Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson talk ‘Late Night,’ funny women and the patriarchy

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Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson in “Late Night”

Six-time Emmy nominee Mindy Kaling channeled her fascination with late-night television into her Sundance Film Festival favorite, “Late Night.”

“I’ve always been intrigued by late night TV. I write for scripted half hour shows which you’d think would be so similar that I would know this world, but it really is its own beast,” Kaling told the Associated Press. “It’s very tied to New York City, it’s a very masculine environment and the level of hyper competition in these shows both between the different hosts but also between writers on staff is so different than what I’m used to. I loved shining a light on a world that has historically not employed women. It was very easy to research because almost all of my friends have been fired from a late night talk show. There are so many great disgruntled stories of impossible hosts and mean bosses.”

Written by Kaling and directed by Nisha Ganatra, “Late Night” stars Thompson as Katherine Newberry, a British comic who has spent nearly three decades as the only female late-night talk-show host on American television. Although she has sacrificed plenty to become an award-winning entertainment icon, Katherine has become stubbornly complacent and snobbishly behind the times over the years.

When the sharp new head of her network (Oscar nominee Amy Ryan) reveals her plans to replace Katherine with a crass bro comedian (Ike Barinholtz), the Brit takes the drastic step of actually entering the writers room and discovers that her show only employs white men.

Katherine orders her harried right-hand man (Dennis O’Hare) to hire a woman writer immediately, so when Molly Patel (Kaling), a chemical plant quality controller and wannabe comedian who has cleverly juked the corporate system to secure an unlikely interview, walks in, he decides to take a chance on her.

“This movie was so enjoyable because I identify so much with both of the characters,” Kaling told the AP during a Q&A with Thompson. “I remember vividly what it’s like to be the new person in the room, the only minority, like it was yesterday, even though it was 15 years ago. I also remember distinctly being the star and the showrunner of a show that I’ve been doing for 117 episodes and I’m impatient and grouchy and I’m paid a little bit too much and everyone is telling me yes all the time and I myself have a temper.”

Thompson said Katherine isn’t some wicked witch who hates other women. Instead, it seems that it hasn’t occurred to her that she and her show would benefit from hiring a diverse staff.

“It hasn’t occurred to her because she’s followed the patriarchy mold like the rest of us,” Thompson told the AP. “You know, she’s a normal human being. What choice did she have? She wasn’t brought up in an unusual matriarchy on a small island off of America and then (said), ‘Hang on a minute, why are there no women in positions of power? This isn’t like this where I’m from.’ She has grown up the way I did seeing everything through men’s eyes.”

Although it is not unusual to write a film role with a particular person in mind, the two-time Oscar winner said the quality of the “Late Night” part Kaling penned for her was different.

“The only other times it’s happened I’ve always been an elderly archaeologist or geography teacher or someone developing dementia or Alzheimer’s or someone whose spouse has died horribly and I’ve got to deal with it. So interestingly, yeah, this is the first time someone has said I’ve wrote you something, and not only is it funny but also incredibly smart and irresistible,” Thompson said.



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