Mindy Kaling On The "Beautiful" Idea That Inside Out Is Not About A Princess

Photo by: Matt Baron/BEImages/Rex USA
Mindy Kaling has had a pretty good month. Just weeks after it was announced that FOX wouldn’t be renewing The Mindy Project, news broke that Hulu would be picking it up for 26 episodes, the series' longest season yet. Kaling and her friend/former boyfriend B.J. Novak also inked a book deal with Penguin Random House for a reported $7.5 million. She chopped her hair into a cute bob, and now she’s starring in Pixar’s Inside Out (in theaters June 19), a wondrous journey into the brain — and heart and soul — of an 11-year-old girl.

Kaling voices the character of Disgust, one of many emotions — including Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), and Anger (Lewis Black) — jockeying for dominance inside little Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). An animated movie with a female lead who isn’t the child of royals, but a regular girl who is shown expressing a full range of feelings as she navigates the stress of moving to a new city? The premise is nothing short of extraordinary, especially in this age of prefabricated blockbusters.

On a recent afternoon in Los Angeles, Kaling chatted with us about why Inside Out feels so important, her own tween years, and being the perfect person to play Disgust.

It was so cool to watch a movie about the inner workings of a tween girl’s mind. Did the story speak to you immediately?

“I was so impressed by how daring it is. I was offered the role, and then they invited me up to Emeryville to come and hear them talk about it. So I went up to Pixar headquarters, and [writer/director] Pete Docter and [producer] Jonas Rivera and [co-director] Ronnie Del Carmen sat in a conference room and they told me the story of how they got inspired for it. Pete showed us pictures of his daughter and [explained] how when she was 11, she was very different from when she was younger. He was very curious about what that change was, and that’s what inspired him. A movie like this is so good because it’s coming from such a personal place, and you can tell. I burst into tears when they talked to me about the struggles that she was going through, and how anger, fear, and disgust were ruling her emotions for part of the movie.”

It’s a pretty radical idea.

“It was just so beautiful to me, because this is not an animated movie where she’s a princess trying to find an amulet or climb to the top of mountain and argue with a dragon, or slay a witch or something. Her journey in this movie is to find happiness. She moves to a new city and has a rough time of it, and then needs to learn how to communicate that with her parents. I loved that that would be the adventure of a summer blockbuster movie.”

What do you remember most about being a tween?

“I’ve always been a very anxious person, but I think as a kid I felt it a lot more. The character in this movie, Riley, she’s into sports, she has a great relationship with her parents, and she is well adjusted. And you know, I had a great relationship with my parents, but I was not good at sports; I was very shy and very silent and very sensitive. So we were very different kinds of kids.”

Photo: Courtesy of Pixar
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What would you say your dominant emotion was when you were Riley’s age?

“Probably fear. And maybe a little bit of anger.”

Were you handpicked to play Disgust?

“I think I was?”

How did that feel?

“The thing about the character is that Disgust is so judgmental, and she’s a lot like my character Kelly from The Office, who is just incredibly impatient and judgmental about so many things and rarely has any solutions. So I think I played her as a little bit of an impatient adolescent girl.”

I was wondering how you tapped into that. It felt very on point.

“Well, good. It was not hard to tap into.”

Your book deal with B.J. Novak was recently announced, and I know it’s in the early stages, but is there anything you can tell us about it? Will it be a collection of essays?

“You know what’s funny? If I was writing it myself, I’d be able to talk much more about it, but because it’s me and B.J., I don’t want to misrepresent it. We’re so early on yet that I don’t want to give a false idea about what it is, since we don’t really know yet. Plus, I don’t want to make him mad (laughs). I think I’m a little bit more open than he is about talking about things in their process, but he’s very — and I admire this about him — he’s very private about it. He waits until they’re completely, fully formed. We’re very different that way, and so I want to respect that.”

Can I tell you what I’m hoping it will be?

“Yeah, please.”

I want it to be a self-help book that tells you how to turn a breakup into an amazing friendship/creative partnership.

“That sounds great. (laughs) How to Monetize Your Breakup — that’s an excellent idea. I’m not sure how he would feel about that, but I think that sounds like a book I would buy.”

And now a TV-related question: What are you excited to binge-watch this summer?

“My entire staff is obsessed with Outlander. When someone described it to me, I couldn’t believe that such a show was on TV, so I’m excited to see that. And at Hulu they’re still shooting it, but James Franco is doing an adaptation of 1963, a time-travel Stephen King novel, so I’m excited about that, too. I love the book so much, it’s going to be awesome.”
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