Everyone knows that Kelly Kapoor and Ryan Howard belong together — even if their story seemingly ended when Kelly left Scranton to be with handsome doctor Ravi at the beginning of The Office‘s ninth season.
So it’s a good thing that the actors behind Ryan and Kelly will get one more shot at happiness on The Mindy Project. B.J. Novak — an executive producer of the Fox comedy’s pilot, as well as a consulting producer throughout its first season — is guest-starring tonight and next Tuesday as Jaime, a Latin professor Novak calls “the man version of what [Mindy Kaling’s character] dated on The Office.” There’s just one problem with the charismatic classicist: his unusually close friendship with Lucy (Eva Amurri Martino), which makes Mindy feel like “the side character in their romantic comedy.”
To any Mindy Kaling fans, this scenario should sound familiar — Novak and Kaling have enjoyed a close friendship (and an on-again off-again romance) since both were hired to work at The Office in 2004. Here’s what the multihyphenate had to say about exploring his relationship with Mindy for her new comedy — as well as his plans to return to Scranton for The Office‘s imminent series finale.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was your arc on the show inspired by your friendship with Mindy?
B.J. NOVAK: I don’t know that it’s a direct analogy, but it’s definitely inspired by our relationship. We are pretty inseparable best friends with a lot of chemistry ourselves, and we’re not dating. Whenever we date anyone else, I think there’s a period where the person is very skeptical of our friendship — “Everyone seems to think you two might be a couple, and I don’t mean to get in the way. Are you sure you’re not dating? Are you sure you’re not going to end up dating?” It’s such a common thing to have that platonic best friend that becomes a little weird when you start dating someone.
The episode’s title, “Harry and Sally,” implies that it’s also inspired by a certain romantic comedy. Are you a fan of that movie?
Oh, of course. One thing I love about The Mindy Project is that it’s a romantic comedy and a deconstruction of a romantic comedy at the same time. When Harry Met Sally was sort of Mindy and my generation’s formative take on ‘can men and women be friends?’ So this episode is a take on that for people who have seen that movie.
You guys wrote the episode together. What was that experience like?
You know, we’re so scared of having an epic, blow-up, tear-down fight that we were very, very careful with each other. We would fight constantly at The Office. We would have friendship-ending fights about four times a day, and start the next day as best friends again. So because this is her show, she’s so busy [that] we really could not afford a fight. She wrote a very basic draft — like, half an outline — and then I filled it in. And then we got together and discussed it with the rest of the writers. They got used to our weirdness early on.
What do you think would happen if Mindy Lahiri met Ryan Howard?
Mindy Lahiri would have absolutely no patience for Ryan Howard. That is one thing I love about about this episode — we both get to play much more mature versions of ourselves. Ryan and Kelly were the kid versions of us. We invented them when we were 24, and they kind of stayed stuck in time — they were very bratty, and selfish, and a little thin. And Mindy’s character on The Mindy Project — she’s still a mess, but she’s a much more mature, self-aware adult. My character is too. She’s a doctor; I’m a Latin professor. These are grown-ups. So it feels like that was our Muppet Babies relationship, and this is us as real Muppets.
Mindy’s already been romanced by Ed Helms and Seth Meyers, and in a few weeks Seth Rogen will appear as her old flame from camp. Who else would you like to see as a love interest in future episodes?
I think our dream has always been Danny McBride. But you know, he’s busy. I wanted him on The Office too. He’s my favorite comic actor, and I think one of Mindy’s. Vince Vaughn she loves; I don’t know if he’s ever going to do TV. She likes funny alpha male comedians, really inventive, bold guys. And Seth Rogen is perfectly in that mold too.
But do you want her to end up with Chris Messina’s character eventually? Are you Team Danny?
I am! But anything can happen. I know from nine years on The Office that you think something’s going to go a certain way, and then the chemistry or magic happens somewhere else. I can see Tommy Dewey coming back as his character — I think he’s great, and we are going to bring him back later in the season. [Mindy]’s going to visit him in rehab, and we’ll see if he’s changing.
And Mark Duplass is coming back as well, right?
Yeah, Mark Duplass — that relationship is evolving. So I’m Team Danny now, but yeah, you never know. You have your romantic comedy ideal, but in real life, anything can happen.
How do you think The Mindy Project has evolved since its pilot?
Well, I think it’s continuing to evolve. People are watching it grow, sometimes a little awkwardly, finding out what dynamics work, what the strengths of the show are — is it a workplace show? Is it sort of a broader life show? Is it a show about Mindy? Is it a show about an ensemble? Is it a dating show? I think it’s been playing around with all those. All of those things are funny, but I think it gets closer to becoming what it’s truly meant to be every week.
If you had to characterize the series as one of those things — workplace comedy vs. broader life show, etc. — what would you choose?
This is sort of the first episode of the relaunch in a way — the casting is settled, there were some perspective changes. But in my opinion, at its core, this is a romantic comedy about someone who has watched too many romantic comedies. And that’s what [the show] is tonight. That’s what the pilot was. What’s the real world like for someone who can’t help but see life as a romantic comedy? That’s what Mindy’s best at.
You and Mindy are both coming back for the The Office‘s series finale, right?
That’s the plan. We haven’t actually worked out any dates or anything, but that’s what we say, yeah.
But Steve Carell has said that he isn’t planning to appear.
You know, I get that. As a fan of the show, I certainly would love to see him one last time. But I definitely get it creatively, from his perspective. The show is meant to be a documentary about Dunder Mifflin, and Michael outgrew wanting to be on a documentary. He chose real life over that.
Do you like the direction of the last season? Have you been keeping up with it?
I like a lot of it, but I’m one [episode] behind — and I know it’s a very dramatic one.
Yeah, it’s really cool how they started bringing the documentary stuff back in.
That’s been the plan since the very beginning. I believe that was Mindy’s idea, back in season 3, to have Pam cry and you reveal that guy [Brian, one of the documentarians], and you reveal that they’ve had a connection.
The last time we saw Ryan, he had followed Kelly to Miami… University of Ohio. Where do you think he is now?
Well, I have some thoughts, but I don’t want to say anything that will contradict what the writers are coming up with. But I think as always, Ryan is lost and thinks he isn’t. So now that’s probably just happening in Ohio.