ďI always wish I could be healthier,Ē Mindy Kaling says, nibbling on a peach in the middle of her packed Saturday schedule. ďIíd love to lose 15 pounds and exercise five to seven times a week.Ē
Like millions of busy women, Kaling, 33, pushes herself to extreme lengths to accomplish her daily to-do list. With her own sitcom, The Mindy Project, just launched on Fox, her typical day starts before dawn. And it often doesnít end until well after midnight.
ďI get to work at 6 a.m.,Ē says Kaling, who not only stars in the series but also writes and produces it. ďIím in virtually every scene. We wrap at 7 p.m., and then I stay in the writersí room until 2 a.m.
ďIíve recently realized that in order to keep my energy up, I had to start eating better. Itís not just for weight loss. I love candy and pizza, but they actually make me very tired. I need to be alert.Ē
Kaling tries to get at least six hours of sleep on weekends. ďThey say you can sleep when you die, but you canít do anything if you donít sleep,Ē she cracks. ďI need to not look terrible or act terrible to people.Ē
Growing up with a mother who was a physician, Kaling has always been aware of the importance of good health. ďEvery afternoon Iíd go to my momís office and do my homework in her phlebotomy room, where they drew blood,Ē she says. ďMy mom was an extremely fun, glamorous person, and I always wanted to spend time with her.Ē
Her mother, Swati Chokalingam, died from pancreatic cancer in January. She was an OB/GYN, and Kalingís character on The Mindy Project is, too. ďSheís inspired by my mom but is nothing like her,Ē Kaling says. ďMy character is very flawed and funny and makes lots of bad decisions. The average person who wants to watch my show will be more interested in my romantic life, as opposed to seeing me talk about serious medical issues.Ē
Thatís not to say she wonít impart health tidbits here and there. Kaling is very knowledgeable about reproductive health.
ďItís important to have Pap smears and to get tested regularly for sexually transmitted diseases,Ē she says. ďThe HPV vaccine for teenagers is also important.Ē
She promises that sex ďwill come up a lotĒ and that her character will be the butt of many jokes. ďThe people I admire, like Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Sacha Baron Cohen, allow themselves to be made fun of. My character has a bit of a teenagery attitude toward relationships and sex.Ē
Kaling, who played Kelly Kapoor on The Office for eight years, has long wanted her own series, but being the boss has been a wake-up call. ďThe only reason I think about my health is that if Iím sick, 150 people canít come to work. So every morning I make sure we have this green shake mixture of vegetables, fruit and ginger available so everyone can drink it. I want them trim and alert.Ē
And thatís a challenge.
ďComedy writers are some of the least healthy people in the world. The hours are crazy, and in general, itís a lot of men. The prevailing food feeling is: ĎLetís eat things we werenít allowed to eat as kids.í If thereís good news about the show, you get sent caramel candy apples, brownies and cookies.Ē
Kaling also insists the writers ďtake half-hour breaks to go outside and walk around. The work afterward is of much higher quality. We instituted Date Night once a week, where you can leave at 5 p.m. so you can see your children or wife.Ē
Kaling, who is single, seldom leaves early. ďBut when Iím not in production, I go for jogs five to six days a week,Ē she says. ďThereís a history of heart attacks on my fatherís side of the family, so I do think about cardiovascular health.
ďIím an avid slow jogger. I always hesitate to go on runs with my friends because my pace is so slow. Iím talking about an 11-minute mile over an hour and a half.Ē
Q&A with Mindy Kaling
Mindy Kaling caught Hollywoodís attention by playing Ben Affleck (yes, you read that correctly) in the stage show ďMatt & Ben,Ē which she co-wrote a decade ago with her Dartmouth College roommate. Since then, Kaling has become one of the most successful young women in the TV business. Learn more about Mindy below.
Are you a screamer? Even though Iím a very impatient, opinionated, emotional person, I donít freak out. I found thatís a rare quality when youíre running a show. Iím incredibly direct to the point where it can be considered brusqueness, which I think is unfortunate. But I donít have things bottled up, so Iím not having a screaming fight in front of everybody. I keep my stress levels down. Between jobs I largely have a cheerful disposition.
How do you keep up with all the pop culture references in your show? I donít. Iím learning from my staff. I used to be able to tweet more than I do now. That was an easy way to learn about trends. Itís been harder to keep up as Iíve gotten busier. I havenít seen a movie in months, and watching movies was always a great joy of mine.
Do you take advantage of Date Night? My whole life is like Date Night. I donít need to have that time. My job is so fun. Iíve been single for eight months, and I love it. For someone who from age 11 longed for a boyfriend, itís strange for me to say that. Iím so professionally happy. Iím too selfish right now and donít want to spend the time with somebody else.
