“The Mindy Project” is back, airing its fourth season on Hulu after getting the axe from Fox last spring. After pairing off its will-they-or-won’t-they couple Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) and Danny Castellano (Chris Messina) by the end of Season 2, the rapid-fire sitcom hasn’t slowed down any on Hulu, coming out of the gate with [slight Season 4 spoiler alert] an engagement and the birth of one Leo Castellano.
The cast and writers came together this past Saturday for a PaleyFest panel at the Paley Center for Media. They talked about the smooth transition to Hulu, how the show has changed now that Mindy and Danny are parents and the blurred lines between performers and writers behind-the-scenes. Attending the panel were creator and star Mindy Kaling, cast member and writer Ike Barinholtz, cast members Ed Weeks, Xosha Roquemore, and Beth Grant, showrunner Matt Warburton, and writers Charlie Grandy, Tracey Wigfield, David Stassen and Chris Schleicher. (Chris Messina was busy filming Ben Affleck’s next movie, an announcement that won a chorus of “ooo’s” from the stage.)
Below are the highlights from Paleyfest’s hilarious panel.
They Saw Cancellation Coming
Fox cancelled “The Mindy Project” last spring after three well-received but poorly rated seasons. Kaling and company weren’t surprised by the decision, especially after the ouster of network president and “Mindy” champion Kevin Reilly left their relationship with the network “a little more mysterious,” according to Kaling. Barinholtz agreed. “We kind of knew. There were always undertones,” he admitted before getting hushed by a conspiratorial Stassen.
Yet while fans were in agony waiting to see if someone would save the show, everyone at “The Mindy Project” was pretty sure that Hulu would rescue it. Kaling had been “jealous of seeing James Franco and Jason Reitman have these shows there,” and about two weeks before Fox was to announce the show’s fate, she had a “very informative” lunch with Hulu’s Head of Content Craig Erwich. It became clear that Hulu was interested in the show.
Said Barinholtz, “It was a bummer because we couldn’t really say anything after Fox said we were leaving, so all of my friends and family were like, ‘I am so sorry!’ and I’m like, ‘No, no, no, it’s going to be fine, just chill.'” He joked that Stassen was responsible for the “#Save Mindy” Twitter campaign, but that it was just about saving Kaling, who added, “That’s for my third book.”
How Hulu is Different
Asked if the actors felt freer at Hulu, Wigfield joked that Weeks “sent nudes to everybody.” Weeks, who is British, chimed in, “Well in England, guys aren’t circumcised. Move on!”
Grant had a similar notion, complaining, “I tried to let them make me get nude, but they wouldn’t let me.” Barinholtz confirmed that Grant tried to take her shirt off for the on-set nanny cam and promised, “We will see [Grant’s] Beverly nude at some point.”
Jokes aside, the panel was clearly grateful for Hulu, who, according to Kaling, “allows us to make the show that we really want to be making. That’s kind of amazing to do that in Season 4.” She specifically mentioned that she got to say “tits deep in a margaritas” on the show, “which you know I’ve been wanting to say for years. I need to be tits deep in something.”
But the staff does have one big gripe about Hulu. Asked if the move came with free Hulu subscriptions, the entire panel yelled out, “No!” And Weeks had his eyes on a different prize. “I want the non-commercial version. It’s why I came to this country,” he said.
Mindy and Danny will stay sexy after becoming parents.
Kaling isn’t worried about the show becoming stale now that Mindy and Danny are parents in a stable relationship. “If a relationship becomes boring when two characters get together or have a kid, it means that the characters are bad. Because I think if all you’re looking forward to is the suspense of whether or not they’re going to get together, then that’s not character development,” she said. “It’s never scared any of us to get them together because those things make people more interesting, and it makes their situations more conflict-y.”
Warburton agreed, explaining, “When you have a baby, it takes the stories we would already do about a conflict between Mindy and Danny and Mindy’s conflicts trying to figure out work stuff, and the fact that it’s not just about her, it’s about a little baby, it instantly makes the story more interesting. It elevates what they’re talking about because Mindy has to do something for someone else, not just herself. It’s been pretty helpful actually.”
“And they keep it spicy. They have sex in front of the baby,” added Barinholtz.
Kaling is proud when her show is dumb.
