Mindy Kaling Talks Playing Pregnant, Guarding Her Friends’ Secrets, & Having Kids Someday

Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.
Actress, screenwriter, producer, author, the voice of Disgust, expert tweeter, and Umami Burger guest entrée designer. Mindy Kaling is all-powerful. She is master of all things. She can do it all. Really, everything. Oh, wait, scratch that. There is something she's not nailing at this precise moment on the new set of The Mindy Project, which moved to Hulu last spring and is set to premiere tomorrow, September 15 (the same day her second book, Why Not Me, hits bookstores). She cannot, it seems, keep her co-star Ike Barinholtz happy. “I am about to have your burger for the first time today because you curated and tasted it without me. You know if I was designing a gown, the first person I would call would be you. I am so hurt,” Barinholtz announces, waltzing past Kaling as she chatted with Refinery29 in a quiet corner at Shulman Women’s Health Associates. Kaling's lightning-quick wit kicks in. “He sent me a text that he was quote hurt that I didn’t ask his advice about the burger while he was shooting a little movie called Suicide Squad with his new best friends Joel Kinnaman and Cara Delevingne,” she scoffs. “And that was after he came back to work with a freaking six-pack, which no comedy writer has, after shooting Sisters because I guess Tina Fey and Amy Poehler required him to be the hottest version of himself. The rest of our [writers’] room was like, ‘Great, now we have to step it up.’ And, I’m curating burgers over here. I should be the one who is mad. You buying linen pants with Nick Stoller in Barbados, skim lattes with Zac Efron …” Then they both laugh merrily before Barinholtz wanders off to his next interview, and Kaling returns to the question at hand: What's it like rebooting your beloved TV series on Hulu? "Anyway, where was I?" she says. "Oh yeah, Hulu is a great new home. I am so glad that they have given us the chance to keep making the show and with the kind of support and room to be creative that I couldn’t have imagined.”Here's what else the delightful renaissance woman had to say.

Has being on Hulu changed the show? Can you get away with more now that you aren’t bound to broadcast rules?

"We've always been a show that pushed the envelope, so largely, I don't think they're that different in tone because I think that would be jarring for people. I think things tend to be clever when you have to work for it. We've occasionally succumbed to [less strict policies] for a joke, but, we really wanted it to be the show you remember, and we don’t want people feeling weird watching with their teenage daughters. The biggest thing was the fact that we had more time for each episode, which is huge. I've gone 11 years working on network TV and never had the privilege of going over 21 and a half minutes. That's been the single nicest thing about the move." The season premiere, “While I Was Sleeping,” plays with a lot of rom-com tropes, including a title that riffs on a Sandra Bullock classic that your character, Mindy, adores.
"Yeah, our premiere is our opportunity to do a lot of big moves. [Hulu was] so nice because they gave us extra time, 27 minutes, and that's the only way you can pull off these kind of storylines. The premiere takes place over several continents. You meet Mindy's parents for the first time. It has a supernatural element. I wanted [a scene where] it rained on a New York City street, and there’s a big dramatic speech. Obviously, I love sweeping scenes, and I really like putting our departments to work — to make it rain in Manhattan, recreating the Mumbai city streets. Not a lot of sitcoms are doing it, and I'm a competitive person. I want to offer people something that they can't see other places. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt's in it. Freida Pinto, Kunal Nayyar." I barely recognized Kunal out of nerd mode. He looks so sexy.
"Kunal is someone that I have run into for so many years. I love Big Bang Theory, and he's so funny. Because he plays a nerd on that show, you forget that he's just a straight‑up handsome dude, so it was fun to have him play this different kind of character on our show." [Kunal plays a potential suitor approved by Mindy's parents.] How was playing pregnant?
"With all the horror stories you hear about having to wear those pregnancy suits, I was worried but, I always thought it was fun. Mindy is pregnant and it brings out a really funny side to her, but she’s still Mindy Lahiri so she wants to give birth in the celebrity birthing suite. Which Danny, of course, thinks is a huge waste of money. In the second episode, we deal a lot with their [birth plan]. I think where our show is really the funniest is when there's something like, how a Manhattan woman would give birth and do it her own way, versus how the more old-fashioned guy would do it. That is where we find the most comedy. So we just keep throwing those kinds of situations at the two of them this season. And doctors always make the worst patients."

Viewers won’t have to wait long for an actual baby to come along.

