Mindy Kaling on Self-Advocacy, Diversity in Hollywood and What Playing Kelly Kapoor Taught Her

Mindy Kaling on Self-Advocacy, Diversity in Hollywood and What Playing Kelly Kapoor Taught Her featured image
Getty Images / Cindy Ord/MG24 / Contributor

She’s a New York Times best-selling author, Emmy-nominated writer, beloved actress—you probably know her as The Office’s Kelly Kapoor or The Mindy Project’s Mindy Lahihi—and now, Mindy Kaling is lending her voice to a groundbreaking campaign aimed at empowering the two million Americans grappling with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis (PsO), a condition that profoundly affects daily life. 

Along with Northeastern, OH dermatologist James Libecco, MD, we chatted with Kaling on her perspective on self-advocacy, her memorable tenure on The Office, and explored the invaluable lessons learned from portraying her two most iconic characters—so far. 

Tell me why this campaign and severe plaque psoriasis are important to you. 

Kaling: “I like to think of myself as someone who has been really body positive and vocal about how important it is for people of all shapes and sizes to feel comfortable in their skin. I’ve had so many friends and loved ones who’ve had plaque psoriasis, but I knew nothing about it. And then when I was approached about the SO, Have You Found It? campaign and as I learned more about SOTYKTU, I realized what my friends had been going through and kind of suffering silently. 

Part of the what’s been wonderful about the campaign is being able to use my platform to talk about self-advocacy and encourage people who have psoriasis, or think they might have psoriasis, to go onto sohaveyoufoundit.com and learn more about what their condition might possibly be and know the kind of questions you should ask your doctor. It’s been really great for me to be able to learn more about what the people I really care about are going through.”

Dr. Libecco: “I’ve joined with Bristol Myers Squibb and this launch of their product SOTYKTU because much in the line of your body positivity is the idea of psoriasis positivity. The impact [it] can have on patients’ lives with their unwillingness to go out and try on clothes, go to gyms, go to the pool—I hate that my patients are limited in what they want to do with their lives. We should be able to have them do as they need and want and live the life that they want. It’s important for our patients to know that they have therapeutic options that can help get them to where they want to be. Having a website like sohaveyoufoundit.com can really help empower those patients to have the questions and answers that they’re looking for as they head into an office.”

Mindy, you’re big on self-advocacy. How does your experience with it apply here but also in Hollywood?

“My entire career has come to be because I have stood up for myself. I have asked for things that a lot of people maybe would feel shy about doing. So for me, especially after having children, I have had to do so much self-advocacy about medical things, particularly because I sometimes feel shy or embarrassed to talk about things that are going on with me medically or when asked about it. I also don’t want to feel like a burden, and so many doctors have such busy lives and careers that you often feel like you’re being penciled in between the 100 other people they have to see. So just having the confidence to realize that it’s okay to take up space, it’s okay to ask questions, has made an enormous difference in my health and the health of my children.”

“It’s one of my favorites from season one. I love that episode, but I don’t think I could watch it again. I am so self conscious of how much I was laughing. It’s very clear that in most of those scenes I’m trying to conceal a laugh. And Steve Carell is like, enormously, enormously funny, but particularly in that episode he was really funny.”

Have you watched yourself back in The Office at all? 

“I haven’t in a while. I think my hope is maybe the next time I do that it will be with my kids when they’re teenagers. And ultimately, that will be really fun. And at that point I would have probably forgotten so much of what was on the show. But that would be a lot of fun to do with them.”

What’s your take on diversity on-screen? Have we done enough?

“There’s been a huge amount of change since I first started writing on T.V. in 2004. You can see that on screen just by the kind of talent that we’re seeing. Donald Glover, Ali Wong, Issa Ray, so many of the people who are the biggest stars on T.V. are people that we wouldn’t have seen 15, 16, 17 years ago. But that said, in television there’s there’s a lot of representation behind screen in directing, writing and on screen, but then I’ll ask my friends who are in film, which is kind of almost a different world than T.V., and it hasn’t changed as much. So I think there is a lot of room for improvement, particularly in the film side of it.”

What’s the biggest thing playing Kelly Kapoor taught you versus Mindy Lahiri?

“Kelly Kapoor is such a funny character, but she’s sort of a largely mysterious character, because it’s such a small role on The Office. So I think what that role taught me was that I loved playing her, but I always wished we could find out more about her inner life, what her family was like, and what she was like when she wasn’t at the office. And that just wasn’t the show to find out a lot about my character. So what was really nice about going to have my own show, is we got to go home with Mindy Lahiri and see what her home life was like, how she decorated her house, what she called her mom and complained about, and then got to see her professionally as well. So being able to write a complete character and to be able to see all sides of her was the biggest joy.”

What’s coming up for you?

“Well what’s really nice for both me and Dr. Libecco, is being able to talk about SO, Have You Found It? campaign and also the website. In terms of shows, we have Sex Life of College Girls coming back sometime this fall, which is so nice. Because of the strike, it’s been off for two years, so I’m really happy for that to come back on the air. And then I have a show [Running Point] coming out in the beginning of next year on Netflix, starring Kate Hudson, about the owner of a professional basketball team loosely based on the life of Jeanie Buss.”

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