Director Nisha Ganatra called “Late Night,” her latest project, “an ode to hard work and how far it can take you” at a Q&A following the film’s world premiere Friday in Park City.
“Late Night,” showing at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the “Premieres” section, stars Emma Thompson as a late-night talk show host and Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the comedy, as her only female staff writer, originally hired to smooth over diversity concerns.
“There’s a lot of discussion right now about women and inclusion in the public discourse, and I feel like this film addresses that, those issues, in a way that is so effortlessly accomplished and it just manages to do it in such a way that’s funny and entertaining and charming,” said Kim Yutani, the festival’s director of programming, at the premiere. “For me, my first year as director of programming here, it’s an absolute dream film to be showing.”
A young comedy writer in the audience asked during the Q&A what advice Kaling and Ganatra had for females in the industry on how to be polite but also be heard. The answer for both filmmakers was, hard work.
“I’ve felt that I have had to prove myself through the work instead of my opinions about the work or opinions about the workplace, and even though those things are valid, nobody wants to hear them from you when you’re first starting out, and you kind of have to earn that right by showing that you can do the work,” Kaling said.
“You just have to work so hard constantly, and it’s one thing I really respect and admire about Mindy is she works incredibly hard,” Ganatra said. “And when you meet these women in comedy, when I was lucky enough to break in and finally work with them, I was really blown away by how hard they worked constantly, every single day. So I guess that’s our message: Just keep working really hard.”
Kaling also answered a question about whether she has seen more diversity in film and television, to which she said, “The answer is yes, even in the past five years.
“When I started at ‘The Office,’ I was the only female writer and the only writer of color, and now that would be kind of unheard of, partially because I think employers like me and other show writers are realizing that you could be sued for that,” Kaling said. “Fear of shame is the thing that leads the way a lot of times in Hollywood, and it’s worked because now I hardly see a writer’s room that does not have at least 40 percent women and a lot of diverse faces.”
“Late Night” was very fun to write, Kaling said, because she “really identified with both characters, which doesn’t really happen that often.”
“This was just like if I didn’t write this part for Emma Thompson, then it wasn’t going to happen, and it just felt too juicy and delicious to not see,” Kaling said.
Kaling said she had Thompson in mind when she wrote the talk show host’s part.
“I wrote it for her, which any person will tell you as a writer is the stupidest thing you can do, is to write a movie that only one person can play. But I did it, and thankfully she said yes,” Kaling said.
“Yeah, we couldn’t imagine anybody else but Emma Thompson,” Ganatra added.
Thompson was filming in London during the premiere, but sent a note for Ganatra to read to the crowd.
“I’m gutted not to be at Sundance. I’ve heard there are young people and snow, two of my favorite things,” Thompson said in the note. “Another of my favorite things is ‘Late Night,’ a film by magnificent Mindy, helmed by extraordinary Nisha Ganatra and one of my all-time top experiences.”
“Late Night” is also a movie about “being an outsider and looking in and wanting something so badly and feeling so far away from it,” Kaling said.
“Nisha and I didn’t come from families that have any connections to the business. I grew up in Boston,” Kaling said. “I know there’s young filmmakers and people here who probably have that feeling right now, and we were really trying to capture that because it’s really, every day, no matter how successful I feel, I wake up and feel like that person still.”
“So this movie’s for you, and hopefully you keep following your dream and make it,” Ganatra added.