Mindy Kaling is a writer, producer, and actor on NBC's The Office, playing perky Kelly Kapoor. Born Vera Chokalingam, Kaling, 28, grew up in Cambridge and attended Buckingham, Browne & Nichols before going to Dartmouth. She cowrote and costarred in the off-Broadway hit Matt & Ben (in which she played Ben Affleck), which was on Rolling Stone's Hot List and one of Time Magazine's Top 10 theatrical events of 2003. Her film credits include The 40-Year-Old Virgin, License to Wed and Unaccompanied Minors. She was also a guest writer on SNL and appeared on Curb Your Enthusiasm. She lives in LA and is currently writing a sorority comedy for Fox Atomic.
Jonathan Soroff: Are you as bubbly in real life as your character on the show?
Mindy Kaling: No, 'm not bubbly. But my voice is the same as the character, so people expect the same kind of fool that Kelly is. I don't have that ability to chatter on about Paris Hilton.
So would you describe yourself as perky?
Perky has a sorority-girl connotation. I'm not sure I've ever met someone who was perky who was also really smart, so I'd say no.
Speaking of sororities, you're working on a sorority comedy. Which one were you in?
I was in it for half a semester at Dartmouth, and I didn't like it. I was in Sigma Delt.
What are they like?
Their reputation is hard-drinking rugby girls, and I was one of the only people at Dartmouth who didn't drink and hadn't played sports since eighth grade. But I was seduced by the fact that they were superfriendly to me. At Dartmouth, either you were a buttoned-up sort of blonde girl or a wild rugger. But I didn't like cleaning up after parties I didn't attend, so I quit.
Were there any secret lesbian initiation rituals?
God, no. That would've been sooooo juicy. I think the most salacious thing we did was strip down to our underwear and T-shirts and put blindfolds on, then put our hands in garbage bags full of things like Gummy Worms. And they were like, "You're touching brains." It was a cross between an initiation ceremony and a haunted house for very small children. Distinctly unexciting.
When you watch yourself as Kelly, don't you just want to slap her?
Yeah, she talks on and on about nothing, and I can't imagine how insufferable that person would be to work with.
Biggest difference between Cambridge and Hollywood?
The PhDs per square foot I think.
You mean it's higher in LA.
[Laughs] No. One thing I find very similar between Cambridge and LA is the strange devotion to Whole Foods. It's the annoying person's social equalizer. In both places, the lamest people are into shopping at Whole Foods, which made me feel at home when I got here.
Which do you prefer: writing, producing, or acting?
Writing, because it's almost a prerequisite that you're a chubby, cantankerous person who wears gym shorts and torn T-shirts. You're celebrated if you don't look that great. Whereas as an actress, I have to go to the gym and wear makeup and I can't swear.
Worst office job you ever had?
For three months, I was a production assistant on a show called Crossing Over With John Edward [where a psychic contacts dead loved ones.] That was pretty painful. All day, you talk to grieving people and do stuff like ask them for photos of their late husband.
Worst job overall?
I worked in a video store in high school, and that sounded like it might be fun, that you'd be watching movies all day. But there are all these secret rules, like you can only watch PG movies in the store which I found out the hard way.
True or false: Arnold Schwarzenegger has bad breath?
False. I haven't met him, but I've seen Maria Shriver around, and I've never seen a woman more put together. She's slightly skeletal...
Her jaw is threatening to take over the planet...
I know She's just this beautiful walking skeleton, and their children are insanely well-behaved, so I just imagine she's be like, "Honey, you've got to brush your teeth."
Lamest thing you ever did when you had a crush on someone?
Calling just to hear them say hello, and then hanging up. I know it's pretty common, but the fact that I did that into my mid-20s is probably what sets me apart. Seems like something you'd do when you're 12, and that fact that I did it when I was 23 sort of singles me out a bit.
Best part of being an Indian actress?
I just got nominated for an NAACP award, and I was like, "Really!? That's so interesting, because I'm not black. I'm Indian." So that's one advantage--getting mistaken for an African-American.
Your real name is Vera. How'd you get from that to Mindy?
No one's ever called me Vera. I've been Mindy since I was born. When my Mom was pregnant, my parents were living in Nigeria and wanted a cute American name, because they were moving here, and they knew Mindy from Mork & Mindy. Vera isn't just an old Russian lady's name, it's an incarnation of a Hindu goddess. But they never called me it.
Your real last name is Chokalingam. Ever use it in a credit?
If they hire me to be the singing heroine of a Bollywood movie, sure.
I'd fly out to see you in a Bollywood spectacular.
I'd be thrilled for the outfits alone, but I've also always wanted a mustachioed love interest. I think the only way to do that is in Bollywood.
Would you rather be part of an ensemble or the star of the show?
Oh, God, the star of the show! I'm no shrinking violet. I'd love my own I Dream Of Jeannie-type show, where I lived inside a bottle or something. But it's really hard to do that. Very few people can carry a show.
Last question: What's your IQ?
Whatever the highest is-it's that plus five. I don't remember the exact number, but I do remember them saying, "It's amazing. This is not just the highest ever, it's five more." They they said, "It's not financially viable for us to change things just for one supergenius, so we'll just let you and MENSA work it out."