Maitreyi Ramakrishnan Is Done With School. On TV, Anyway.

Which boy does the actress Maitreyi Ramakrishnan want her character to wind up with by the end of “Never Have I Ever”?

Apparently, it depends on the day — at least as far as most reporters are aware.

“OK, in this interview, I’ll be honest — I’m going to let you in on my plan,” Ramakrishnan, 21, said ahead of the comedy’s fourth and final season, which arrived Thursday on Netflix. That plan: to give different answers to different publications in her other exit interviews.

Why go to the trouble? Mostly, it seems, to mess with people.

But it was also her way of dismissing the debate entirely. Should her character, Devi, the show’s self-sabotaging and sex-obsessed teen protagonist, choose the swoon-worthy swim captain, Paxton (Darren Barnet)? Should she choose Ben (Jaren Lewison), a certified nerd and Devi’s sworn scholastic rival? Should Ramakrishnan care?

“Both guys, they’re great,” she said. But Devi is so young, she added. “When I think about my 17-year-old self, I wouldn’t want her to tie herself down. Like, go to college, bro. Live your life.”

Season 4 picks up where Season 3 left off, after Devi’s (Ramakrishnan) tryst with Ben (Jaren Lewison). Credit…Netflix

When we last saw Devi, she had about as much life as she could handle. She had just cashed in Ben’s handwritten coupon for “one free boink” — and, in doing so, traded in her long-detested V-Card. The final season picks up in the chaos of the aftermath, but Devi also has to focus on her academic future as she heads into senior year. There are friendships and romantic prospects to balance, yes, but also admissions counselors to meet, universities to visit.

Ramakrishnan, who grew up just outside Toronto, in Mississauga, Ontario, was once a normal teenager navigating high school herself, a first-generation daughter of Tamil immigrants from Sri Lanka. Like Devi, who is Indian American, she was raised in a multigenerational home — and still lives there with her family. She is also, like Devi, an ardent nerd in her own right. (Her Instagram account is filled with past cosplay looks, and she spent the last several minutes of our call bestowing video game tips.)

Any sense of normalcy changed quickly after she answered an open casting call during her senior year, in 2019, from Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, the creators of “Never.” She beat out more than 15,000 others for the role, her first professional acting gig. Other jobs have followed: She lent her voice to the Disney/Pixar animated feature “Turning Red” (2022), and she has been cast in the upcoming Netflix film “The Netherfield Girls,” a modern adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice.”

In a video call late last month from an Airbnb in Los Angeles, Ramakrishnan shared her thoughts about wrapping up the series, finishing her first full year of college and sharing said Airbnb with her grandmother. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Many of Devi’s experiences are outlandish on the surface, but the emotions she is dealing with are relatable. Did you have a similar high-school experience?

I wasn’t boy crazy like Devi; I was always friends-first. But the biggest lesson I related to was her self-love journey, about learning to like herself first. You have to be OK with your own silence.

Do you think you’ve reached that point with yourself?

I’ve learned that it ebbs and flows. That happens with any new relationship, right? It’s not a linear journey, for sure. I’m definitely better than where I was when I was 17. I used to get really mad at myself for being someone who wore her heart on her sleeve. When I liked a guy, I would straight up just go tell him. Like: “Hey, man. This is it. I like you.” I went through a phase where I stopped doing that, out of just being scared.

“I’m definitely better than where I was when I was 17,” Ramakrishnan said about her path to self-confidence. “I used to get really mad at myself for being someone who wore her heart on her sleeve.”Credit…Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times

Having your heart on your sleeve is such a big Devi thing.

That’s why I got this tattoo! [She holds up her arm and points to the inside of her elbow, where there is an illustration of an anatomically correct heart.] It’s kind of a “Never Have I Ever” tattoo. One of the best lines in the show is Dr. Ryan [Devi’s therapist, played by Niecy Nash] saying, “Devi, you feel a lot, and that means you’re going to hurt a lot, but it means you’re going to live such a beautiful and rich life.” Oh my God, when I’m crying in that scene, I’m actually crying because that’s me — in that moment, I just bawled. I was like, There’s nothing wrong with how I feel. I do feel a lot.

This is one of those shows where you want to scream at the screen when Devi does something stupid. But we still root for her for four seasons. Why do you think we stay on her side?

I wish I had a video of fans reacting to Devi’s most idiotic moments. My reaction when I read the script is always like, [sucks in a sharp breath through her teeth] ooo-kay. But I think the reason people can root for her goes back to the core of her mess-ups coming from real places. It’s easier sometimes to tell our friends and family the things they deserve and the way we see them. But when we look in the mirror, it’s hard for us to say that we deserve the same respect — that we, too, are just as beautiful. I think Devi is that messy friend that we really see in ourselves.

How did you handle those heavier scenes about the death of Devi’s father?

Mindy and Lang helped walk through how it felt for them with their respective parents, but it was also just learning how to feel openly sad. Actors get this awesome opportunity to cry, and then at the end of it, no one asks us, “Are you OK?” We get applauded. We can full-on have a meltdown and everyone goes: “Oh my God. Amazing.” And sometimes that’s great. Sometimes it’s a lot. When going into those scenes, I try to recognize we’re making a different show — still comedic, but tonally, we’re going to feel sad now. But that’s life, right? It’s comedic, and then it gets really sad and you have a dead dad dream.

From left, Ramakrishnan, Ranjita Chakravarty, Poorna Jagannathan and Richa Moorjani. Devi, like Ramakrishnan, grows up in a multigenerational immigrant household.Credit…Lara Solanki/Netflix

There is plenty of focus on Devi’s mother (Poorna Jagannathan), which isn’t very common in shows about high school.

Yeah, 100 percent, the whole family dynamic. I think one of my favorite parts of “Never Have I Ever” was the addition of Devi’s grandma. Because I’m really close to my grandma — right now, actually. In this Airbnb that I’m staying at. My grandma and I are bunking with each other. But I grew up with my mom, my grandma and my great-grandma all under the same roof. And my dad, my brother, my grandpa — but four generations of women, that was what I’m used to. Family discussions in my house are like pingpong matches. I think the Vishwakumars do the same thing. And Nirmala [Devi’s grandmother, played by Ranjita Chakravarty]? She’s got sass. That’s my grandma. I definitely got my overdramatic self from her.

So much of this season follows Devi’s journey to get into college. Has it made you think about going back to school? [Ramakrishnan deferred her acceptance to York University’s theater program in Toronto when she was cast.]

I actually am back. Dude, I finished my mandatory science, and I could not be happier.

Which one was it?

Astronomy. It’s such an art kid thing to do. Like, ooh! Stars! Ooh! Planets! Space! My whole approach to school right now is to get ahead where I can, but I’m on no timeline. Obviously, it’s been four years and I didn’t get it done and I’m still alive. But I do genuinely just love learning. My degree now is in human rights and equity studies. My parents think I’m a sadist, just for doing all the work that I do at once. I will pat myself on the back for getting through my whole semester with decent grades — I am a “Cs get degrees” kind of person, but I did way better.

How do you feel about how the series ended?

It could have gone into a Team Ben or Team Paxton win at the end, and I’d be pretty indifferent. I think it’s pretty awesome that she’s grown up so much. I’m just Team Devi; I really am. I’m about her independence, her making mistakes, just learning what she likes. I will die on this hill. I think people think I’m lying, but I genuinely am all about letting a woman be a woman.

Back to top button