It’s early August, and with a day of filming just underway on the set of “The Mindy Project,” the show’s star, Mindy Kaling, is holed up in her studio office talking to a reporter about a topic that weighs heavy on her heart: the way the show’s staff undervalues the brilliance of “You’ve Got Mail.”
“That movie is the best. No, like, I want you to bold, underline and highlight that,” she said, sitting just a few feet from an unframed poster of the 1998 romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan that hangs on an office wall. “It’s a very divisive movie amongst the staff. The writers didn’t think it was that great -- can you believe that? I don’t know how to process how that could be. I thought I shouldn’t get a poster that was too big because it was too much of a political statement.”
Don’t get her started on “Hannah and Her Sisters.”
As you may have guessed, Kaling is a woman with great affection for rom-coms. Her book (“Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)”) has made that clear, and so has her essay in the New Yorker. It’s stressed some more in her new Fox (or is that F-O-X/ *wink to “You’ve Got Mail”) comedy, which premieres Tuesday after “New Girl.”
“Romance as portrayed on film is a very -- it’s had a profound effect on me, my life and the way I wanted to live my life,” she said. “I had these kind of unrealistic expectations that were fueled by romantic comedies, and it has both helped me and hurt me in many ways. It helped me because, in general, they’ve made me hopeful. I just figure things will eventually work out for me. But nobody is like any Tom Hanks character. Nobody is Hugh Grant. No one is Meg Ryan! If you can show people that have flaws -- deep, deep flaws -- and if you can make it so people still root for them to overcome them and find love, then that’s cool. Those were all my lofty ambitions to do for this show.”
The undertaking puts the 33-year-old front and center after eight years on the sidelines as fast-talking, pop culture buff Kelly Kapoor on NBC’s “The Office,” where she also served as a show writer.
“It was the most natural progression from what my interests were and where I was in my career, which was: I really wanted to act more,” she said while sorting through packages of Spanx. “And I really wanted to do a character that had a lifestyle closer to my own ‘cause I had such a wealth of information and stuff to draw from in that way.”
The eponymous character that she’s created is an OB/GYN trying to manage her chaotic professional life and her more turbulent love life ... sometimes that involves talking to dolls (you’ll have to watch) and/or bickering with her Bruce Spingsteen-loving, rom-com-hating work foe, Danny (Chris Messina).
“I think when people hear the premise of the show, they’re like, ‘Oh, great, another one of these lame “Can I get my personal life in order?” shows,’” Kaling said. “But there’s a reason why those things are prevalent: So many people are dealing with them. My thing is, like, familiar stories or stories that feel familiar -- that’s not bad if it’s executed in a really funny, high quality way. I hope people find that that’s what this show is. I guess we’ll see.”
Follow Yvonne Villarreal on Twitter: @villarrealy