'Never Have I Ever' star Ramakrishnan says anyone can relate to Devi's growth
Updated June 8, 2023 at 2:58 PM ET
In the Netflix teen drama Never Have I Ever, Devi Vishwakumar seeks romantic help from a divine source.
"I'd really, really like a boyfriend," she prays to the Hindu gods in the show's pilot. "But not some nerd from one of my AP classes. Like, a guy from a sports team."
Her dreams come true.
Devi has two main love interests competing for her affection. There's her academic rival, Ben Gross. And there's the hot, popular star athlete, Paxton Hall-Yoshida.
Her messy love life is complicated by the fact that she's still dealing with the trauma of losing her father.
The show created by Mindy Kaling wraps up its fourth and final season this week.
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan reflected on playing Devi. She told Asma Khalid on Morning Edition she responded to an open casting-call, competing against 15,000 other actors, to land her first major role.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Some of the excerpts include some quotes from the interview that were not aired in the broadcast version.
Never Have I Ever is your acting debut. I'm sort of stunned by how you got this role to begin with. Tell us about that.
I was just living my life as a regular high school kid does. And my best friend found this tweet from Mindy saying, "Everyone, audition for my show, please." But in all honesty, I didn't do the tape and make the video and send it in because I thought I had a chance or because I was, you know, very determined to get the role. I truly did it just because I wanted to hang out with my best friend.
You guys were in the library?
Yes, we were in the library at the community center because we are both brown and we have very big families that are very loud and we don't have a lot of blank wall space.
Over the last three seasons of the show, we have watched Devi Vishwakumar evolve. I think it is fair to say she's not the same Devi that we met freshman year of high school. How would you describe her growth?
She has definitely grown as a young woman. She recognizes, 'Hey, I am not as great off as I think I am mentally and I need to work on myself.' Which means, you know, truly loving yourself and being able to be comfortable with your own silence. Now, in season four, we see who this person is and we've seen the result of all of her mistakes come in the form of, 'okay, I need to be better to not just myself, but my friends and my family and, you know, my loved ones.'
I imagine you personally do identify with some aspects of Devi's character, though I hope not all because – I'll be honest – she's kind of unlikable in some ways. She's a little bit of a narcissist.
Oh, yeah! She's kind of a lot. I definitely do relate to Devi in the ways that make her very human. Just when it comes to that self-love journey, when it comes to acknowledging the insecurities that we have and acknowledging like, 'Hey, I feel a lot and I have a lot of emotions and sometimes I don't know what to do with them and I kind of freak out.' You know, just all those ways that even if you're not a young brown woman watching the show, you still see yourself in Devi because she is kind of the ultimate mirror of her own insecurities and judgments.
One of the most interesting aspects of this show to me has been the mother-daughter relationship. Part of why I love this show is that I never saw a teenage show like this growing up, with the brown girl as the main star. But also, I just think the mother daughter relationship on screen is something we don't often see. Like Devi is this headstrong teenager dealing with this strict South-Asian mom, and it feels like they're constantly talking past one another.
The dynamic between the two of them, I think, perfectly encapsulates a story of a young girl who is growing up alongside her mother, who is figuring out how to parent. Nalini is not at all, by any means, perfect. And she knows that. And she's still trying to figure it out. And I think that's a very mature, relatable dynamic between any parent and their child. You know, that seems like how it works. I mean, my parents aren't perfect. I will never forget, like the first time I saw my parents cry. You have that moment in your life when you recognize, oh wow, my parents are imperfect.
In real life - would you be Team Paxton or Team Ben?
I'm team Devi. I mean, I'm team "let the young woman figure herself out," you know. Her messiness, it's very real. We all have experienced the emotions that she has. Sure. Have we gone about it in the same ways? No. But Devi's jealousy, we've been there. Devi's rage, we've been there. All of her insecurities, not feeling confident, not feeling pretty enough, not feeling like she's just enough. We've been there. At least I know I have.
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