Asked what she was proudest of, Kaling said, “As writers, we have these sides that yearn for something great and to tell great stories. And it’s amazing to me, I had not in my lifetime really seen a show with a woman who was not a model or a twig or someone who was traditionally beautiful have a sexy, fun life; a life that I had felt like I had. And I didn’t think, ‘Oh I want to be a pioneer.’ You can’t think about that stuff when you create. But I’m so happy that there are people who are 14 or 15 who can see that.”
She added, “Also, on a very silly level, I really like naming characters in stupid ways. We had a character played by the great Tim Daly named Charlie Lang, which is just the first names of two of my writers. How’s that for dumb?” Other dumb names on the show include Wigfield’s character Lauren Barinholtz, who wasn’t simply named after Wigfield herself because they had already called someone the very similar Tracey Whitfield.
The writers google Michael Fassbender a lot.
On life in the writers’ room, Barinholtz said, “There’s a lot of time spent googling Michael Fassbender, Michael Fassbender’s penis, Michael Fassbender’s net worth.” Other google searches include Ben Affleck’s penis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and “inspirational people.”
Asked who was the fastest to distract the writers’ room, the entire panel agreed, “Mindy.” Warburton explained, “Mindy’s the most productive writer we have, but I will say, she wants to look at a picture of a hot person…If I’m sitting at the keyboard, I’m always two chess moves away from being convinced to google an image of a hot person.”
Kaling responded, “This is painting a picture of me that I don’t like.”
Kaling had a different reaction to the movie “Precious” than pretty much everybody else.
Roquemore remembers being cast as Tamra after auditioning like a “regular ass actor.” The part was initially called Xosha, and Roquemore says she was worried, thinking, “They’re trying to rob me of my name, and it’s all I got. There’s gonna be some white, blonde girl running around TV like, ‘I’m Xosha.'”
But Kaling had actually been a fan of Roquemore’s since “Precious,” in which Roquemore had a small part as comic relief, playing one of Precious’ classmates. Kaling remembers walking into “The Office” writers’ room and asking, “You know who was hilarious in ‘Precious?’ And then, like anything else, I just held onto her greedily until I could have her for my own show. Lee Daniels, I live in fear every day that he’s trying to poach her, as he should.”
All of the writers want to star on the show.
Schleicher joked that the writers try to write themselves into the show “in every script,” and he’s not far off. In addition to Kaling, who obviously stars on the show, and Barinholtz, who plays Morgan, a number of the writers have made it onscreen in various roles. Most notable was Wigfield, who showed up in several episodes as the third point in a love triangle with Weeks’ and Adam Pally’s characters. Scheicher also had a bit part as her assistant, and Stassen filmed a scene as a pizza truck guy, but he revealed, “My line was cut… I still get residuals from it, about three cents every year.”
Wigfield, after being encouraged by Kaling to go out for the part, had the strange experience of auditioning for a role she had written. She talked about how “the casting lady was like, ‘I don’t think that’s the intention of the line,’ and I was like, ‘No, believe me, it is.'” Wigfield won the part, meaning that her thinking changed from, “Wow, maybe this could be Lady Mary from ‘Downton Abbey’ or Reese Witherspoon” to “just like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be me.’” She got to kiss Pally a lot, “which is why I’m in this business.”
Wigfield also revealed that she had already earned her SAG card, sharing her secret past as a “child actress in a bunch of commercials in the ’90s.” And she wasn’t alone in having surprising origins, as Schleicher mentioned “being a competitive figure skater age 5-21 with my little sister… That’s my dark past.”
All of the writers are giant hams.
Kaling likes “very writerly actors and very theatrical writers,” so it’s no surprise that so many of the writers have made it in front of the camera. She characterized the writers’ room as “very theatrical,” sharing, “If we’re talking about a show we’ve seen, it’s the best show we’ve ever seen or the worst show we’ve ever seen. If it’s a little hot, we’re like, ‘It’s the hottest, it’s like the Sahara desert in here.'” Schleicher agreed, saying that the writers have “never had a mild opinion on anything.”
According to Warburton, the drama of the writers’ room even makes good fodder for the show. He explained, for example, that the convention on “The Mindy Project” where “one person gets a text and the whole room helps them respond” is based on something that happens in the writers’ room “on a daily basis.”
In other words, he said, “We live in a sitcom.”
New episodes of “The Mindy Project” premieres Tuesdays at 11:59 pm on Hulu.