BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Mindy Kaling is optimistic about life. Got a problem with that?
Kaling’s sunny — yet clear-eyed — view is on display in her film “Late Night,” in which she stars opposite Emma Thompson, and in the Hulu series “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Both projects are trademark Kaling: witty and nuanced, and with an embrace of inclusivity.
But moviegoers didn’t flock to the well-reviewed “Late Night,” and some critics have been less than enamoured of the updated, respectful reimagining of writer Richard Curtis’ 1994 big-screen romantic comedy. The series stars Nathalie Emmanuel (“Game of Thrones”) and Nikesh Patel (“London Has Fallen”).
Kaling is well aware that bleaker fare has prestige appeal, and says it can make for some of the most “brilliant” TV and film. But she and fellow “Four Weddings” executive producer Tracey Wigfield contend there’s room for entertainment with both substance and, yes, optimism. The two talked about their work and perspective with The Associated Press. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
AP: There are many dark, dystopian shows on TV and more to come. Are you swimming against the tide?
Kaling: At this point, “Four Weddings” is almost counterprogramming. The issue is that writers love to write really dark stuff because it’s awards-y, and actors like to disappear into those roles because they’re awards-y. If you look at the Oscars, it’s never the finest comic performance of the year. There are sophisticated actors who know that comedy is harder than drama, and really want to do it. And we just loved this material and we want to discover new talent. It’s not like we don’t get into serious issues in “Four Weddings,” like there’s a scene when the two British Pakistani men are being harassed at a club and they call them terrorists. So it’s not like we don’t touch on things that are actually affecting people, particularly minority people in London and the United States, except that our take on it is one of hope.
Wigfield: That’s partially because it’s a rom-com and Richard Curtis’ movies are that way too. They’re really hopeful and kind of happy, and he believes the power of love. And it’s nice to see different kinds of people getting to play these roles that have these big happy endings.
Kaling: There’s not darkness in our show, which I think is unnerving for people, particularly reviewers. There are moments of introspection and there’s tough things that happen to our characters. But we’ve gotten to a point now where the only way to seem intellectual is to see darkness. I simply don’t believe that.
AP: You mentioned wanting to feature characters whose ethnicity differs from the white Englishman played by Hugh Grant in the film. How do you change a property and keep its appeal for fans of the original?
Kaling: Inclusion in terms of casting is only good if people actually watch the show. So that was one of the things about doing this under the umbrella of Richard Curtis’ world, as we thought it would invite people who might not necessarily watch a show about …
Wigfield: A (British) Pakistani family and an African American girl.
Kaling: Yes. So that was one of the things we had going for it, that people love the original movie. But listen, it’s always hard. We’re both female comedy writers and there are things that anger us politically, but I don’t want to watch a show that’s polemical and angry. I want a show that is funny and great, and then I leave it maybe thinking, “Oh, I like to see people that look like that falling in love.”
Wigfield: That can be subversive in its own way, if you haven’t seen it, if you’re a person who feels like they haven’t been represented in this way before.
AP: You two exemplify women’s progress in the entertainment industry, with a mix of impressive writing and producing credits including “The Office” for Mindy, “The Mindy Project” and “Four Weddings” for both of you, and “30 Rock” and “Great News” for Tracey. What do you see as the next big hurdle?
Wigfield: Even in the last 15 years of my career, I now know so many more killer female comedy writers I would put on a (writing) staff in a second. But that jump we need to make is that it’s still mostly guys creating shows. We have to make that jump where we’re not just great writers, great supporting players, we’re pitching things that are getting on the air, staying on the air, running them ourselves and being successful.
Kaling: We’ve had a lot of champions who were women. I can’t speak for all … but the experience I’ve had with the women I’ve worked with has been great.
Lynn Elber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.
Lynn Elber, The Associated Press