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PaleyFest: What we learned from The Mindy Project panel

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For its fourth season, The Mindy Project made the jump to Hulu after being canceled by Fox back in May. But according to creator and star Mindy Kaling, the transition from the network to the streaming service was “natural” – and it provided the perfect opportunity to use the phrase “t–s deep” in a script.

“Fox put the show on the air, and we still have a lot of friends there who helped make the show what it is,” Kaling said during The Mindy Project’s PaleyFest panel Saturday night. “But, I will say that being on Hulu allowed us to make the show that we really wanted to make. And that’s kind of amazing; in season 4 to be able to say things like, ‘t–s deeps in a margarita,’ – which, you know I’ve wanted to say for years.”

Kaling divulged that two weeks before Fox was to decide whether or not The Mindy Project would go on with the network, she had lunch with Hulu’s Craig Erwich and The Mindy Project executive producer Howard Klein and it was “very informative.” And the rest is, as they say, is history.

Despite being the new home base for their show, no one on the panel – Xosha Roquemore, Tracey Wigfield, Ed Weeks, Charlie Grandy, Matt Warburton, Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, Beth Grant, Chris Schleicher, and Kaling – gets free Hulu Plus (much to their dismay).

Beyond Barinholtz casually dropping reminders to the audience that Kaling’s new book, Why Not Me?, was now available, here’s what the rest of the cast and crew had to say about the show:

Family dynamics

Season 4 finds our heroine navigating motherhood alongside her fiancé, Danny Castellano (Chris Messina). But, the switch-up in storyline never really scared Kaling and co. – if anything it elevated the possibilities. “I think if that if a relationship becomes boring when two characters get together or have a kid, it means that the characters are bad,” Kaling said. “Because I think that if all you were looking forward to was the suspense of whether or not they’re going to get together, than that’s not really character development.

Executive producer Warburton echoed Kaling’s sentiment saying, “When you have a baby, it takes the stories we would already do about a conflict between Mindy and Danny or 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.”

Speaking of Leo…

Mindy and Danny’s son, Leo, was welcomed into the world – right on the New York City subway – in the second episode of the season, “C is for Coward.” And working with such an adorable little actor was both “terrifying” and “delightful” for the actress. “With humans that small, you can’t get a baby to act, you just have to let a baby be,” Kaling told EW on the PaleyFest red carpet. “So, for me, I was treating the baby as it is – a very fragile young human.”

The writers’ room is as fun as you think it would be

The panel opened up about working in the writers’ room, and the job often includes Googling images of resident hottie Michael Fassbender, because — while Warburton called Kaling the “most productive writer” — she does “want to look at the picture of the hot person.” But, aside from utilizing Google for research and writing, the team does find time for other group activities. “It’s very sitcomy,” he said. “Our show does a lot of farce and there’s always this convention where someone will get a text and the whole room helps them respond – we do that on a daily basis.”

Many of the writers have also appeared on the show in smaller roles, including Wigfield, who guest starred as Lauren, the love interest of Adam Pally’s Peter Prentice. “Originally we were like, ‘Wow, maybe this could be Lady Mary from Downton Abbey or Reese Witherspoon.’ And then it was like, ‘Oh, it’s just going to be me,’ which is just as good,’” she joked. 

The auditions

Roquemore, Weeks, Barinholtz, and Grant all auditioned for the show, but according to Kaling, she had her eye on Roquemore ever since she appeared in 2009’s Precious. In the film, directed by Lee Daniels, the actress played the role of Precious’ (Gabourey Sidibe) classmate, Foxy, and it was a performance Kaling couldn’t get out of her head. “It’s the only comic relief in the whole movie, and you can’t stop staring at her because she’s so funny and so beautiful. I came back to the writers’ room for The Office like, ‘You know who’s hilarious in Precious?’”

Barinholtz auditioned for the role of Danny – known at the time as Clayton – and according to him, Kaling “didn’t look up from her phone.” Although his character’s bond with “best friend/slave master” Lahiri more so matches his actual friendship with his costar. “The bond in real life is pretty strong,” Barinholtz told EW. “It kind of echoes Morgan and Mindy’s relationship because we are friends, but I do work for her at the end of the day. There are times we’re having fun and she’s like, ‘We gotta get to work now,’ and I’m like, ‘Got it boss.’”

And while Weeks’ part of Dr. Jeremy Reed was originally written for an American, he joked that he nailed the role with his American accent. He was almost snatched up by Rebel Wilson’s ill-fated comedy Super Fun Night. But, ultimately Kaling was able to step in and offer him a place at Shulman & Associates. 

What’s up next

Hulu ordered up 26 episodes of the comedy, and Barinholtz joked to the audience that we will see Beverly (Grant) “nude” at some point. In other news though, there might be hope for Tamra and Morgan down the road as Warburton said the writers like to “complicate” their relationship. And while Barinholtz is rooting for them, he wouldn’t mind if Morgan dated someone – anyone, really. “I think it’d be funny if Morgan explored love with a much older woman, [like] Raquel Welch.” Barinholtz told EW. “We just had Eliza Coupe on and that was really fun. I mean, I think the answer is anyone, anybody who will take him.”

Kaling on Mindy Lahiri

For Kaling, the show is a “dream come true,” and she explained what it was like to bring to life a character that was unlike anything she had seen on television before. “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, able to have a sexy, fun life – a life that I had felt like I had. I didn’t think – and no one as an artist thinks necessarily – ‘Oh, I want to be a pioneer.’ You can’t think about that stuff when you create. I’m so happy that people who were my age, when they were 14 or 15, can see that.” 

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