[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 2 finale of Never Have I Ever, “…been a perfect girl.”]
Co-created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, who’s also the showrunner, the Netflix original coming of age comedy series Never Have I Ever follows Indian American teenager Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), as she continues to deal with all of the drama at home and in high school. Juggling new romantic relationships with new friends and still trying to channel her rage in a healthier way, Devi definitely makes mistakes but she also learns from them while, at the same time, pushing those around her to want more for themselves.
During this virtual 1-on-1 interview with Collider, which you can both watch and read, Ramakrishnan talked about how wild it is to process the success of the show, what she most connects to with her character, playing someone so full of rage, Devi’s love life in Season 2, designing the perfect dress for the dance, bonding with her cricket costume, what the end of the season could mean going forward, and what she’d like to see in a possible Season 3.
Collider: Not only did I love Season 1, but I loved Season 2.
MAITREYI RAMAKRISHNAN: Thank you.
Because this show was not based on source material and no one knew who these characters would be or what to expect from them, the audience went into the first season with no expectations. When did you realize how much of a success the show had become, and that it was connecting with viewers globally?
RAMAKRISHNAN: That is still wild to me, that all around the world, people are connecting and resonating and just absolutely being big fans of Never Have I Ever. The Never Have I Ever fandom is very real. But the biggest thing that shocks me is how crazy it is. I can’t possibly process 40 million individual people. That’s a lot of people. So, it’s pretty awesome to just hear all the feedback from around the world, which I haven’t even been around the world. I don’t know many people that have done all of those countries, but it’s really cool. The translate button on all social media apps is amazing.
There’s something for everyone in this show. It’s easy to find something to connect to or someone to connect with. What do you most connect to? Is it something directly related to your character, or is it one of the other characters?
RAMAKRISHNAN: Honestly, the thing I connect most with is Devi’s story, and this is actually more about Season 2. She wants to be this person that is good, but she’s really struggling. She’s trying, but it’s not working out. She’s not trying to hurt people. That’s something I definitely related to when I was younger. And now, in general, I’m always trying to be perfect, whether it comes to work or being a perfect family member or friend. Having that pressure, when it doesn’t work out, you really overthink it. You freak out about it and you don’t understand necessarily why things are happening and you have a little meltdown at the end.
Devi is somebody who is full of rage. What’s it like to find her emotional levels? Is it something that you’re always playing with?
RAMAKRISHNAN: It’s so fun to find her emotional levels. When we film, we love to vary it up. I guarantee you, there are some takes of some scenes where Devi is hotter than you could even imagine. And then, sometimes she’s like, “Oh, okay, whatever.” In Season 1, there was a lot more rage throughout, but it was a little too much, so we were like, Devi, you’re here. Take it down here, right now.” It is fun to play around with those levels. I’m so thankful for all the directors, writers and, of course, (co-creators) Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, for always letting me play around with those levels.
John McEnroe narrates Devi’s life. If you could have any famous person narrate your life, who would you want it to be?
RAMAKRISHNAN: Hear me out. The relationship between McEnroe and Devi is because their common connection is the rage. When she rages, he gets fired up too and they really get it. If I were to ask someone, I also would want someone I know because they’ve gotta know me a little. I would probably ask Mindy because I think Mindy and I understand each other a lot. We’re two very separate people with two different personalities, just like John McEnroe and Devi, but we both understand always wanting to like go out and just seize the day, and always work hard. Even when things might not work out our way, we just wanna keep going and not take no for an answer. So, I think that would be really cool. And also, Mindy is basically like a mentor to me, so that would make sense. She would tell me, “Maitreyi, no, no, no. Stop, stop, stop.” I think that’d be really, really funny.
At the end of Season 1, it felt like Devi was picking Ben, and now in Season 2, she’s back to not being sure who she wants to choose. What was your reaction to learning that she’d be dating them both this season?
RAMAKRISHNAN: Is it bad to say that I predicted that. This is Devi. As John McEnroe says, this decision required very little thought. And she’s a very smart girl, in certain aspects. In other aspects, not so much. So, yeah, honestly, it was like, “Okay, all right, we’re doing this. Let’s see where this goes and let’s see how quickly Devi messes this up,” because obviously she’s going to.
Do you think that you would be more decisive in choosing one or the other, than she is, or do you feel like she makes the right choice, at least in the beginning, to test out her options?
RAMAKRISHNAN: Test the waters. I don’t even know because I don’t feel like I would be in that position, where I had two guys like me, or I liked two guys. I would probably just be in the position of no guys, no people, no people at all, anyone, because love is dead in 2021.
Devi doesn’t have a problem when it comes to kissing boys. It seems to more be that she has a problem maintaining relationships with boys. How do you view her love life this season? Is it fun to do those scenes?
RAMAKRISHNAN: It’s so fun when it’s a scene of Darren [Barnet] or Jaren [Lewison] because they’re just great scene partners. But I like to remind myself that this is a 15-year-old girl. She’s trying to figure out what she likes. So, it actually makes a lot of sense that she’s 100% comfortable kissing these guys, but without any reflection as to, “Wait, maybe I should think about what I’m doing and I shouldn’t just kiss him. Instead, maybe I should stop him and say, ‘Whoa, Ben, wait. I think we should break up.’” Imagine if she interjected in that conversation and just said, “Hey, Ben, really great that you broke up with Shira and really great that you’re eating with your parents now, but we’ve gotta break up.” Or if she went to Paxton and just said, “No, you didn’t show me a real date. You lost your chance, bud. Bye.” that would have been cool. It would have made for a short season though, so here we are.
She’s a teenager, so there has to be drama.
RAMAKRISHNAN: Of course. Yeah, of course. Of course! We love the drama.
