Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever” might seem like a normal coming-of-age series, centred around teenagers and their daily antics but no, it’s more than that! Ever since its premiere on 27th April 2020, “Never Have I Ever” has been unpacking the reality of a first-generation immigrant family through the lens of Indian-American teen, Devi Vishwakumar, the main protagonist of this critically acclaimed series!
Aiming to break the stereotypes and enable more Asian, specifically, South Asian representation in Hollywood, the creators of “Never Have I Ever”, Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher are back at it again for Season 2 which has been released on 15th July on Netflix.
We recently had a chance to talk to Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who plays the role of Devi, where she spoke about her time on the sets of Season 2, the new cast members and of course, some real-talk life advice from the star, herself!
It could be seen that Season 1 focused on coming to terms with grief, and Season 2 focused on the theme of moving on and focusing on new beginnings. How would the new theme of moving on impact the characters’ development and how would Mohan’s reappearance via flashbacks come hand in hand in this season?
I think Season 2, especially with Devi, it’s really diving into how she feels about the loss of her father because in the first season, in the end, that’s the only time she actually decides to start talking about grief and the fact that she’s sad. Then moving forward, it’s all about her realising that she misses him a lot. In Season 1, she was in denial. Now, she’s aware of it and it’s all about coming to terms with that and figuring out what it means for her. Since she’s still a 15-year-old, it’s also about growing, just a little bit! To all the characters, they’re still growing too and they’re trying to figure out who they really are at their core, where they belong and what is it that they like or don’t like.
For Season 1 of “Never Have I Ever”, we believe you had to do a lot of preparation for the character, Devi. How was the process to bring Devi back for Season 2?
So, for Season 1, there was prep but not prep. It was a lot of learning how to do everything on the job. As soon as it starts, we have to go right away! I had to learn a lot on the job. The only prep I did before, and that was one lesson of the harp. Throughout the season, I kept doing harp lessons for the different harp scenes for Devi. But a lot of filming, I was actually learning on the job — knowing what a mark was, different camera angles and what the terms meant because I had no idea. During Covid-19. we decided to do the same thing but we took it a little slow because we had a little practice day. This is due to the fact that we had to learn all the Covid-19 protocols. So, for Season 1, I had to do a lot of learning but in Season 2, we all had to do a lot of learning because it was different to film so everyone was trying to figure out how to do the things we did, with the existence of Covid-19.
In Season 1, Kamala broke up with Steve. Her future fiance, Prashant, has suggested to date her in a slower, non-traditional way without the knowledge of their parents. Would there be a development in Kamala’s love life alongside her new job at a research centre?
Honestly, one of my favourite plot points of Season 2 is Kamala going to the lab. We now get to see her in school doing what she loves — the reason why she came to stay with Nalini and Devi, which I think is really awesome! But we would also have to see her relationship with Prashant. We got a glimpse of it at the end of Episode 9, so we learnt a little bit about that. Also, Kamala is an independent young woman which I think is really awesome!
Despite Devi’s jealousy towards the new girl, Aneesa in Season 2’s trailer of “Never Have I Ever”, would this new character be of any significance towards Devi’s understanding and acceptance towards her culture?
Aneesa is such a great character and Megan Suri does such a great job playing her! She’s basically the opposite of Devi and sometimes, the “opposites attracting” concept doesn’t work out. So, it actually helps Devi unpack why she’s jealous because she definitely can’t be jealous without any reason especially since she hasn’t even spoken a word to her and she’s ready to kick her out of her school! We unpack a lot of that and she’s also a whole new character with a cool personality that we get to see as viewers and have another cool kid at Sherman Oaks High!
What was it like to have Common join the new cast? Did y’all manage to bond on the set?
Yeah, I met Common once because I didn’t have that many scenes with him. But he was so nice, cool and humble. We had such a good conversation about all sorts of things and he was really calm and casual. That was something I liked about him.
The filming of season 2 was done during the pandemic. Could you tell us about the process of filming this season?
Every day, when you’re pulling up to the set, you would have to get tested. This applies to the cast and crew. Once we get tested and get told that we’re negative, we would have to go to the set and start filming but wearing a mask is a must! When you’re going into the makeup trailer, you have to wear the mask until they start on your face. Once you’re in the hair trailer, you would have to keep your mask on until they call, “ACTION”. Everyone was masked up and there were lots of face shields with everyone practising social distancing. The set had a certain amount of people that could be on set. Usually, there would be 100 people. Now, it’s just 25 — a huge gap! We took a lot of safety precautions that we were really thankful for as it allowed us to shoot during Covid-19.
