sundance 2015

9 Things Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, and Your Other Female Faves Said at Sundance

Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham attend the “Power Of Stories: Serious Ladies
Photo: Arthur Mola

Yesterday at the Sundance Film Festival, four of the funniest women in Hollywood — Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, Kristen Wiig, and Orange Is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan — got together for a panel moderated by The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum. You may have already heard about the panel, since Dunham’s jab at Woody Allen made the news once more, but focusing on that brief comment would do a disservice to all of the other interesting things said onstage (not to mention all of the good jokes). Here are nine other things we learned when these women had the spotlight.

Movie studios still don’t know what to do with female writers.
Hollywood courted Dunham after she made her indie Tiny Furniture, though they didn’t have much to offer her: “I’d sit down in meetings with guys who were like, ‘We loved your movie, it was so fresh, we’ve never seen anything like it, do you want to write the Strawberry Shortcake movie?” she said. “Or, ‘We’d like something that’s like your movie, but it’s Anne Hathaway.’” Kohan concurred. “It’s so weird to me that all I’m offered are [movies about] weddings and moms.” She turned to Wiig. “No offense to Bridesmaids!” The Orange Is the New Black showrunner noted, though, that things in TV writers’ rooms aren’t always that progressive. “I’ve had a mixed bag,” Kohan said. “An old comedy writer told me if God had meant for women to be in a writers’ room, he wouldn’t have made tits so distracting.”

You don’t have to agree with your characters.
Remember that famous quote from the Girls pilot where a high Hannah posits that she may be the voice of a generation? “I’ve accepted now that for better or worse, it’ll be on my grave,” said Dunham, “but it is a confusing thing when people equate the words coming out of your mouth with some real-life philosophy you actually don’t possess.” Both she and Kaling commiserated on how they’re often thought to resemble their characters exactly, even when, say, Kaling’s character on The Mindy Project is eager to own a gun. “She’s so wrongheaded about it,” laughed Kaling. “She would have murdered half of her staff!”

It isn’t easy to shoot a sex scene.
Asked how she convinces her actors to do nude scenes, Kohan said, “It’s a huge negotiation. You beg and plead and sign papers and close the set and offer wine. There’s all sorts of little tricks … sometimes you’ll hire a body double, and the actor will do it when they see the body double waiting to do it.” Dunham was amused by that notion, since she’s never had a reason to call in a double. “Firstly, there’s nothing I’ve ever asked anyone to do that I haven’t done 15 times worse,” she said. “There’s a precedent, and I can be supportive in a way that isn’t just paying lip service to what they’re feeling … and by this point in the history of the show, a sex scene has become fairly uneventful. Everyone is so sick of our boobs on that set.”

Mindy Kaling makes Kristen Wiig cry.
Wiig teared up not once but twice thanks to Kaling. The first came after Nussbaum played a tender Mindy Project clip from this season where Mindy and Danny have a sweet sharing moment on her fire escape; Wiig was so moved afterward that she blurted, “I got the chills during that! It was so sweet and romantic.” Later, Wiig teared up again when Kaling spoke passionately about her fanbase: “So many girls who look up to me or are interested in me are young girls of color who have been told they’re ugly and who feel that they are not normal. It’s so important for women who look like me — or who look different than me — can find themselves beautiful and be objects of love and attention and affection. I feel sad when people say, ‘You were the first person who made me feel like that was possible.’”

The rom-com isn’t dead.
Asked what romantic comedies they adore, Wiig replied, “I love When Harry Met Sally. I love Jaws.” Dunham noted that though rom-coms are said to be on the wane, plenty of recent movies were actually stealth exercises in the genre. “Silver Linings Playbook was a romantic comedy!” she cried, as Kaling added, “And a dance movie!” Said Dunham, “No one’s calling David O. Russell out on that. It’s basically Footloose.”

Mindy Kaling is hornier than you realize.
Kaling frequently mentioned that she’s hemmed in by network morals, leading Nussbaum to wonder what she might be writing if she worked on a more uncensored network. “Oh man, I’m like a pervert,” confessed Kaling. “If I was on cable or another platform, it would not be good for me right now. My desire is a very prurient desire.” Still, necessity is the mother of invention, and Kaling noted that though the most notorious Mindy Project episode this season involved anal sex, the ways she had to make that subject network-palatable actually produced funnier jokes. “It made me not underestimate the audience, because they knew what we were talking about,” she said. “It made me a better writer.” 

It’s okay to be full of yourself.
When the women were quizzed on how they kept going when hit by moments of self-doubt, few of the panelists actually seemed all that wracked by lack of confidence. “I’m driven by ‘I’ll show you, fuck you,’” said Kohan. “I don’t know if it’s healthy or not.” Kaling went one further: “I have a personality defect where I refuse to see myself as an underdog, and it’s gotten me into a lot of trouble,” she said, crediting her parents for her confidence. “They raised me with the entitlement of a tall, blond white man. That’s a way to do it: Picture yourself as Armie Hammer on the outside.”

Kristen Wiig hates to watch herself.
Wiig was the only panelist who really copped to her shyness, revealing that she refused to watch Saturday Night Live the entire time she was on it and starred in plenty of movies that she still hasn’t seen. One she actually did watch was her indie drama Hateship Loveship — one of the first change-of-pace moves she made after leaving SNL — and she was horrified when the audience laughed during a sad scene involving her character. “I wanted to be like, ‘What the fuck? This is serious!’” she said. “I got nervous that people just weren’t gonna take me seriously ever. I really tried in that movie and it was the first really dramatic thing I’d done, but I get it: People know you how they know you. I go to dinner and people say, ‘Talk in that voice!’”

Mindy Kaling idolizes Tyler Perry.
“I don’t know how much you know about Tyler Perry,” Kaling told the crowd, “but I have such a fondness for Tyler Perry because he had such a difficult childhood and has built, essentially, an empire … To see someone who seemed like such an outsider who became so powerful and so important to other people was very moving to me.” She paused. “Also, he’s rich as hell, and that’s important, too.”

9 Things Lena D. and Mindy K. Said at Sundance