Amrit Kaur Couldn’t Help but Be a Mindy Kaling ‘Starfucker’ on ‘The Sex Lives of College Girls’
The breakout star of “The Sex Lives of College Girls” talks about meeting Mindy Kaling for the first time and what her sex-positive character means for South Asian women.
Before The Sex Lives of College Girls, Amrit Kaur was waiting for her big break, having only appeared in a handful of Canadian dramas. But after being handpicked by Mindy Kaling to play Bela—a sex-positive, comedy-obsessed version of her younger self—Kaur defied both South Asian stereotypes and immigration laws to deliver one of the funniest performances of the past year.
In this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, we talk about her unlikely audition process for the HBO Max series, studying stand-up comedy to nail her character’s comedic timing, what it was like to meet Kaling for the first time, and how her conservative Indian parents reacted to the show’s more scandalous moments.
“I don’t know how to be funny,” Kaur says when I tell her how funny she is on The Sex Lives of College Girls. “Whenever I tried to be funny, I was not funny. I just had to try to be myself.”
Kaur grew up in the Greater Toronto Area in a “very typical Indian household” with conservative parents who would much rather have seen her become a doctor than an actor. “We came here to make you safe,” she says, channeling her parents. “And now you’re going into something that’s not safe.”
For years, she strived to land a role on Canada’s most popular comedy series, Schitt’s Creek, but never even got an audition. So when she heard about the open call for a new show created by Kaling and Brooklyn Nine-Nine alum Justin Noble, she jumped at the chance.
There was only one problem: The audition materials specifically stated that they would not even look at anyone without an O-1 visa, which allows foreigners to work in the United States. “My Canadian agent, being polite, was like, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t audition,’” Kaur recalls. “And my American manager was like, ‘Screw that!’” The showrunners actually canceled her callback when they discovered her immigration status, but then gave her another shot because they liked her performance so much.
Ultimately, all of the executive producers, including Kaling, lobbied “the big shots in Trump’s government” on her behalf, and the visa came through. “I’m so grateful to everyone who wrote in to make that happen,” Kaur says. “I don’t take that lightly.”
It was especially meaningful to have the support of Kaling, who Kaur grew up watching and admiring as Kelly Kapoor on The Office.
“Seeing someone who looked not like the standard beauty, but still beautiful, being seen as a romantic interest and being funny and being smart, that’s iconic,” she says. “Being able to see that on TV growing up was huge for me. So to be able to work with someone who did that for me, who made me feel like I could be an actress, despite not being the standard beauty, was very empowering for me. And I was so nervous to work with her because I had so much reverence for her.”
The big piece of advice she got before meeting Kaling in person for the first time was “don’t be a starfucker.” But, she tells me, “I couldn’t do it. I was staring at her all day. I can’t help it.”
But soon her nerves shifted to everything she would actually have to do as Bela on screen, from the six handjobs she gives in the pilot to the harrowing sexual assault she confronts later in the season.
“Bless my father’s heart,” she says, explaining that it’s “especially hard” for her dad to watch the show given the culture he was raised in. “But what was amazing is that we have been able to have so many wonderful conversations around sexuality as a result of this show. I hope that will encourage other children to have conversations with their parents and open up this conversation about sexuality and the South Asian community. We’re sexual just like everybody else!”
Looking ahead to season 2, Kaur says she hasn’t seen any scripts yet but has some ideas about what she wants for Bela. “I mean, her dream is to one day be on SNL, so I’m very interested to see that trajectory,” she says. “Because I too have that dream, so I might steal that from Bela.”
When I ask if she thinks we’ll see her or Bela on Saturday Night Live first, she replies, “Only the universe will tell us. Whatever SNL decides, amen!”
Listen to the episode now and subscribe to ‘The Last Laugh’ on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.