What did you learn the most as an actor or as a young woman in the series?
Onset, as an actor, I learnt a lot by just being there because every day truly is a new day! You never really film something the same way you did, the day before. One day, you’re crying in Devi’s bedroom and the next day, you’re running a marathon and going to a crazy dance and you might even get attacked by a coyote. That’s what I love about my job. I don’t really think I could say what I did really learn.
Based on what the audience saw in “Never Have I Ever” Season 1, and the most recent pictures from Season 2, there seems to be a huge competition between Paxton and Ben to win over Devi and she’s unable to choose between the two. So, as Maitreyi, who would you rather choose?
I’m gonna go with the third option; team Devi, because of self-love! Devi has to focus on herself and love herself first before she starts thinking about the two guys.
Devi is portrayed to be indecisive when it comes to boy drama, but in Maitreyi’s perspective, if you were to be put in a position where you’d have to make a decision between 2 of your favourite things, what would your process of deciding to be like?
It’s really sad because the first situation that I thought of, was, picking ice cream flavours. I like a lot of different flavours so, I keep thinking between cookie dough, cotton candy or birthday cake, since, there’s a lot of options. You gotta trust your gut and your intuition and if not, get a double scoop of ice cream.
In the show, Devi’s relationship with her mom is strained to the point of resentment. In your perspective, what does that tell us about the reality of today’s world when it comes to teen-parent relationships?
I mean, teen-parent relationships are a lot because there’s a bunch of different experiences. I have a lot of friends who are so close with their parents. For instance, they’ll be so close to their mom and tell her everything. On the other hand, I have other friends who don’t, at all. And there’s some who’s a little more casual and chill, a little bit in between. It’s hard to say what Devi’s relationship with her mom tells about the real world so, I think that Devi’s and Nalini’s relationship definitely highlights a certain kind of relationship that many can definitely see themselves in.
As Maitreyi, what advice would you give to Devi when it comes to approaching a boy she’s interested in?
I don’t really have much advice to give, but my honest advice would be to figure out why you’re approaching them. Find out if you’d want to be friends or if you’re into them. Either way is cool! But be respectful and be respectful to yourself. Respect yourself and your values. Don’t just bend over backwards for them.
What makes “Never Have I Ever” so relatable to Asian viewers is its diverse characters and diverse cast! Why is representation important to you and how do you use the opportunity of being in this show to enlighten the global audience on diversity?
The show has so many different characters not just, Devi! Of course, Devi and her family are there but there are other kids too. The fact that there are so many characters has led to a lot of stories that one could relate to. Whether it’s Fabiola in figuring out her sexuality, Devi trying to be cool or Eleanor trying to fit in and find herself in a family-like relationship between herself and her mom, there are so many different stories that people could relate to, hence, why most people would like the show. It’s not just South Asian girls, that look like me, it’s South Asian guys and people of all different cultures and ages. You don’t have to be in high school like the characters in Never Have I Ever. The show is really funny and we make great jokes but I think that representation bringing these stories to the front is so important because they have not been told yet. There are very few examples that have shown these kinds of stories authentically. But it’s proving that if these stories are being said and brought to the front, you’re going to have a successful show because clearly, people like it.
When the first season of “Never Have I Ever” premiered on Netflix, some claimed that the character you played, Devi, did not accurately represent them so what was your reaction and do you really agree that you didn’t represent them accurately?
So, I obviously saw comments like that, for sure, but first and foremost, there was an overwhelmingly amount of people who said they saw themselves in Devi, whether it’s just one aspect of Devi’s life or her whole life. So, there’s a lot of people who did feel represented. So, when I saw the comments, at first, I thought, “Huh, that sucks!” We worked really hard on the show but then I realised that to make Devi represent everyone doesn’t make sense. Devi can’t represent every single person’s life experience because she’s only one, 15-year-old girl. Not everyone has lost their father, some people don’t have the first generation immigrants dilemma, some people aren’t in love triangles.
This dissatisfaction stems from the existence of a few characters on TV who are South Asian and people would want to see themselves. Now, that makes sense. Devi can’t possibly represent everyone but what we can do though, is to realise we need to find more characters and bring more shows as Never Have I Ever so people can feel seen. It also doesn’t make sense to feel mad when I see comments that say they don’t feel represented by Devi. To those that did feel represented, I think that’s really awesome and I’m really happy that they enjoyed the show.
That was indeed a great session with Maitreyi! Season 2 of “Never Have I Ever” has finally aired on Netflix, on 15th July. Before that, have a look at the trailer of Season 2!