Mindy Kaling has a lot of projects going on. Not to be confused with her beloved FOX comedy, The Mindy Project, the actress, writer, producer, and director now has the Mindy projects, spanning screens (big and small), streaming services (Amazon to Netflix to Hulu), and topics (love, childhood, and the workplace). But her most highly-anticipated role is the one we know the least about: her untitled Netflix comedy.
While details remain few (the show hasn't started filming yet), the casting news is noteworthy on its own. Earlier this week, Netflix confirmed that Kaling had narrowed down her worldwide search for the star of the show, a teenager who would be portraying a version of Kaling in her youth, to one lucky girl: Maitreyi Ramakrishna, who will play Devi. Now, familiar face Poorna Jagannathan (The Night Of, Big Little Lies, and HBO's upcoming film, SHARE) joins the lead cast as Ramakrishna's mother, Nalini. Her character is modeled after Kaling's real-life mother, Swati, who passed away in 2011.
The show, which was co-created, co-written, and executive produced by Kaling alongside Lang Fisher (who also worked as a showrunner on The Mindy Project), is inspired by Kaling's own Indian-American childhood, specifically her more formative and volatile teenage years.
Ahead of the show's release, likely sometime in 2020, Refinery29 was able to get the first scoop from Jagannathan about how she nabbed the role (shout-out to directors, actors, and brothers Jay and Mark Duplass) and what viewers can expect from the highly-anticipated Netflix comedy.
Refinery29: First of all congrats! When did you first connect with Netflix/ Mindy for this role? Have you met Maitreyi yet?
Poorna Jagannathan: "It’s a dream come true! I connected with the project the second I heard about it – there was a trade announcement that Mindy and Netflix were doing a coming of age story and it went right up on my radar. Then, every single person I know sent me the link to the open casting call. And from there, audition to test, to emailing the Duplass brothers to please tell Mindy that they think I’m funny – the only comedic role I’ve ever done on television was with them for Room 104. I loved this project so much, I had to call in the big guns.
I met Maitreyi during the audition process. She literally dabbed after every take – I love her. Being in the audition room with her really shifted my understanding of the casting process. It’s actually all about a person’s essence. Maitreyi is this character – smart, unaffected and ridiculously funny without meaning to be.
And though I met Lang Fisher at the test as well, I hadn’t met Mindy yet. There was a screening at the Writers Guild for her film Late Night a few weeks ago, and my friend invited me to go. Everyone told me not to say hi to her at the screening – it would be mayhem and too crazy, and instead just to be cool and wait for a proper introduction. Sounded like good advice, but I ended up accosting her at the back door exit. It was a glorious meeting."
You've played mothers — grieving, stressed, troubled mothers — but you're in a comedy now. Are you excited to tell a more light-hearted story?
"I AM. I am at capacity with grieving moms. I can’t wait to play Nalini – she’s hilarious."
How does it feel to be part of a show that will tell a real, relatable, and diverse story?
"The thing I’m probably most proud of in my career is being on Ramy this year. My character arc in it was small, but to be part of a show that's unapologetically diverse, where I’m not thinking, “Shit, am I the diversity hire?,” where brown folks can curse, have sex, and be a mess like everyone else on television… that’s the dream. I’ve waited a long time for a project like this."
Will you bring anything from your own life to the character? Your own mother's mannerisms or experiences?
"You know, I was ecstatic about being cast, but definitely terrified. I haven’t done a comedic show before. And I mean so genuinely terrified, I ponied up the money to buy Judd Apatow’s Masterclass in comedy where he basically says, “You do you…”
But after I got some scripts from Lang, it registered that I was parented, and actually parent, pretty much the same way Nalini does. For instance, South Asians will threaten violence very casually – I grew up with my mom saying things like, “If you drop the cookie on the Persian rug, I’ll break your arms and legs and throw them out of the house.” And that’s kind the stuff that will come out of my mouth sometimes – so the character very much lives in the world I grew up in."