That moment where Devi and Paxton walk into the dance holding hands, after everything, is such a huge moment for them.
Is there also added pressure and responsibility of getting that exactly right for the show, just because you know so many fans are waiting for that kind of a moment?
RAMAKRISHNAN: Oh, one hundred percent. I will say though, with that shot, when I watched the screeners of Season 2, what was really cool and I didn’t notice it while reading the scripts and filming, was that when Devi blows up at Paxton and says, “I can’t hold your hand forever.” And then, when she goes to apologize, Paxton says, “I wouldn’t want you to hold my hand.” They’re beefing and fighting about that. And then, it’s like, ha ha ha, the joke’s on you. Look at you two, holding hands! I’m not Team Paxton, but I’m just saying, the irony is really funny. I love a good bit of irony. There is a little pressure because we wanted to make sure it was perfect, but it’s not that much because the writers, the directors, and the creative team have honestly got it all on lock. The costumes were perfectly set. We’ve got the hair and make-up. Everyone looks great. The writing is just nice and romantic, yet funny. The director had the right positioning. The DP had great lighting. Of course, the editing with sound and that song from Sam Smith, “Love Goes,” is probably my favorite from Season 2. I listen to that on repeat a lot. But with all of that combined, you’re pretty set.
I love her dress for the dance. Did you know exactly what her dress would be, from the beginning, or did you have to try a bunch of dresses on?
RAMAKRISHNAN: That was actually the only dress I tried on, and we just knew right away that it was the one. There are these little crystals on it, so that it would shine in the light, but those crystals weren’t on it. Thank you to the amazing costume team that we have on Never Have I Ever because they sewed every single crystal on that dress by hand. Salvador Pérez, who was the head of the costume department, did a great job, honestly. It was so cool to see that dress come to life. It was actually also a long dress. It was a gown with a little train. But then, we were like, “Okay, we’re gonna cut it. We’re gonna go for more of a ‘60s style. We’ll put an underskirt to poof it out.” We really just made it our own. It was really cool.
Were you surprised that Paxton finally made that big step? Going into this season, did you know how the season would end up, or were you surprised by that moment?
RAMAKRISHNAN: We read the scripts as they come through, so we all take it step by step, as we film. It made sense. I remember when we were filming the actual scene, with that moment where she gets yeeted by the car, we really do come full circle about that. We talked about the fact that Paxton now finally realizes that Devi is that person that believes in him and that doesn’t think he’s dumb, but also calls him out when he needs to be called out about the fact that he doesn’t try and he needs to try harder. He needs to be better. He’s not pushing himself enough because he doesn’t believe in himself. So, with all of that combined, of course, he was hurt by Devi’s actions, but when he gets a moment to sit down and realize, “Devi’s actually there for me, sometimes more than I am for myself,” which is a little bit of a problem. You really should be there for yourself, first and foremost. It makes sense when he does eventually come to the dance. Also, who doesn’t like a good dance? That makes logical sense. He’s 16. He’s in high school. Go and live it up.
How do you think all of this will affect things moving forward for her? Have you thought about what any of this would mean for a Season 3?
RAMAKRISHNAN: Yeah. I don’t know where we’re gonna take it because I have no idea what shenanigans Devi is gonna get up to. I could not have predicted myself being in a cricket costume this season. That was me doing that dance. No stunt double. So, I have no idea where that’s gonna go, but I think it’ll be really cool to see what Devi is like in a relationship that’s a real relationship.
Did you bond with the cricket costume, or did you want to set it on fire when you were done?
RAMAKRISHNAN: I loved the cricket costume so much. I bonded with the sweat that came out of me while dancing in that because there were no fans. It was real hot.
It seems like you would either have to be all in, or just want to completely destroy it.
RAMAKRISHNAN: Oh, I went all in. Some people on set were like, “Why didn’t you get a body double to do this? What are you doing?” And I was like, “No, I’m gonna do this. If anyone tells me after that it wasn’t me, no way.” It was a whole thing. We had to like practice a lot – myself, Ramona [Young] and Lee [Rodriguez], for their cheerleader bit. We practiced first, regular with no costumes, and then with just the head on, and then with the whole thing. We did it step by step.
Do you have your own personal wishlist of things you would still like to explore with Devi or learn more about with her?
RAMAKRISHNAN: Yeah. She’s a 15-year-old kid that has the whole world in front of her. She’s got a lot that she can explore. I think it’d be really cool to maybe see more of her interests and see more of the journey that she takes, or the new people that she might meet. Of course, everyone loves good relationship drama, but also the journey that she takes with her friends. I think those are all really cool aspects that could happen.
You came to the show so new to this business, learning about acting, about yourself, and about leading a TV show. How different did the first day of Season 2 feel, compared to the first day of Season 1?
RAMAKRISHNAN: There were lots of masks. That’s number one. There were lots of half-faces. With all of the COVID protocols, which was the reason why we could film, it did make it a little different when it came to cast and crew bonding, being able to talk to each other as often, and just enjoy each other’s company. A big part of what makes set so great, and personally my favorite part of the day, is lunch, when we get to all sit and eat together, but we couldn’t do that. I would say that’s probably the biggest difference.
Did you feel different? From an acting perspective, do you look at it any differently now?
RAMAKRISHNAN: I’m a little more confident with my skills. Just like Devi has grown up a smidge, I’m a little bit more confident that I’m not a trash actor. That is definitely a difference from Season 1 to Season 2. But it still came with nerves and the pressure of, “Okay, you have to really nail it this season. You don’t wanna let anyone down.”
Never Have I Ever is available to stream at Netflix.
The new season will premiere July 15 on Netflix.
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