There is a lot written about Mindy Kaling's confidence as not only a woman but a woman in the entertainment industry simply because she is unafraid to-- and unapologetic about-- playing unintentional anti-hero characters. From Kelly Kapoor on The Office to Mindy Lahiri on The Mindy Project, Kaling's characters have been labeled "self-involved" simply for being women who know what they want and being unwilling to settle for anything less- whether those things were material, men that were wrong for them, or somewhat old-fashioned romantic cliches. Rather than stand with them and celebrate their strength and resolve, even if sometimes misguided, it is often easier to point at these characters as cautionary tales. But through it all, Kaling has never flinched about writing them, portraying them, or about turning the lens further on herself and sharing her own self-deprecating sagas.
"It's not that I'm especially confident," Kaling said. "If a man who had my job was comparably confident, no one would particularly think he was confident. It's just that I don't make a ton of apologies about what I do day to day, which I think is surprising to people. Do I care what people think? Yeah, desperately. I'm an actor-- insecure, crazy actor-- at my heart, but I don't spend a lot of time doing that, and so I think people think I'm extra confident [when] I'm not actually."
Kaling credits her parents, especially her late mother, with giving her the outlook that so many are championing now as unique and refreshing ("My parents just fucking rocked, and they thought that I could do anything and...until two days before my mom passed away she was like, 'Don't get married if the man is going to tell you not to do things. Just do whatever you want to do.' So I was really lucky because I don't know how many people really have parents like that," she said).
But whether Kaling wants to call it confidence or simple honesty and authenticity, she was clearly able to point to something many would be loathe to admit anyway: that part of being a performer is wanting to be liked. Luckily for Kaling, she has been in a position where she can control the characters she portrays and what images they project (as much as one can, considering an audience will bring their own biases and projections onto the characters anyway. But Kaling still has to find the compromise in crafting the specific, colorful woman she wants to exude and the palatable version the audience will accept. It's baby-steps to bring in different kinds of fleshed-out, flawed female characters, and it's the one thing she hopes to accomplish most in this industry.
"Unfortunately, if you're a woman there are some things people don't want to see, I don't want to see, and there's a sense of protecting a female character that I hadn't really anticipated, both in terms of protecting them from things and then just not wanting to see them do things. And some of that is bullshit, and we need to stretch what we expect female characters to do," Kaling said.