The insanely likable and talented Mindy Kaling has been at the center of debate lately because of her ELLE magazine cover — or rather, because of what we don’t see of her: any part of her body from the chest down. While the other actresses (Zooey Deschanel, Amy Poehler and Allison Williams) adorning various versions of the magazine’s Women in TV issue appear in full-length poses, Kaling’s shot is more of a close-up.
While it’s a gorgeous and sultry black-and-white photograph of “The Mindy Project” creator and star, it’s also provoked accusations that the magazine is perpetuating the mythology of the impossibly thin celebrity. (Kaling herself is savvy enough to defuse the tension on her Twitter feed, joking: “I love my @ELLEmagazine cover. It made me feel glamorous & cool. And if anyone wants to see more of my body, go on thirteen dates with me.”)
The whole discussion got me thinking about the thoroughly enjoyable interview I did with Kaling and her longtime friend, Brenda Withers, more than a decade ago when they were starring in an off-Broadway play they’d also written called “Matt & Ben.” In it, they play versions of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck around the time the duo wrote their Oscar-winning “Good Will Hunting” script. The play was a total hoot, as was my chat with Kaling and Withers. Here’s a look back at my August 2003 article.
“Matt & Ben”: Play depicts life of Damon, Affleck before they were famous
By CHRISTY LEMIRE
NEW YORK — Say the names Matt and Ben and even people who don’t subsist on a steady diet of celebrity gossip will probably know you’re talking about Damon and Affleck.
That’s what the stars of “Matt & Ben” have found at sold-out performances of their off-Broadway play.
Mixing fact, fiction and tabloid fodder, the play takes place in the mid-1990s — long before Affleck’s highly publicized engagement to Jennifer Lopez — when he and Damon were struggling actors and writers.
The main joke is that the script for “Good Will Hunting” — which co-starred the longtime friends and earned them a screenwriting Oscar in 1998 — literally falls from the ceiling of Affleck’s apartment, the decor of which can best be described as frat-boy chic.
Then there’s the actors portraying them — actresses actually.
Brenda Withers plays Damon and Mindy Kaling plays Affleck. That they’re women in drag is only part of the conceit (though they’re both so good, you forget the gender bend after a while). In another twist, Withers is tall and rangy like Affleck while Kaling is short and compact like Damon — and she’s of Indian descent.
“The point of it was not to do, like, an ‘SNL’ kind of sketch. Obviously, we can’t play these characters with any kind of accuracy,” said Kaling, 24. “I’m, like, an Indian girl.”
“Matt & Ben” affectionately skewers the actors for their oft-reported personas: that Damon, star of “The Legend of Bagger Vance” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” is the serious actor of the two and that Affleck, who’s made blockbusters (“Pearl Harbor” and “Armageddon”) and bombs (“Gigli”), merely coasts on his looks and personality.
But the actresses said they can relate to them because they’re also best friends who collaborated on a script. (“Matt & Ben” originally appeared at the 2002 New York International Fringe Festival.)
Yet Withers, 25, acknowledged with a laugh: “I still feel like we really have no idea who they are. A lot of what went into the characters was our process, our situation — being friends and writing together.”
People think they know Damon and Affleck, though, because of the abundance of media coverage they receive.
“They’re different enough it seems that you think, like, ‘Oh, I have so much more in common with one or the other,’ even if you don’t know anything about them,” Kaling said. “It’s funny, when we first thought of the title we thought: ‘Will people actually get it?”‘
People did, which often prompts the question — are you a Matt girl or a Ben girl? — which the actresses pondered recently over an egg salad sandwich (for Withers) and a liverwurst sandwich (for Kaling) at a Midtown theater hangout.
“I think both of us are sort of constantly fighting over Matt in our, like, made-up world where they would be having to choose between us,” Kaling said. “Ben is, like, tall and strapping. Matt’s cerebral.”
“I …, ” Withers hesitated. “I mean, yeah, I love Matt.”
“Brenda’s a Casey girl,” Kaling joked, referring to Affleck’s younger brother, Casey Affleck, who had a small role in “Good Will Hunting” and whose photo hangs on the wall of the “Matt & Ben” set.
“I think it goes back and forth,” Withers said.
One thing the women can agree on: They’d both be mortified if Damon and Affleck ever showed up for a performance.
“I hope if they come they come very quietly and don’t tell us,” Withers said.
It looks like they have nothing to worry about, even though there’s talk of extending the play past its six-week run scheduled to end Sept. 6. Damon’s publicist didn’t return a phone call for comment about the play; Affleck’s publicist, Ken Sunshine, said the actor knows about it but hasn’t seen it.
“We have no thoughts or reactions. I wouldn’t bet on them showing up,” Sunshine said. “I think, frankly, we’re trying not to emphasize the circus atmosphere surrounding his celebrity right now.”