Have you ever wondered whether first impressions really count? I often do, normally in the aftermath of having spilt a drink all over my date in the three seconds it should've taken to simply say, "hello". Or, in the moments that followed the job interview where I went in for an uncharacteristic hug when the interviewer outstretched their arm for a handshake. So, I’m sure you can imagine my panic at the thought of being put in a room with glorious Emma Thompson. Does one curtesy? Bow? Kneel at her knees and thank her for Love Actually, Sense And Sensibility, and current BBC TV drama Years And Years?
On this occasion Emma Thompson is joined by Mindy Kaling, otherwise known as one of the coolest and funniest people in the showbiz game right now. The proof is in Late Night, the new film that Kaling wrote and stars in with Thompson. She plays Molly Patel, an ambitious aspiring comedian who is rather dubiously recruited as the ‘diversity hire’ on the writing team for TV royalty Katherine Newbury’s [Thompson] late-night chat show. There are no other women or people of colour on the team, you see. In true Devil Wears Prada style, Katherine is horrible to her young, wide eyed protégée and Molly spends a lot of time trying to prove herself in a work environment set up to see her fail.
In the film, Molly doesn’t make the best first impression on her new colleagues. On day one she ambles in to the office late, unaware that the rest of the team had come in early. She brings cupcakes that nobody wants. Her forthcoming nature grates against the mood of the stale room of boys and Molly spends that first meeting with her head barely at desk level, sat on an overturned rubbish bin because heaven forbid anyone make sure the new girl had a chair. It’s funny, tragic and endearing at the same time.
Molly recovers from her first day faux pas in Late Night, but back in the real world do Thompson and Kaling think that first impressions really count? “I think they do,” says Kaling. “Yeah, definitely,” agrees Thompson. I congratulate myself for neither curtseying nor bringing cupcakes with me to the interview, because Kaling’s advice on the matter is to “never be thirsty.” Thompson adds that though a first impression isn’t necessarily something to be nervous of, it can't help to be “calmly aware” of yourself and your surroundings. Noted.
There was never a shadow of doubt that advice from the mouths from Thompson and Kaling would be anything short of empathetically helpful, if not quietly witty and reassuring. So, I put a few more questions to them that might help the rest of us mere mortals navigate workplace dramas a little more smoothly than Late Night's Molly. Ahead Thompson and Kaling turn agony aunts. Read on (and take note) for their very wise advice.
Someone keeps stealing my sandwich from the fridge, what do I do?
“That’s so annoying!”, says Kaling. Ever the rationalist, Thompson decides that there are two ways you can go about it. “You can put two sandwiches in the fridge and mark one of them ‘mine’, or you could not put your sandwich in the fridge because if you’re going to eat it that day it’s not really necessary.”
I contest on the grounds of cheese sweat. What if you've got a cheese sandwich with you on a hot day? Surely it would be absurd to leave it at room temperature? Thompson concedes and Kaling recommends taking drastic measures. “I think you have to put something disgusting in the sandwich and then see," she suggests. It would have to be something unexpected. "Or a dye, like when you steal a shirt, so you know that they've stolen it."
I have a crush on someone at work. Do I pursue it?
Thompson is quick to respond to this one: "No, because it will invariably go wrong." Kaling laughs and reminds Thompson that she actually married her co-worker, so it might not always work out that poorly. "Yeah, that's true actually, I haven't got a leg to stand on," Thompson concedes. "And the person I married before was a coworker as well... But we're actors for crying out loud!"
Kaling thinks that if you fancy someone at work, your fate is already written. "You have to go for it. I think it's inevitable. I think it's not even a question, if you have a crush on someone at work, even if you ask someone 'should I do it?' and they say no, I don't think there's a single person who doesn't pursue it. It's too intoxicating."
I hate small talk and water cooler chat. Is it rude if I just avoid it?
"It's good to become good at those things," says Kaling. Easier said than done, of course, but Thompson suggests there's a hidden value to those awkward interactions with your colleagues. "Small talk isn't really small talk. You could obviously bring up politics, but it won't make you very popular. It's not just small talk, it's a kind of way of easing into each other's presence and rubbing shoulders with people ever day. You know, there's great kindness in small talk." And with that, my heart melts. What if, though, the awkward grimace directed at the one coworker who's name you didn't ask 18 months ago is far too painful to forcibly ask about their weekend? "Well, you probably shouldn't work there," Thompson jokes.
Late Night is in cinemas now