been a little overblown in the press because his relationship with us is as a recurring guest star already, and it's just going to continue. So it wasn't really a dramatic shift; it's really more the way it's described in the business part of things. But creatively, Mindy's dating other people, Danny and she have a kid together so we definitely need to see him sometimes, but there's so many other parts of Mindy's world that we need to remind the audience that this is a complicated situation. There's going to be lots of times where we're just going to be in Mindy's POV and it's distracting to have Danny around too much. So our goal is always — and this is something I hope we did with the last two episodes — is when we decide we want to bring back Chris Messina — and he's so great and such a team player and always ready to come back when we need him — bring him back when it's really going to help the story or we're going to learn something really important from him. That was our philosophy in these 13, and hopefully we’re going to keep doing that next year. Anything that's been reported is already the case for this past year, so people shouldn’t expect anything too different from Chris Messina's involvement.

Looking at this season as a whole and where the storyline went, was it always the plan to eventually have them go their separate ways? Or if he had remained a series regular, would their relationship look different on the show?

One of the first things that we figured out when we looked down the barrel of doing 26 episodes this season was, well, OK, the show has always thrived on big moves and dramatic character moves and breakups and stuff like that. We're sort of like, 'OK, Mindy is now in a position where she's got her work life going really well, she has a kid, she got a guy that she's really into and they're even getting engaged'; those are all the big problems that this character already had and now we've solved them all, and that didn't seem like fun to us, especially given how self-defeating our characters are sometimes. So our challenge was: How do we keep these stories interesting? I have a hard time seeing how we could do tons and tons of more episodes with them as just this together couple.

Obviously, Chris was looking to do a little more movie stuff and made it clear to us that that was something that was interesting to him. We had been talking about, well, the one big thing we can do is have these guys have a big, messy breakup, which seemed to be the most exciting thing for us to do. Basically, we planned the first 13 [episodes of season four] knowing that that's where we were going to end, with them seriously thinking about breaking up. Then when we got to the middle of the season, we sort of took stock and saw how people were liking what we were doing and then planned the second half as sort of part two of that story.

You've talked before about all the work the writers put into the Danny character and evolving him from Mindy's enemy in season one to her love interest in seasons two and three. How difficult was it to say goodbye to that character to a certain extent?

On the good side of it, I felt like we fully got to explore the character. I don’t think there were too many other layers to the onion. I mean there's always more, but we were very satisfied that we got to explore him as deeply as we did, but yeah, I love writing for that character. Everyone lights up when we get to write Danny stuff. He's one of the really unique characters that is like an old man trapped in a hot man's body. Mindy created that character and that's a really unique thing. But it was all the more reason to bring in a bunch of new people that we're excited about and really like to write for, and some great new actors have come on the show since then.

The potential Jody romance caught some people by surprise. Was that always planned from the beginning when you were first creating this character?

Yeah, we knew we wanted to start something with another person who's in our world and see where it went. I sort of knew that this would be a controversial thing because people are so invested in Mindy and Danny that there is literally no one we could bring in as another credible love interest to be treated great, I think, by a certain percentage of the fans. That's what I think is important for them to know is Danny is still in the world, and by the time they see the finale, they'll know that these two characters still have strong feelings for each other, so none of this is ever going to be simple. We're not just pivoting in one direction. We're not trying to trick people into loving Jody or make them forget Danny or something. We're just adding another cool dynamic to a very messy situation. Mindy gets one thing out of Jody, she gets another very different thing out of Danny. There's a lot of flaws on both sides of that and there's other options that the fans aren’t even thinking of that are going to come into play. That's all going to get explored very quickly after the finale and people can look forward to it. But I think they'll be happy, but like I said, I promise you some of them will not be happy because that's always the case.

From a writing perspective, how does Jody differ from Mindy's many past love interests on the show like Danny and Casey, etc.?

I felt like he was one of the smartest people that she's ever dated, and someone who comes from a world of sophistication that she would aspire to, but never had naturally. We wanted to see her with a high-status character that kind of looks down on her a little bit as gross, maybe, in a word. He comes from this very elegant background, lives in this giant place. She pretends to be some of those things, but we all know that she kind of isn't, and that's one of the things that we love about her. So showing this guy grow to, despite himself, like those things about her and just giving him a strong masculine energy as a foil for her, we wanted to bring that once again into the workplace and not just have this be a person who she can just get away from. It's someone she really can't escape because he's there and the other doctors all love him.

Garret Dillahunt has other projects in addition to The Mindy Project; most notably he's a series regular on Amazon's Hand of God. How concerned are you about his availability for season five? How big of a role do you see him playing in season five?

He's one of these guys that you can never get him as a series regular because he's already two shows deep on some other contract or something. But the good news is he loves doing it and he's in the world of the show. Like some of our other characters in the office environment, they aren't in every episode; it's not a story point or anything. But as far as I know, his situation is going to be the same as far as how in the show he is.

Looking ahead, what do you think the theme of season five will be? What will Mindy's central story be?

I think Mindy has sowed her wild oats the second time — now with a kid. Most people get to do it once. She got to do it twice. She's facing these big choices she has to make that are kind of back-to-relationship choices. Last season was a lot about work, it was a lot about friendship, it was a lot about letting go of Danny, while keeping him in the world and while still having him maybe be in the background as a possibility. Now, I think, she's just going to have to face the facts that, OK, there's a bunch of dating and now maybe it's time for her to finally … let's put an endgame here as far as settling down with someone. We're just going to see her really start to take that more seriously. Like, 'What is the rest of my life going to look like as a single mom with a kid? I don’t have an infinite amount of time to figure this out.'

With these questions about Mindy's love and a possible romance with Jody on the horizon, how much do you worry about, once again, typing up too many loose ends and not having as much conflict as you would need?

I would say that the key that we have to solve that problem is to keep adding characters and layers of responsibility for Mindy in the different parts of her life to keep adding problems. … So to us it's to keep solving problems in a way that adds twice as many problems. (Laughs.) As long as we keep doing that, we can keep ruining this poor character's life.

Season five will be 10 episodes shorter than season four, so how do you imagine those episodes rolling out?

I'm pretty sure it's going to be in two big chunks again. We love cliffhangers on our show, so it's great to always leave people waiting for a couple of months.

The Mindy Project returns for season five on Tuesday, Oct. 4, on Hulu.