Monday, December 5, 2022

Mindy Kaling and Charlie Grandy Discuss Bringing a New Iteration of ‘Velma’ to Life at New York Comic Con

CONVENTIONSMindy Kaling and Charlie Grandy Discuss Bringing a New Iteration of 'Velma'...

A new take on Velma Dinkley is coming next year from HBO Max with the aptly titled Velma. The series will delve into the origin story of the beloved Scooby Gang member, “the unsung and underappreciated brains” of the group. It is an animated series aimed specifically at adult audiences. The first season will consist of 10 episodes.

During New York Comic Con, executive producer/star Mindy Kaling (the voice of Velma) and executive producer/showrunner Charlie Grandy were on-site to preview the show. Nerds & Beyond had the chance to take part in the press conference in which Kaling and Grandy spoke about the character of Velma, the show, and more.

Note: Answers were edited for clarity.

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One of the most important aspects of Kaling’s Velma is that the character is South Asian, specifically, Indian. Bringing characters like that to the screen has always been an integral part of Kaling’s work — whether she’s doing it on or off-screen. When we asked her how she hoped to continue bringing that representation beyond the character’s physicality to Velma, she said:

“She has an Indian family, and I love this opportunity I have now to be able to have representation of Indian-Americans, like modern Indian-American teens, and I’ve done it in a couple other shows. And Charlie has written with me before, and we just thought it was such a great opportunity. I identify so much with the Velma character…When I knew I was going to do the voice, and it’s animation, and the possibilities of animation are so big, well, why not make the character Indian? We’ve been so inspired by Into the Spiderverse and seeing these other characters that can embody the spirit of these iconic franchises. We were like, ‘Well, why don’t we try that?’ We love Scooby-Doo so much, and we’re gonna honor it.”

Grandy added that “the whiteness of the characters didn’t feel integral to them. Except Fred. Fred just felt like a very white person.” He explained that once Velma seemed more like a possibility of actually happening, they began to have conversations about what this new iteration would look like, with its title character and the others. He said that “at the time, it was just like, well, why shouldn’t they be [diverse], in this day and age.”

Kaling stated that Velma, in general, is a character she related to. When representation was especially hard to come by in early animation, Velma was “the closest to what I can see: smart, A student, thick glasses that are always falling off, and skeptical. And she has a lot of these amazing qualities. So, as a kid, watching the re-runs at that point of the original Scooby-Doo, I felt like, ‘I really identify with this character.’ I love that she exists.” Those traits are what drew her to both the character and the show.

Moreover, Kaling can’t wait for viewers to see the dynamic between an Indian-American father and daughter, saying:

“I’ve been able to show these mother, even grandmother-teenager dynamics in a lot of my shows that are Indian-American, and I was so excited that the parent, that her primary parent — and there’s some fun mystery around that, so I won’t say too much else — is her father. And the father doesn’t have an accent. He was born and raised in the United States. That’s a dynamic I haven’t seen before, and it’s one of my favorite things in the show. He’s [Russell Peters] such a gifted comedian. I think we’re now getting to the point where, I’m old as hell, but there are people here, Indian-Americans, whose parents are Indian-Americans. We wanted to reflect what’s happening now.”

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One story that has made headlines recently regarding Velma is her sexuality, as she was canonically confirmed to be a lesbian. Throughout Scooby-Doo history, Velma’s sexuality has been a major, important factor for many women who identified with her. When asked about whether this would be a part of the new series, both Grandy and Kaling assured they didn’t want to ignore that part of Velma. Kaling stated:

“Her self-discovery is a really big part of this series. One of the biggest appeals to Charlie and I about doing this is, when we started working on the show and Charlie started writing the first script, that’s [Velma’s sexuality] a big part of it. We don’t want to ignore it. It’s what’s interesting to people. She’s an icon for young gay women, and I think that’s really interesting to us. So, her figuring it out is a big part of the show and why it’s fun to do.”

Another notable change to this upcoming version is that the series is geared specifically toward adults. Exploring that appealed to Grandy and Kaling. Grandy “was interested in the comedy and the humor of the original and sort of adapting it for older — trying to make it [with] harder jokes and scarier as well.” However, he mentioned that it’s not “the most adult show that you’ve ever seen. We wanted to be respectful to the IP.” Kaling added that it’s largely in the situations. It’s also not meant for shock value.

Still, Velma will be bloody, with murders and more intense crimes happening throughout. This was something Grandy was always interested in with the original. With the Scooby gang, “it feels like their life is in danger every single week, and yet week in, week out, they keep doing it, and it’s seemingly for free. So, it’s sort of like, what did they go through in high school that was so bad that kind of pushed them to want to do that. So, we just really kind of amped up the suspense and fear level of the crimes they’re investigating.” Kaling likened the show to Veronica Mars in the mysteries it explores, while Grandy agreed with an initial comparison that it’s like Harley Quinn and an animated X-Files.

Of course, they don’t want to copy exactly what the original did, and they shared some of how they hope to bring their own flavor to the project. Grandy is excited to delve into certain things, and that “the fun of this show has really been taking the iconic pieces — either the sayings or the sweater or what not — and trying to give origins to all of those. Everything that really are the iconic pieces of Scooby-Doo and imbue them with meaning.” He ensures that this Velma is a little different, as she is “a little bit more skeptical” and “a little rougher around the edges.” She is “very free-flowing about her comments and judgments about other people and what’s going on.”

One other goal Kaling and Grandy have with the show is to home in on issues that teens deal with as individuals and in other group settings. Kaling is interested in exploring high school, saying,

“It’s also tackling a lot of what teens go through in modern high school life. Obviously, I come from that sort of traditionalism in my other shows, and that was really interesting to me and Charlie, like what do girls deal with. It deals with popularity and being an outsider. The cast comes from very different socioeconomic backgrounds, you know, the characters do. So, what does that look like now, and that’s something that we can kind of only tackle in an adult show that seemed really interesting and rich.”

Grandy cited family dynamics as a point of interest for himself, “because for me the whole — one of the big mysteries of Scooby-Doo, the original, is how did these very different four people come together? What really drew them together and what sort of kicked it off, and how they were made by their parents. That’s such a trope in teen dramas, especially today is teens paying for the sins of their parents. I really wanted to fold that into this series as well.”

Similarly, with the show being a prequel, the duo was asked how they balance modern teen issues within the realm of prequel, to which Grandy said, “creative license.” Jokes aside, he explained that was something they talked about in writing the show. Ultimately, they decided to “[take] a nod from Riverdale and all the Greg Berlanti shows, just setting it now, as it’s happening now.”

Kaling drew a comparison to her Netflix series Never Have I Ever and how Netflix “wanted it to be set in the ‘80s and ‘90s because that’s when [Kaling] grew up.” She continued by saying:

“We were really committed to having a staff that was super diverse and young, and we wanted to reflect that experience now. And it also felt like it would make it less like a facsimile of the original version. And it was a fun challenge to have, like, they have cell phones now. It’s diverse, and people come from different backgrounds. I think that helped us make that transition by modernizing it.”

Velma premieres on HBO Max in 2023. Stay tuned with our ongoing coverage for the series here.

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