Never Have I Ever’s Maitreyi Ramakrishnan on Mental Health, Online Hate and Being “Team Devi”
The Netflix comedy returns for season two on July 15.
A mere few weeks ago, Mississauga, Ont.-raised Maitreyi Ramakrishnan had never seen a billboard with her face on it IRL. When the Tamil-Canadian star burst onto the scene last year when her hit Netflix comedy, Never Have I Ever, debuted early in the pandemic, she had to navigate her sudden fame virtually. That’s all about to change — including her billboard count. Now, Ramakrishnan has seen two, one at Yonge-Dundas Square in her home province, and another in New York’s Times Square. “It was awesome to see,” the 19-year-old says from NYC, where she’s visiting for the very first time for press (and pizza, of course, which she’s already had twice). “Fans actually saw me there taking pictures in front of it and were like, ‘Can we take a picture with you?’ It was really cool.”
If the success of the first season of Never Have I Ever — which was co-created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher — is any indication, it’s safe to assume that Ramakrishnan can expect a lot more of this kind of attention headed her way. The teen quickly won over hearts as Devi Vishwakumar, the show’s hilarious and delightfully flawed protagonist — a role she beat out 15,000 applicants for after Kaling put out an open casting call on Twitter.
In season two, which drops on Netflix on July 15, Ramakrishnan shines even brighter. She’s grown as a performer, and Devi, now digging deeper into her own mental health, has grown a lot, too. The high schooler is also dealing with her fair share of teen drama, including (secretly) juggling relationships with two boys: academic rival turned pal Ben, and hot jock Paxton. FASHION caught up with Ramakrishnan to talk all things Never Have I Ever season two.
How are you feeling about season two of Never Have I Ever premiering this week?
I am very excited for everyone to see it, but I’m just as equally anxious knowing that people are going to watch all of it. There are a lot of emotions, for sure.
How does this feeling compare to how you were feeling when the first season of Never Have I Ever premiered?
In some ways, I’m feeling less [anxious], and in other ways, I’m feeling more. For season one, I had no idea what to expect — it was like my first rodeo. And I never understood how lame [hate] comments can be, and how they can actually be really upsetting. I didn’t think they’d be as bad as people talked about. When [I started getting them], I was like, “Oh, damn. This sucks.” But this time I sort of know what to expect. I think I’m going to be better this time around, because I know that they’re coming. I’ve grown to learn that you have to focus on the positives — as easy as that is to say, and as hard as that it is to actually do.
It’s terrible that internet hate is something you’ve had to basically just accept and live with. How have you learned to manage it?
Instead of complaining about what’s going on, I ask, “Okay, how can we fix this? What’s the plan?” That’s my mentality for a lot of things. But then you realize that you can’t — this is a problem the other party won’t fix. So it’s sort of on you, unfortunately, to grow up and get over it. It’s really unfair, but it’s the truth. So with that logic, I just have to take it one day at a time and surround myself with the people and things I love and actually make me feel good.
Outside of that, did you feel more equipped to tackle a second season of Never Have I Ever after doing the first?
I mean, during season one, I knew nothing. I had no idea what a mark was, when you started acting, all these technical things. Because I knew [that side of] things more [going into filming season two], this time I was like, “We’re going to be better. You have no excuse. You’re not a newcomer anymore.” That, of course, still comes with its own pressures of wanting to be perfect, which essentially doesn’t exist.
It sounds like, in the context of work, you are harder on yourself than most other people probably would be.
Oh my god, yes. It’s really bad, I know. Lots of people call me out on it and tell me that I don’t appreciate my accomplishments. Earlier today, someone listed them all out in an interview and I was like, “Oh yeah. I forgot about that.” I tend to just say, “Okay, cool, thank you. What’s next?” I think that I’ve got to keep working, I’ve got to do more, I’ve got to do it all. So yeah, I’m slightly harder on myself.
What were you excited to explore with Devi in season two of Never Have I Ever?
When we got renewed for season two, I was so excited because I wanted to know what happens to Devi next. I had no idea where we were going to go, or what new characters were going to come in. But my favourite thing that we tackled in season two is Devi’s journey with mental health. Last season, it was all about her grief and mourning the loss of her father, specifically. This season it’s about how we feel in our own heads about ourselves.
What have you learned from Devi on this journey so far?
The biggest thing I’ve learned from her is that you actually can’t be perfect. You can’t. This girl isn’t perfect and she’s trying real hard. Sometimes, when she messes up, it’s not in her control, but she thinks it is and she takes all of it onto her own shoulders. Of course, it’s something I’m working on, but it’s a nice, gentle reminder, like, “Hey, Maitreyi, maybe you shouldn’t do the same thing either.”
You’re just a couple of years older than Devi. What’s one thing you’d tell her if you could?
Devi needs a good, solid hug. That kid does not like herself at all. When I was younger, I was in that same spot where I’d be like, “Man, I’d rather be anybody else.” She wants to be a good person, but she doesn’t think she is. I’d tell her: “You’re okay. You are a good person. You’re not as bad as you think you are.”
As a viewer, what are your thoughts on the Ben vs. Paxton debate?
Oh, I’m on the obvious team: Team Devi. It’s the pretty cool team, we have refreshments and snacks. Before I said “Team Devi,” no one else was saying it, so now I take full credit for the existence of the term, baby. I’m saying it right here, right now.