…And how a steamy turkey basting video led them to cast the perfect frat boy.

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Anyone who has ever attended college has heard the line at least once, usually from that one uncle you haven't talked to in years: "It's the best four years of your life." Whether that becomes your truth — and you become your uncle — depends, but there's no doubt that the experience can be a magical time for many people. It certainly was for Mindy Kaling.

"I loved my college experience," Kaling says. "I went to school in New Hampshire at Dartmouth, which is so cinematic. There's the four seasons, and the fall is so beautiful, and the winter is so snowy." But, she adds, "The only thing going on is the social life and partying there. It's not one of these much cooler urban campuses where you can have a life outside campus. It's, in a lot of ways, the quintessential college experience, and I had never seen it on screen before."

Sure, she's caught glimpses of it in Hollywood — the writer, actor, and producer behind Never Have I Ever specifically references The Social Network's "moody" portrayal of dorm life. But she wanted to capture more of it in her new HBO Max series, The Sex Lives of College Girls. It's that classic rural college setting contrasted with, as she puts it, "the mistakes and the sexiness of four girls who are coming of age."

The Sex Lives of College Girls
Reneé Rapp, Alyah Chanelle Scott, Pauline Chalamet, and Amrit Kaur on 'The Sex Lives of College Girls'
| Credit: Jessica Brooks/HBO Max

Kaling partnered with fellow college lover Justin Noble (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) to hatch the project. "I had talked about developing a college show years ago," says Noble. "The thing I would hear is, 'There's no stakes in that world, nothing matters.' And I was shocked by that because my take was everything mattered. You care so deeply about everything."

Together, Kaling and Noble set out to find their leads, the young women who would share a dorm, the occasional sweater, and potentially way too many details about their hookups. Ultimately, they'd land on Pauline Chalamet, Alyah Chanelle Scott, Reneé Rapp, and Amrit Kaur, though the process wasn't easy.

"The result was so good, but the casting process was interminable and so challenging," says Kaling. "We had to find a bunch of young actors who are incredibly funny and polished, and also find them on Zoom. I come from The Office and The Mindy Project, so I go into things knowing the lead, and they're usually someone who's worked for many, many years. We really wanted to find unknowns."

But one casting choice wasn't so complicated. The series also stars Chilling Adventures of Sabrina alum Gavin Leatherwood as Nico, an older frat boy who enjoys a good shirtless jog.

"I remember someone sending me a video on YouTube of Gavin Leatherwood," says Noble. "It was him smoldering at the camera while he basted a turkey. I was like, 'Oh, this is a guy who knows he's playing the sex symbol but can still have fun with it.' To me, that was a good prerequisite for who would play the role. It's tough to find that character and for them to still be able to hit a joke."

With their stars set, Noble and Kaling then got to work creating Essex College, a beautiful Vermont campus where Kimberly (Chalamet), Leighton (Rapp), Whitney (Scott), and Bela (Kaur) might just enjoy, well, the best four years of their lives.

The Sex Lives of College Girls premieres Nov. 18 on HBO Max.

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