Mindy Kaling is a busy woman. As head of the production company Kaling International, she’s juggling nearly two dozen projects in various stages, including the Netflix hit Never Have I Ever and HBO Max romp The Sex Lives of College Girls. On top of her producing duties, Kaling is also working as a writer on a particularly high-profile project: Legally Blonde 3. To quote its iconic protagonist, the ever-optimistic lawyer Elle Woods played by Reese Witherspoon, “What, like it’s hard?”
As it turns out, when it comes to getting the new Legally Blonde movie right, Kaling admits that, yes, it is rather difficult. The film, originally set to premiere in the spring of 2022, has been indefinitely delayed while Kaling and her co-writer, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Dan Goor, work on the script. Kaling says they want to make sure they do justice to the beloved original film and its sequel.
“We don’t want to be responsible for ruining what’s basically Reese’s Avengers franchise,” Kaling says, speaking to TIME for The 100 Most Influential Companies of 2022. Witherspoon committed to a third entry in the franchise in 2018 and personally asked Kaling to write the screenplay. And while Kaling says the script is not yet complete, she did tease some of the questions she and Goor are exploring. “What is Elle Woods like at 42?” she asks. “Does she end up becoming all the things she wanted? How does that personality manifest in a grown woman? Has she become more cynical? Her brightness and her cheerfulness really worked when she was 22, but how has life changed her perspective on things?”
Updating an iconic 2000s-era character for the 2020s is no easy task. Recent attempts to revive old favorite franchises, like the Sex and the City sequel And Just Like That, have divided audiences and critics. Kaling is a big fan of the original Sex and the City. “I always felt very protective of the show because the men I knew in comedy at the time had a dismissive feeling about it,” she says. “It was off-putting to a certain kind of man that these women were in their thirties, unmarried, wearing expensive, beautiful clothes that men didn’t have to buy for them. They had great jobs. And they were completely sexually autonomous. I loved that as a very repressed kid, sexually.”
In the 24 years since the original series’ debut, Kaling, like many fans of the show, has reckoned with its weaknesses, including its lack of BIPOC cast members. “Obviously, the original could have been more inclusive,” she says. “I think both those thing can exist. You can really enjoy something and see its flaws.”
For her, And Just Like That also served as a warning of how quickly fans can turn against beloved characters. Kaling struggled with the updated version of the show. She felt that Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte were apologizing for the original’s transgressions. Many critics have pointed out that the characters in And Just Like That felt like they were cryogenically frozen in 2004, only to emerge in 2022 and play catchup on everything that happened in society and culture. The three rich, white women were constantly stumbling over social faux pas when it came to issues of class, race, gender, and sexuality.
Kaling says she had to bow out of her And Just Like That binge after two episodes—in part because its challenges felt too close to her struggle with the Legally Blonde project. “I found it was too uncomfortable to watch,” she says. “I felt like I could commiserate with the producers and the writers of the show, trying to address all these issues from the past, and be funny and fabulous, but also sort of apologize for itself.”
The show has offered her some perspective on the potential pitfalls of updating Elle Woods. “The hardest thing about this project is trying to figure that out in an authentic way,” she says. “Honestly, watching And Just Like That, and how they took a character from 18 years ago, and how the character was now—we want to make sure that Elle Woods is not paying penance for existing in the year 2022.”
Kaling promises that while Legally Blonde 3 will acknowledge that the world has changed since the original film premiered in 2001, the new movie will still be a love letter to Elle Woods. “We’re not afraid of the character in this world, and we don’t feel we have to apologize for her. As a fan, I didn’t want to watch her be canceled or become a Karen. So the character is just fun,” she says. “That’s what’s been interesting and challenging—and why it’s taking us such a long time to write.”
More Must-Reads From TIME
- Meet the 2024 Women of the Year
- Greta Gerwig's Next Big Swing
- East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment
- In the Belly of MrBeast
- The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap
- How Long Should You Isolate With COVID-19?
- The Best Romantic Comedies to Watch on Netflix
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time
Write to Eliana Dockterman at firstname.lastname@example.org