Sunday 18 August 2019

Mindy's magical maternity moment

'She's handily jostling out the phone for the biggest place in my heart'

The Ocean's 8 cast Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, and Mindy Kaling
The Ocean's 8 cast Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, and Mindy Kaling
Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling's infant daughter Katherine is already learning how the A-list works. When the actress - who stars in the forthcoming Ocean's 8 movie - visited her former co-star and friend Oprah Winfrey's "cathedral of beauty and art" (aka the chat show queen's home) recently, baby Katherine instinctively knew when it was time to cut short a brewing tantrum.

Despite being decidedly antsy on the way over to the house, for the next few hours she was "sweetness and light, totally adorable", and Kaling's meeting with Oprah was punctuated by happy gurgling, rather than piercing cries.

In fairness, however, even if Katherine had decided to go nuclear chez Oprah, you might have expected the chat show queen would put up with it. After all, it was she who first revealed Kaling's maternity to the world, blabbing the news to People magazine in the US late last summer, prompting a frenzy of speculation Stateside about who the father might be - Kaling did not reveal his identity and was not romantically linked to anyone at the time of the pregnancy.

"It was an interesting time," Kaling says now. "There is obviously a lot of scrutiny on women in the public eye who get pregnant, and you know a lot of the time I think that's not necessarily nefarious; people are just excited for them that they have some good news. With my daughter, I try to have a high level of privacy so I don't talk about some things that are to do with her. She's my life now and I always worry about her. I just want to do the best for her." She gets help minding Katherine from her father, she says, and she takes her daughter to set, and hangs out with her in her trailer. "We just make it work. She's entertained by anything," Kaling tells me.

Mindy Kaling
Mindy Kaling

Since Katherine was born last December, Kaling's famous work ethic (she's written 'I have never, ever, ever met a highly confident and successful person who is not what a movie would call a "workaholic".) has required some tweaking, and she says being prepared has been the key. "I shot this movie before I had my daughter, so it didn't really affect how much I worked here, but generally now that I've had my daughter, I would say it just requires a much greater level of organisation on my part."

Ocean's 8 is an all-female iteration of the famous heist franchise, and stars a veritable Who's Who of Hollywood - Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock and Rihanna (who Kaling still isn't sure knows her name) also star in the film. It represents the latest notch in a career which has been in a relentless upward trajectory ever since Kaling lit up screens in the American version of The Office which she wrote and starred in for eight years. Kaling became even better known for her eponymous follow up, The Mindy Project, in which she starred as a gynecologist whose wit, warmth and personal struggles won Kaling a new legion of fans. To the American media, Kaling represented something of a friendly insurgent, an Indian-American who made the jokes rather than being the butt of them - for decades the only representation of Indian-Americans on TV had been Apu from The Simpsons.

One of the themes of Kaling's work - especially her memoir, Why Not Me? - has been the development of confidence. She writes of hesitating to speak up in the writers' room and of feeling like she didn't fit in, in the comedy world. Part of this was to do with race, body issues and gender, and she says the key to overcoming all of these was simply hard work. "What I talk about in the book is that entitlement is fine, as long as you have the work ethic and the body of work to back it up. I think a lot of people, especially women, get stuck in a cycle of feeling that they are not deserving. I think working hard cured me of that."

If Kaling was an outsider in some ways, in others she represented the heart of middle-class America. She grew up the suburban comfort of Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she attended private school and fantasised about being the long-lost sister of Nora Ephron. Her mother was an obstetrician/gynecologist and her father an architect and they named Mindy after the female character in the Robin Williams comedy Mork & Mindy. Kaling went on to study playwriting at the prestigious Dartmouth college and as a Sophomore interned on the Conan O'Brien show in New York City. Given that she was a beneficiary of one kind of privilege - economic - and the victim of another - racial - I wonder what she thinks is a greater predictor of entitlement? "That's a super-smart question but I'm not really sure I know the answer to it. I was certainly very lucky in some ways. I was lucky to come from a good family. I think the fact that I was able to go to a college which allowed for us to do internships worked in my favour. But at the same time I struggled with a lot of the same issues other young women struggle with, and in terms of how I looked. I did feel like something of an outsider. I had a feeling that I didn't belong in the comedy world. When you look around at a lot of the great work being produced and you don't see yourself reflected back in any of it, it's very easy to feel like you are in the wrong field."

This was a weakness, which she would eventually turn into a strength, as she forged her path on the ultra competitive stand up circuit in New York City. "I would say comedy is about finding your wound and dealing with that through humour," Kaling says of that early success. "And even when you're writing for other characters, you are also trying to find their wound - it's really part of what makes a person tick, so that is also where the funniness comes from."

In the weeks after we speak, Kaling waded into the controversy surrounding the cancelling of Roseanne - which was pulled from the air after Roseanne Barr tweeted a racist slur. Kaling tweeted out an offer to write a new spin-off show for co-stars Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman. For now, though, she is juggling multiple projects - she is also about to appear in a forthcoming movie with Emma Thompson - and the joys of new motherhood. "She's my life now and I always worry about her. I just want to do the best for her. Downtime is with my daughter now. She's handily jostling out the phone for the biggest place in my heart."

'Ocean's 8' is released nationwide on June 22.

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