What do you do when you get depressed? For me, one of the best things is to wake up early and get my heart rate up. I put on a sports bra and soft sneakers and just leave the house and start running. The happiness I feel from the endorphins after a run is better than almost any anti-depressant.
Did you ever consider becoming a doctor? No. I was a terrible science student.
How much medical information will you be giving? The average person who wants to watch my show will be more interested in my romantic life, as opposed to seeing me talk about serious medical issues. But if we can sneak them in in a funny way, great.
How about sex? My character has a bit of a teenagery attitude toward relationships and sex. Thatís one of the ways she overlaps with me. I longed to have more relationships, but Iím not embarrassed by being a late bloomer because I was really focused on my studies and building a career. Mindy Lahiri is old-fashioned. She loves romantic love, but that doesnít meet up with the reality of hooking up, so it will be lots of fun to write about.
What role will stick-thin women have on The Mindy Project? I consider myself a feminist, and all my friends think of themselves as feminists. We donít want to see stories where the women are skinny. But as a writer, I donít want to not mention this. Every woman I know has issues with eating or with food. Itís not just celebrities or female actors. Itís almost everyone I know. Losing 15 pounds is one of the top five things my character would like to do. On the other hand, she is weirdly overconfident. She could never have an eating disorder. She thinks she should be married to Chris Evans (Captain America in The Avengers), even though she knows she should lose weight. Thatís fun.
Do you diet? I love reading about diets, but Iíve learned theyíre difficult to implement. I eat like an Olympic swimmer, but I also like going on long, luxurious runs. On the show, weight comes up a lot. My character can relate to the patient in that way. My mom would say to her patients, ďYou donít necessarily want to hear your doctor tell you, ĎYou need to lose weight because this is unhealthy. You canít deliver your baby if youíre this much overweight.í Then the patient might say, ĎWell, you look like you could lose a few pounds.í My mom would say, ĎBut youíre not my doctor.íĒ
Is your mom your role model? She really loomed large to my brother and me. She was super fun and very glamorous and an amazing surgeon. I always felt really lucky to spend time with her, even as a little kid. Every afternoon Iíd go to her office and do my homework in her phlebotomy room, where they drew blood. She was pretty much the best mom I could ever have had, although cooking amazing dinners every night was not part of it. My dad did most of the cooking.
Can you cook? I feel thereís a really talented cook inside me, but because I donít own any pots and pans, Iíve never let that person out. I feel Iíd be a natural ó the way that people look at sports figures and say, ďI could swim like that, but I donít have the time.Ē
Will you deal with anti-aging issues on the show? I love products. Thatís part of my personality. Iím a very consumptive person. My aunt and my mother always looked 15-20 years younger than they were. My mom never got any type of surgery. She used Oil of Ulay (now known as Olay), which you get from the drugstore. She never used (expensive products). I wonder how much those products help. One of the first purchases I got for her when I worked on The Office was La Mer cream. I like splurging on things. She loved using it.
Are you enjoying success? Nothing has ever stopped me from getting things I want. Maybe thatís a nice thing for women to see.
Have you always been confident? My friends who went to Harvard and were on the Lampoon got hired on TV shows right out of college. In my mind, compared to my friends, I wasted three years. But the three years I wasnít on a show, I was starring off-Broadway in a play that was getting attention. At the same time, because I wasnít writing for Saturday Night Live like other 22-year-olds, I thought I was so behind.
What would you tell your 21-year-old self now? ďDonít worry.Ē To be a young person and be full of anxiety is not a good match. There is no worse period of emotional suffering than when you graduate from college. I had a really tough time then. I was so impatient. I moved to New York right before 9/11, and it was very difficult to find work. Iíd tell my 21-year-old self, ďDonít take things so hard. Chill out. You can take five years not knowing what to do.Ē
Whatís left on your to-do list? I really want kids. That would be an amazing experience, but I understand that has its own deadlines. I canít imagine having a different job. Being the star of my own show is something I always wished for. It makes sense to me. The same thing about being a mother. I can see that picture.
What surprising purchase have you made recently? Part of being in charge means having this huge office. It came with all the things that have been built in by the people before me, mostly men. Thereís a wet bar area, and instead of filling it with clothes I decided to make it an old-fashioned classy wet bar, like something Don Draper would have. I donít drink, so itís kind of unexpected. If you come in and ask for a stiff whiskey or a Tom Collins, I can make you one. But nobody asks me for anything because everybodyís so health conscious.