I loved Glamour’s cover interview with Mindy Kaling, but it also made me sad. Sad because… she’s underappreciated and she works so hard and does so much. She’s one of Glamour’s women of the year, and the bulk of the interview is about how she works, her work ethic, and how being the daughter of two immigrants has basically affected everything about how she views the world. It’s an excellent read – go here for the full piece. Some highlights:
Whether she has time to sleep: “So the great thing about when I had a baby is that I don’t have a lot of horror stories about lack of sleep because I was already used to it from doing The Mindy Project, getting up between 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. I go to sleep earlier now because I’m not acting and then staying in the writers room after. When I was doing The Mindy Project…I’d get by on four hours of sleep, five days in a row, if I had to…So now I get six or seven hours of sleep, and that feels good. When I was a teenager, I could sleep for 11 hours, easily. And then something about turning 35—I can’t sleep as much anymore. That’s how my dad is too. He gets up at 4 a.m. and just putters around his house until my stepmom wakes up. I think I’m headed in the direction of my dad.”
She has a little social anxiety: “People may be surprised to hear this, but I think I do have a little social anxiety. Going to parties where I don’t know most of the people is stressful to me. I’ve always had four friends. I’ve always felt, not exactly a loner, but…[for example,] I love the Met Gala, but the no-plus-one thing has always been a real stressor for me.”
Whether she misses her early days as a writer on The Office: “Yes. When you’re starting out, mostly it’s terrifying because you think you could get fired and then never get hired again. If you see some of the statistics for women of color on writing staffs, you’ll see that even if there’s parity, it’s so hard to get promoted and stay on a show. A whopping majority of upper-level writers are still white men. You see a lot of people of color in the younger ranks, but it’s hard to move up. I remember thinking, This could all go away—save your money. I don’t envy that fear, but I do miss that certain kind of camaraderie you have when you can complain about the boss. It’s what bonds everyone together.”
Being ambitious, being a “workaholic”: “I think the stigma with hard work is that it’s often at the expense of people thinking you’re an artist. I resent when the characterization of me is that “she’s only gotten this far from hard work”—the implication being that if you’re truly talented, you don’t have to work so hard. That’s not true. I think there’s been a tendency for people to conflate my characters with my personality. The fact of the matter is, I wrote 24 episodes of The Office. That’s more than any other person on The Office, but no one can really picture me sitting and doing the hard work of writing the episodes. It’s like it doesn’t compute to people because I can wear all pink and re-create Beyoncé videos. Do you know what I mean? There’s an outdated version of what some people think of me because of the characters I’ve played. That isn’t consistent with who I actually am. I find that a little disappointing.”
Whether the work changes now that she’s almost 40: “How do I say this? Because I never had a career based on my physical beauty, I’m approaching aging without much dread. I was never the person who was, like, Mindy “The Body” Kaling. [Laughs.] Isn’t that Elle Macpherson’s nickname? The Body? It’s so much harder to control that as we age than our mind or creative ideas. As a young person in Hollywood, I wasn’t skinny, and that made my twenties so unnecessarily difficult. It was such an emotional roller coaster, sometimes, of how I looked onscreen compared with what other people looked like. Especially when you are a dark-skinned Indian woman who’s not even traditionally beautiful for Indian people, like the Bollywood stars who are fair with long hair and light green eyes or whatever…The upside of having that difficult time in my twenties is that now I approach my forties without this huge expectation that I need to maintain some sense of beauty. I was never put on a pedestal because of my looks. As far as the work, does it change what I want to write about?
On her parents: “For them, it’s not necessarily that they liked it; when you’re an immigrant and come to this country and want to have a nice life, you have to really hit it hard for the first 20 years that you’re here. Being in the entertainment industry is the exact same thing. You have this feeling, as a woman, that when you get into Hollywood as a writer and particularly as an actress you have a finite amount of time. You have to make your imprint and get your coin, frankly.
What she wants her legacy to be: “I guess I’ve always felt that I represent the underdog. At this time and this place, as an Indian woman and a single mom, I’ve felt like the kind of person who often does not get to be the lead of a story. I want the stories that I tell, the characters I play and create, to resonate with people who do not see themselves onscreen. When I’m gone and people look at my body of work, they can see it in the context of where I came from and where my family came from and say, “Wow, that was the beginning of a ripple effect.” That people are inspired because they felt that I, in some way, helped move the door open a couple more inches. That would be really incredible to me… Even if I die at 120 years old, I want people to say it was too soon because of what else I could have done. I think that’s why I work on five different projects at once. I have this real feeling that life is incredibly short, and I want to do as much as I can.
I feel her on the sleep thing – I can be dead tired and my internal clock still gets me up at 5 am or earlier. And I like the comparison of her parents’ journey – immigrants in America – to her journey as a young actress and writer in Hollywood. But mostly, this piece was sad to me, like there’s a dark fate for her life and she’s trying to cram everything in. I’m also kind of upset because I really relate to her – awkward in large groups, slightly neurotic, likes to work, daughter of an immigrant, etc.
Cover courtesy of Glamour, additional photos courtesy of WENN.