Late Night

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

5/5 (1)

Vera Mindy Chokalingam is an American-born Indian actress (that is, her parents were from India) whom you’ve seen on TV in “The Office,” “The Mindy Project,” even “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” You’ve heard her voice in “Despicable Me,” “Inside Out,” and “Wreck-It Ralph.” She’s appeared in films ranging from “The 40 Year Old Virgin” (her debut) to “A Wrinkle in Time” to “Ocean’s 8.” She has written two NYT best-selling memoirs.

You know her by the name Mindy Kaling.

Her parents gave her the “cute American name” of Mindy, picked from the TV sitcom “Mork & Mindy.” Out of practicality, she chose Kaling, a not-a-mouthful contraction of her birth name.

Mindy Kaling’s a hot commodity in the media world – actor, writer, director, producer, etc. etc. etc.

To prove it, she just wrote the screenplay for a movie called “Late Night” and she even co-stars in it with Emma Thompson.

The plot gives us a legendary talk-show host called Katherine Newbury (Thompson), the only woman ever to have a long-running program on late night. When Newbury gets accused of being a “woman who hates women” because of her all-male writing staff, she impulsively hires an obscure chemical plant worker from suburban Pennsylvania as a token female writer.

That would be Mindy, of course.

When word spreads that the acerbic Newbury is going to get replaced by a younger, hipper male host, Molly (as Mindy is called in this movie) makes it her personal goal to turn her idol’s flagging career around.

You know how that lion and the mouse fable goes.

“Late Night” is currently playing at Tropic Cinema.

Turns out, Mindy Kaling wrote “Late Night” with Emma Thompson in mind, even though she’d never even met the two-time Oscar winning British actress.

“It was a stupid thing to do,” says Kaling. “I’m in L.A. creepily writing this movie about a woman I was a fan of. She’s hilarious and never gets to do funny parts. She just turned 60, and I was excited to see her in this kind of role.”

Kaling admits she had no back-up plan if Thompson turned down the movie.

Fortunately, the actress said yes.

“I was a mutual fan,” Emma Thompson says of Kaling. “I loved ‘The Mindy Project’ and celebrated her, along with all the other young female comics coming up now.”

Although “Late Night” is technically a comedy, it has a more serious theme: diversity.

Kaling herself was a “diversity hire,” having been part of NBC’s diversity writing program. At 24, she found herself the only woman among eight writers for “The Office.”

“And for a long time I was really embarrassed about that,” she recalls. “No one on ‘The Office’ said anything to me about it, but they all knew.”

So why is there so little diversity in the writers room? “I think there’s such pressure when you’re creating a show to keep it on the air that people only hire those who they feel comfortable with,” she says. “And for a lot of people that’s people who look exactly like them.”

Why is diversity important? “Things are so much easier in terms of creating stories when you have diverse writers rooms, because what happens when you have the same kind of rooms, from the same educational standpoint or from the same background, the comedies all start seeming the same.”

Proof that diversity is taking hold? Seeing Mindy Kaling get equal billing on a movie poster with Emma Thompson.

Email Shirrel: srhoades@aol.com

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