"No. I didn’t want to drag out the pregnancy for so long that it got boring. I wanted to see these two be parents." There are ample examples of pregnancies/babies ruining shows. Were you nervous at all to add a baby to the mix?
"No. I feel the same way about people being worried about babies, as [I do] about people putting two characters together [romantically]. If the show gets worse because there's a baby in it, it just means that the characters weren't that good to begin with. It's the same thing with the characters getting together. It's like, if all you care about is will they, won't they, then the characters were bad. Being together has only made Mindy and Danny funnier because they have such a depth of feeling for each other that they can actually get away with saying things to each other that they couldn't before. Having a baby has not erased their personality traits. I tend to be someone who thinks that people inherently don't change very much but can choose to stretch if they want to. And I think that having a baby has made Mindy a little different, but she can't change who she is. I did this scene recently with Maya Kazan, who's the nanny and she puts a picture of Mindy's baby online. Mindy's very angry with her. She says, ‘How dare you do that? If you want to take photos of my baby, you have to go through his agent. Which he doesn't have because I thought his headshots made him look old.' She wants to be a momager. That's still the same Mindy. Now she just has a baby." As a non-parent, has working with real infants made you want kids more or less?
"I like it. Obviously, babies aren’t really acting. We're just trying to get them to do certain things and look certain ways in scenes. But it's nice to be around them. For someone that delivers babies so often, it's been fun to be able to have the experience of holding a baby. It's been amazingly helpful as an actor because you realize when there's a baby in a scene, you have to speak much more quietly because you don't want to upset the baby. It's just given the character so much depth. In terms of me, personally, I don't think it's affected my path necessarily. I want kids someday, and you think of your own child — like, the difference between your own baby and someone else's baby and it's not even comparable. [Becoming a parent] is so enormous. That's me mangling a Louis C.K. observation." You aren’t quite James Franco yet, but with a TV show, a second book, Inside Out, an active social media presence, and even your own burger, you’re getting close. How do you keep up that incredible pace?
"I still have to take up painting and teaching to catch up with him. I have so many people who help me make the show. There are 150 people on our crew and cast. At Hulu, there's a fleet of people that help. I do a lot and I can only do it because this is the thing that I've always wanted to do, so the hours don't seem long. This is my dream. If it wasn't, I wouldn't be able to [maintain] the pace. It's the only thing I want to think about. And also, I am lucky because unlike a lot of the crew or some of the cast members who are married and have kids, I have extra time to edit and stuff because I don't have that yet. That makes it easier for me." How is the new book, Why Not Me?, different than the first?
"It's very different than my first book because my life has changed so much since then. In 2011, I was in every other episode of The Office, and the comedy was just about my life. The book served as introducing myself to America and [showing] what I was like outside of the character I played on the show. But getting my own show, I have had this great experience of being interviewed so many times that I know the kind of things that people are interested the most in hearing about me. So this one is personal, about things that happened to me since the last book. I'm a lot more vulnerable this time. I talk about the way people perceive me as an Indian woman on TV that doesn't look like other women on TV. I tell a lot of things in this that I didn't talk about in my first book." You mention a fling you had with a White House staffer and now even The Washington Post did a story trying decipher your code and expose who it was.
"It was David Axelrod. Let me just put that out there so that can put that to rest." Ha! Do you think that people in your life or who you start dating will worry if they aren’t careful, they’ll become a chapter in book three?
"I don't want to ever go through life where people are thinking that how they interact with me could end up somewhere else. I talk about my writing staff, but I don't give away a lot of personal details. There's probably less than five people in my book that I talk about at length. B.J. [Novak], is in there, but he helped me. He read my essay. I wanted to make sure that it was accurate because it was important. But, I've never in four years of a dating show ever used stories from actual relationships on the show. So I don't want people to feel that way about me, like I am just gathering material. It's just not my personality." Garret Dillahunt is coming on for a stint as a Southern doctor filling in during Mindy’s maternity leave. That marks the second Justified cast member — the first was Timothy Olyphant playing a skateboarder — who has guest starred. Who's the next Justified cast member you want to poach?
"Gosh, oh God, that cast is so good. Tim Olyphant was so much fun, one of the most fun guest stars. I'd love Tim to reprise that character. Raylan Givens is, like, the opposite of Graham the skateboarder. I'd love to have Calamity Jane [Robin Weigert from Olyphant’s earlier show, Deadwood]." What fall TV show are you most looking forward to watching?
"I always like when SNL comes back because I like to see the new people. I love Walking Dead. Can't wait for that. I love Silicon Valley and Peaky Blinders. A lot of my shows are streaming, so I don't know when they air [originally]. But I guess that's the new way we watch TV now. I'm actually waiting for Broad City to come back." And I have to ask about Kanye’s VMAs announcement of Kanye for president? I feel like Mindy Lahiri might be down for that, but not real-life Mindy.
"I can't talk about Kanye. I decided this round I'm not going to talk about Kardashians or Kanye because there's a glut. There's enough people talking about it. You don't need my input."

More from TV

R29 Original Series