Behind Mindy Kaling's Late Night Storyline, Fashion and Message

By 6/15/2019 04:05:00 PM ,

Tackling the issues of women in a male dominated industry isn't an easy thing. But after attending a screening for Mindy Kaling's LATE NIGHT, I have to say the film does it smoothly with both story telling and great fashion!

Note: I was invited as media to the screening. Any personal views expressed are always 100% my own.

Learn more about this Amazon Studios film, now in theaters nationwide.

The Idea Behind "Late Night" Story-line

Late Night - Featurette: Women in Comedy | Amazon Studios

Much like the character Katherine Newberry in Late Show, actor, writer and producer Mindy Kaling is an entertainment industry pioneer. Now, Mindy has channeled her own career experiences into her first feature screenplay, which takes a behind-the scenes look at the world of television comedy.

As a college intern, Kaling got an up-close-and-personal view of late-night comedy on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” She decided this male-dominated world would be a natural backdrop for a film, with one important “what if.”

“So much of television, in particular late night, is about exceptionalism,” says Kaling. “Sadly, there hasn’t been a female late-night talk show host on any big network since Joan Rivers’ show in the 1980s, which lasted less than a year. During award seasons I can’t help but notice how few women there are even on any of their staffs. In our story, Katherine was able to rise up through the ranks and become the exception to the rule.”

Choosing Emma Thompson

Kaling imagined a female stand-up whose blazing intellect, unstoppable energy and provocative humor would provide young women interested in comedy with a role model.

As it happens, her own personal hero, Academy Award-winning actress and writer Emma Thompson, began performing as a sketch comedian and quickly segued into what she has called “militant feminist” stand-up comedy. Before becoming a world-renowned dramatic actress, Thompson hosted a comedy-variety television show in the U.K.

Knowing Thompson would be perfect for the role, Kaling tailored it specifically for her.

Like Kaling, Thompson is a writer as well as an actor and is famously the only person ever to receive Oscars for both, winning Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility and Best Actress for Howards End. “Emma Thompson is my favorite living actor,” says Kaling. “She’s one of the rare movie stars who can be hilarious but is also incredible at drama. For this role, she had to do both. I had my agents send it to her and she wrote back saying, ‘We have to make this movie!’”

Emma Thompson as Katherine Newberry

Thompson says, “I was astonished and honored that she had written it with me in mind. The quality of the script is extraordinary".

Thompson believes the film accurately conveys women’s standing in the world of comedy. Pointing to the examples of brilliant comediennes like Victoria Wood, French and Saunders, Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Rita Rudner, Tina Fey and more, Thompson says she has trouble understanding why she still hears people says women aren’t funny.

The Fashion of "Late Night"

Costume designer Mitchell Travers and production designer Elizabeth J. Jones agreed on a precise look for Katherine’s wardrobe, one based on the Art Deco details already planned for the set.

“We looked at iconic women in comedy to see what worked for them and arrived at a menswear-inspired silhouette,” Travers recalls. “Emma is someone who loves to come in and get her feet wet in the fitting room, so I gave her a sandbox to play in. We had lots of options for her to try out, and she would throw on a jacket and try a bit in the mirror.

If it worked, we expanded on it. The cool thing about the menswear of that era is all the little elements that could then be incorporated into the sets, the furniture, the drapes, the backgrounds.”

In general, Thompson’s wardrobe is very safe, notes Travers. She is clad in old standards in conservative navy, charcoal and cream. “Then toward the middle of the film, we wanted it to feel like maybe somebody is styling her and bringing her up to date. It starts to get more interesting and we get into greens and reds that would have been foreign to her at the beginning of our film.”

Kaling is a well-known fashionista, and Molly’s wardrobe also evolves over time, going from suburban casual to a much more exciting and glamorous look, says Travers, reflecting the aspiring writer’s growing confidence.

“She starts to feel like she is a woman wielding power in the workplace,” he explains. “Suddenly, she doesn’t have to obey as many rules. Mindy loves clothing and the two of us can talk about it forever. It’s great to work with someone so knowledgeable about designers, the cut of a garment, the fabric. She was really involved, which was a blessing, because we could work in tandem.”

The Message Behind "Late Night"

The themes Late Night explores are timely and important, Apfelbaum continues, but it is also an aspirational comedy. “As viewers we want Molly to succeed, we want Katherine to succeed, even though they’re both very flawed,” she says. “Katherine learns so much from Molly about being open and trusting her instincts. Molly learns about skill and hard work and earning your spot at the table from Katherine. They really do need each other in this very interesting way.”

Late Night also has a serious message about the importance of women supporting each other, Ganatra adds. “We can be our own worst enemies and hold each other back more than any man,”says the director. “Or we can be our biggest champions. The problem with being a groundbreaker is that the ground is really hard! The whole point is making it easier for the next person and the next generation.”


Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is a pioneer and legendary host on the late-night talk-show circuit. When she’s accused of being a “woman who hates women,” she puts affirmative action on the to-do list, and—presto!—Molly (Mindy Kaling) is hired as the one woman in Katherine’s all-male writers’ room.

But Molly might be too little too late, as the formidable Katherine also faces the reality of low ratings and a network that wants to replace her. Molly, wanting to prove she’s not simply a diversity hire who’s disrupting the comfort of the brotherhood, is determined to help Katherine by revitalizing her show and career—and possibly effect even bigger change at the same time.

Starring Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Max Casella, Hugh Dancy, John Lithgow, Denis O’Hare, Reid Scott and Amy Ryan

Directed by Nisha Ganatra
Written by, Produced by and Starring Mindy Kaling

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