Kaling '01 embarks on acting, writing career for 'The Office'

by Zach Swiss | 5/23/06 5:00am

When Mindy Kaling '01 says that she won't be able to attend her upcoming college reunion because of work, she isn't talking about investment banking or consulting.

Instead, Kaling may be busy writing and appearing in episodes of NBC's hit comedy "The Office," or she may be on the set of the movie she is currently filming in Los Angeles.

Only a few years ago, Kaling was most recognizable for portraying, of all people, Ben Affleck, in a play entitled "Matt and Ben" that she co-wrote with Brenda Withers '00. Now, Kaling has a large summer film and two popular sitcoms on her resume, not to mention a stint as a guest writer for one of television's most enduring comedy institutions, "Saturday Night Live."

Last summer, Kaling appeared in the blockbuster "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" as Amy, an ex-girlfriend of Paul Rudd's character and the object of his affection. Kaling credits two industry insiders for her role in the film: Allison Jones, the casting director for both "The Office" and "40-Year-Old Virgin," and Steve Carell, her costar from the sitcom and the star of the movie.

"[Jones] has this awesome sensibility for offbeat casting and I kind of got all these cool parts because she's the casting director on them," Kaling said. "Steve kind of recommended me to Judd [Apatow, the writer and director of the film]."

Kaling has also appeared on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in the episode "Lewis Needs a Kidney." The episode, from the show's most recent season, features Kaling as Richard Lewis' assistant who, not surprisingly, has a confrontation with Larry David, the show's abrasive main character.

But it is her recent work on "The Office" that has afforded Kaling the opportunity to once again don the hats of both actress and writer.

At first, Kaling was apprehensive about creating a version of "The Office," which was already a hit comedy in England, for American audiences.

"It was really scary because the original version is pretty much the perfect show. It was such a daunting task to have to adapt it, so I feel really lucky," she said.

In its first season, "The Office" received generally favorable notices from television critics but failed to attract a large enough audience to render the series a hit. Still, NBC decided to renew the sitcom and this year, with a slot at 9:30 p.m. on NBC's "Must See TV" Thursday night lineup, the show's audience and popularity have grown.

Next year, NBC will move "The Office" to the 8:30 p.m. time slot on Thursdays.

"Its really nice to not have to be the unwitting victim of the 'CSI' or 'Grey's Anatomy' juggernauts," Kaling said, referring to two hit dramas that will face off next year in the 9 to 10 p.m. time slot.

Kaling's character on the show, Kelly Kapoor, first appeared in the series' second episode, "Diversity Day."

In its second season, the show's array of supporting characters were given more screen time and Kaling has been able to imbue Kelly with specific character traits. She is now very talkative and very in love with the office temp Ryan, played by B.J. Novak.

Some of Kaling's earliest comedic experiences are traceable to her time at Dartmouth. While in college, Kaling was a member of the improvisational comedy troupe the Dog Day Players, a skit writer for the a cappella group The Rockapellas and creator of the comic strip in The Dartmouth titled "Badly Drawn Girl," which attracted a huge following.

This past April, Kaling returned to the east coast to work as a guest writer for Saturday Night Live. In the coming months, she will continue to work on "The Office" and according to the Internet Movie Database, will appear alongside Wilmer Valderrama and Novack in the film "Unaccompanied Minors."