When we last saw “The Mindy Project,” a newly married Mindy Lahiri was gazing out a subway window when a shadow of doubt crossed her face. Which was crazy, because wasn’t this what she’d always wanted?
Blame Mindy Kaling, who wasn’t about to let her alter ego off the hook with a fairy tale ending in the series’s sixth and final season, starting Tuesday, Sept. 12, on Hulu. “The joy of being the show runner on this with my partner, Matt Warburton, is that we just torture the character,” she said. “She has so many flaws, and does so many questionable things, that we have to put her through the wringer. Inarguably she has the nicest husband, a wonderful child and a great stepdaughter. But we needed it not to be perfect for her.”
Maybe she was saving the perfection for her real life. In a whirlwind year, Ms. Kaling, who is expecting her first child, is seguing from “Mindy” into “Champions,” her midseason NBC series about a slacker gym owner whose high school fling (Ms. Kaling) drops their son on his doorstep. She is also portraying Mrs. Who in Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” and will appear with Rihanna and Cate Blanchett in Gary Ross’s “Ocean’s Eight,” both out next year.
Her workaholic madness is a pre-emptive strike against “Mindy” withdrawal, Ms. Kaling, 38, admitted during a phone call from Los Angeles. “I’m not one of those sophisticated people who are like, ‘I just needed a couple months to read a lot of books and reflect,’” she said. “I would malfunction and get very depressed.” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
How do you feel as you wrap up your show?
Today is actually our last table read. I’m not an overly sentimental person, and I had this specific kind of stress, which was, “This show has made a profound difference in my life, and I love it, but will people think I’m a sociopath if I don’t cry?” But this morning my alarm went off and I started brimming with tears, so luckily my sentimentality came surprisingly easily.
She has a marriage so short that it would rival a Liza Minnelli-Kim Kardashian marriage. But the cool thing is Mindy abandoning what she thinks is a childish pose of “my life can be a romantic comedy,” and having a sad, weary, cynical take. That’s how we kick off the season, and by the end I want the audience to be rooting for her to take that back.
I keep trying to predict trends. But what I’ve come up with after eight years is that there seems to be nothing. You have a singular voice, like Kumail Nanjiani of “The Big Sick,” which was beautiful and original, and Reese [Witherspoon] has “Home Again,” which I’m sure I’ll love. Whenever they say it’s dead, you have these great scripts and fresh casts, and it’s fine.
You’re a pioneer as a show creator of color. What do you think of those who’ve followed, like Issa Rae, Aziz Ansari and Donald Glover?
I am such a fan of their work. A lot of times when you ask artists what inspired them, they talk about people who were alive 40 years before them. And I was inspired by people younger than me. Sometimes people have a hard time admitting that because it’s hard on their ego. But I watch their shows and take away lessons. And I’m so impressed. In fact, when I started at “The Office,” I probably couldn’t have named two sitcoms with women that I liked, and now the only shows that I like either star a woman or a minority.
When I was at the Met ball this past year, there was this socializing area, and by sheer coincidence it was Hasan Minhaj, Riz Ahmed, Aziz, Donald Glover, Barry Jenkins and me. They were all Indian, Pakistani or black. And they’re all funny, young and good-looking. For years I was the only person in the room. So it was a joyful experience in 2017.
What do you consider your show’s legacy?
God, maybe I’ve been watching too much “Game of Thrones,” but I feel like I’m a person who could very easily slip into the narcissism of a mad king obsessed with his legacy. I try not to think about legacy too much because it can steer me awry while I’m still making the thing I’m making. What’s really wonderful and fun about the show is that I took all the men that I saw in sitcoms that I loved, whether it’s Ricky Gervais or Danny McBride or Steve Carell, and said, “I want to be one of the bad men — the ones that are the destructors, the ones that are flawed. I don’t want to be the sweet wife.” And yeah, if that can be the legacy, and I had really funny jokes and said crazy things that women had not said before, then that’s really nice.