Mindy Kaling has been a household name since her time as a writer and star of “The Office,” and her Hollywood resume – which includes roles in “Ocean’s 8” and her own series “The Mindy Project” — is about as impressive as it gets. But with her upcoming film “Late Night,” the talented creator is pushing her limits even further – producing, starring and making her feature screenwriting debut. It’s an impressive feat, but it was her role as a trailblazer for women of color in comedy that earned Kaling the most praise at the movie’s L.A. premiere at the Orpheum Theatre on Thursday night.
“She just put her money where her mouth is,” the film’s director Nisha Ganatra told Variety on the red carpet. “A lot of people talked about inclusion and hiring women directors and hiring directors of color, [but] very few are actually doing it. And Mindy did it on her first movie out. She could have gone with that really experienced white dude, but she didn’t, and that says a lot.”
Ganatra went on to share how honored she was for the two women — both of Indian descent — to have the opportunity to tell a story that comments on diversity and the changing roles of women in the workplace. In “Late Night”, Kaling stars as Molly Patel, a novice comedy writer who lands a job working for her hero, late night TV host Katherine Newbury (played by Emma Thompson), but struggles to find her voice as the “diversity hire” in a writer’s room filled with white men.
“I’m often surprised at how well comedy can inspire change,” “Veep’s” Reid Scott, who plays one of the writers, said of the movie’s potential impact. “It’s funny how it gets in there and somehow burrows in to the psyche a little differently when you burn the message in via laughter,”
The story is a personal one for Kaling, who drew from her own life experience as the first and only female writer of color on “The Office” for the screenplay. And though the multi-hyphenate has found success as an actor, author and television producer since then, it was still a challenge to get this movie made.
“In independent film, the path is so circuitous. It was never easy making this,” Kaling explained. “It is so wonderful that we can now celebrate [the movie] and it’s actually happening, you know? And so, I just feel really grateful that it happened because a lot of people don’t even get to this place.”
Before the screening began, Kaling addressed the crowd, dedicating the movie to her father and thanking him for his support during the ups and down of the process. The audience was filled with more Kaling supporters – including “Late Night” stars Denis O’Hare, Paul Hauser, John Early and Megalyn Echikunwoke, her “Office” co-star and BFF B.J. Novak, and fellow comediennes Jillian Bell and Tracee Ellis Ross – who gathered to celebrate her big achievement.
“She showed me the script when we were shooting season five of ‘The Mindy Project.’” Ike Barinholtz (who also appears in the film) recalled about first hearing of the project. “I was jealous and mad that she also can write movies really well, but I was like, ‘This movie is amazing.’”
The comedian continued: “She’s like, ‘Yeah, I really want to get Emma Thompson to do this’ [and] I remember thinking like, ‘It’s good to want things…’” and now I’m looking at this giant bus with their photo on it, so it’s such a joy.”
After landing the Oscar-winner to star in her first screenplay, Kaling is upping the ante for a feature film she’s co-starring in and producing with Priyanka Chopra. The option is open for the star to add another job to her resume and make her feature film directorial debut — so is she considering it?
“I’m really in awe of directors,” she told Variety about the prospect of taking on another new challenge. “I personally think I would really have to do research [in order to do it]. I just revere it and I wouldn’t want to mess up.”
Well, what about becoming a late-night talk show host? The film’s cast suggested Kaling would be perfect, with Barinholtz calling his friend the “funniest person” he knows.
“She’s such a warm-hearted kind of open personality, though I guarantee she’ll say the opposite about herself,” Scott gushed of his leading lady. “She’ll pretend that she’s very shy and meek and embarrassed because she’s so strong and so funny and so smart and so quick-witted I bet people would love to open up to her about a myriad of things.”
Songstress Diane Warren (who wrote a song for the film titled “Forward Motion”) agreed, adding “I think she would probably a little too busy, but can you imagine her hosting? That would be some funny s—. I don’t watch really; I’m sleeping by then, but I’d stay the f— up to watch Mindy.”
“Late Night” debuts in limited theaters on June 7 and nationwide on June 14.