A funny thing happened when director Nisha Ganatra first started talking to Mindy Kaling about their new movie, Late Night. The film follows Molly (Kaling) as she scores a writing job on all-male, all-white late-night talk show staff. Kaling wrote Late Night after having experienced a similar imbalance while working on The Office, where she was the only woman writer. And while Kaling is the one who put Ganatra up for the directing gig, their collaboration started with a bit of a disagreement... all about Molly.
"I was like, oh my God, Mindy, I understand Molly. I am Molly. She was like, 'you know, I'm Molly," Ganatra tells Refinery29 with a laugh. Their disagreement didn't last long, and they decided they were both Molly, and thus the only two people who could truly tell this story right. "I think we both just take for granted that you have to always explain yourself and your point of view, but with each other we never had to do that. There's kind of this great thing where [I didn't feel] I am the Indian American when I walk in the room as a women director. We didn't have to tell the story to each other. We just had the story that was in our hearts and our experiences and our balance so we could just go about creating the best movie possible."
We didn't have to tell the story to each other. We just had the story that was in our hearts and our experiences.
Ganatra has been directing for years, and while her passion is directing indie films, quite a bit of her behind-the-camera experience is in the television industry, having directed episodes of The Mindy Project, Mr. Robot, Shameless, Better Things, Dear White People, Future Man, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Love, and The Last Man on Earth (and that is only the Cliff's Notes version of her extensive TV resume). So when she says she is Molly, she means it. She's walked onto these sets and felt like Kaling's first-timer on Tonight With Katherine Newbury, even when the gig wasn't quite the same.
"[Mindy and I] both have experienced the television industry as a pretty non-diverse place, and it really did help inform my decisions [on Late Night]. Seeing how writers rooms and showrunners work, all of that really came together to help make the movie," she says.
While both Ganatra and Kaling were coming from the same place when it came to the workplace struggles that drive the movie, they had another slight disagreement when it came to the more personal side of Molly's story. Being the rom-com queen that she is, Kaling had originally envisioned a romantic, rom-com ending for her character.
"I tried to cut the whole thing because I was just obsessed with the romance between Molly and [Emma Thompson's Katherine], and I didn't really want these guys coming in and messing with it, but I do know that Mindy is rom-com fanatic and that people want to see that her character always has a romance," says the director.
Like any two people who just get each other would do, they found a compromise. "[Molly] did have light touches of [romance], but I also felt it was important that the success of Late Night was a work success and not a romantic success."
So, spoiler, there will be no big sweep-her-off-her-feet moment at the end of Late Night, but Ganatra is pretty pleased with the halfway point she and Kaling reached. We won't spoil the scene (it's very sweet), but look out for one subtle touch at the end of the film. Ganatra is proud of how it all came together, because in the moment, Molly isn't even looking at the guy in question.
"[She's] focused on what's coming ahead in her job. And I was like, okay, I can handle that much. I want this character to keep her eye on the prize, and even though this guy's there and loving her and supporting her, she still has not changed what her goal is."