Mindy Kaling and Cast on the Politics of Kaling’s Insightful New Comedy ‘Late Night’
Mindy Kaling’s “Late Night,” a comedy she wrote and stars in, tells the story of a young female writer, Molly Patel, who finds herself writing for an intimidating female TV host, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson). Kaling, who recently spoke with Entertainment Voice at the premiere of “Late Night,” told us how she specifically wrote the part of Katherine for Thompson.
“Obviously, Emma has done so many beautiful, dramatic performances in her movies. But she comes from comedy, and I knew that only because I’m a huge comedy nerd and an Emma Thompson nerd,” admitted Kaling. “She’s so funny in interviews and she has one of most nimble comic minds.”
Those skeptical about Thompson’s comedic roots will see firsthand where she came from, as director Nisha Ganatra included clips of her early stand-up in “Late Night,” which Molly stumbles upon while researching Katherine.
“It was very important. That’s why I got into filmmaking,” said Ganatra when asked what it meant to her to make a film starring two powerhouses like Kaling and Thompson. “I wanted to tell these stories of people that weren’t being told. Representation and talking about issues that are near and dear to my heart in the form of comedy is the highest form of storytelling to me.”
“I never actually approached her with this script,” explained Kaling when asked about Thompson’s casting. “I just emailed it to my agent who sent it to her people. So it was sort of like, I’ve written this movie, met her once briefly, and then I sent it off to her, not knowing what she would say. The best scenario happened, so I’m excited about that.”
Megalyn Echikunwoke co-stars as Robin, the publicist brought in to make Katherine more “likable” after she fails to connect with a younger audience. “I was very intimated, because I’m a huge fan,” confessed Echikunwoke when asked about working with Thompson. “She was so kind and giving and fun. It was a dream.”
While Kaling certainly found inspiration in her own life for “Late Night,” art doesn’t imitate life as closely as one would think. “I’m always so careful to say this, because I came from ‘The Office,’ where I was, the first year, the only woman and only minority, but the men who I worked with on that were not at all as unwelcoming as they are in this movie, which is obviously a big source of the comedy and the drama in the film. But the terror I felt as a new writer, and having to represent all women and all minorities in the writers’ room, is really real.”
Stand-up comedian John Early plays Reynolds, one of the aforementioned male writers who initially gives Molly a hard time, despite his own place as the only LGBTQ person on the staff. “I definitely relate to him,” he said of Reynolds. “He’s the one gay guy in the room. I really relate to that, being the only gay comedian on a lineup, and I know what it means to be silly with straight men. When asked about Kaling, Early gushes. “It was a dream working with her. She’s so funny and so smart and she just immediately felt like my cool friend.”
At the end of “Late Night,” Early hopes that viewers walk away not only thoroughly entertained, but thinking about more serious issues concerning people of different backgrounds working together. “Having those kind of political conversations doesn’t have to be brutally traumatic,” he explained. “It’s nice to be able to laugh and be silly about it.”
Famed songwriter Diane Warren made an important contribution to the soundtrack. She explained how she was inspired to write the track “Forward Motion” after composer Lesley Barber showed her a cut of the film. “I loved it,” said Warren, who has penned hits for everyone from Lady Gaga to Celine Dion. “I’m like, ‘I don’t want to write a ballad. I want to write some badass, uptempo fun song that has something to say just like the movie does.’”
Daya, who performs Warren’s song, is of Indian descent, just like Kaling. “It really worked out,” said Warren. “There were other names that people talked about, but I fought for her. I hope this song becomes a woman’s theme song right now.”
When talking about how “Late Night” inspired her, Warren said, “I loved that nothing was stopping Mindy. And Emma’s character, she’s kind of a bitch, but she has her reasons. It’s not easy. I believe in forward motion and not looking back. As women, we can’t either.”
“Late Night” opens June 7 in select theaters, June 14 nationwide.