Netflix’s excellent teen dramedy Never Have I Ever returned for a second season last week, and is filled with just as many zingers, bad decisions, and moments of heart as the first. Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), still reeling from the loss of her father and a strained relationship with her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan), decides to two-time both Ben (Jaren Lewison) and Paxton (Darren Barnet). Just as things begin to fall apart, a new Indian-American student Aneesa (Megan Suri) threatens to shake things up even further.
As the new season dropped, Decider sat down with Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Jaren Lewison, Darren Barnet, Megan Suri, Lee Rodriguez (Fabiola), Poorna Jagannathan and Richa Moorjani (Kamala) to talk about how the actors dealt with filming during a pandemic, how they approached their characters, and their reactions to the second season’s developments.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
DECIDER: Maitreyi, I very much identify with your social media posts about having bowl cuts as a child.
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan: That’s like my favorite photo of myself.
That’s like all of my childhood photos.
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan: You know what, it made you who you are today, it was a part of the character development. It’s your backstory.
It is! What was it like filming the new season during COVID?
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan: It was a lot. First of all, it’s amazing that we got to do that, and it’s amazing that we got to create such an awesome thing in COVID, like you would never be able to tell. But it was a lot of testing, masks, and face shields and distancing…but we got to shoot it, which is amazing. And reality is, all the crew members took the time to be a part of this, like, it’s scary. There is a global pandemic and as much as we’re grateful to shoot, we’re also not wanting to get sick, we don’t want to bring it home to our families. And a lot of the crew members, they isolated away from their families to work on the show, to be a part of it, and I am so thankful for them. So in a way, season two truly is this really big labor of love of just wanting to create the best possible content with what’s given.
Megan, as the new kid on the block during a COVID filming, I’m sure this was somewhat of an atypical acting experience for you. What was it like for you joining the show under those circumstances?
Megan Suri: Yeah, it was definitely a little bit different. Even just initially meeting so many of the cast members, you don’t get to just be like, “hey, I’m a huge fan,” which is probably a good thing. But it was really great, just because this cast is so incredibly kind and they made sure that I felt welcomed, even prior to stepping on the set just by reaching out to me on social media. So that all played a huge part into it.
I thought it was really hilarious and a little bit surprising that Paxton thought it was normal for all of his friends to be on a date with him in the middle of the season. Like he’s sort of clueless even though he’s this super hot and popular jock. Darren, did you have to recalibrate the way that you played him based on some of the developments that came up in season two?
Darren Barnet: No, not really. I think Mindy [Kaling] and Lang [Fisher] and the whole team kind of braced me for that season one, because they were like, you know, he’s the heartthrob, but he also has a heart and we want that subtly shown. Season two is just when the layers are being pulled back, so I was bracing myself for that. I’m very excited about that, and yeah, it’s hilarious how he doesn’t realize these things. And it’s mostly because—and this is probably why he’s so enamored with Devi—there’s probably never been a girl that has explained to him that that is inappropriate and not cool. Devi’s the first one to be like, yeah, man this ain’t it.
In Season 2, I would argue that Devi is even more messy than she was in the first season. When you’re reading the scripts, do you ever get frustrated with her decision making?
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan: Oh, God all the time. Like Devi, come on, be better! As a cast, we’re all just so invested, because we want to know what happens next, too. But there are definitely times where I’m like, “what are you doing?” But I also understand why she’s doing what she’s doing. Like, she is definitely messy in season two, but I think she’s maturing a little bit…she’s understanding that there are consequences to her actions. She doesn’t want to hurt people, she wants to be a good person…she just doesn’t necessarily know the best way to go about it. And there are a lot of things that she does now in season two that she would have done in season one, like listening to the voicemails to cope with her anger rather than just smashing down beakers.
How much do you identify with Devi?
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan: I have to admit that there’s a good bit of me that identifies with Devi, because in season two, it’s all about her going through that journey of figuring out herself. And it’s actually pretty universal for a lot of people…that feeling of like, “oh, am I crazy?” Or, “am I this terrible person that just messes up people’s lives?” And that’s a very relatable feeling that I’ve been through and that’s partially the reasons why I like Devi and season two so much. I think that is why a lot of people can relate to her.
Aneesa is really such a perfect foil for Devi because she’s so well mannered, effortlessly cool…just the complete opposite. Megan, how did you approach crafting this character?
Megan Suri: I definitely had to put in some work. Maitreyi and I always talk about how in real life she’s way more like Aneesa and I’m way more like Devi on every spectrum and level…aside from being super smart—that I gave up in high school [laughs]. But yeah, it was great, just because the writing kind of takes care of so much of it and the wardrobe really helped me get a feel of it. She’s in the coolest clothes and the coolest shoes. That definitely helped me even with the walk, like okay, this feels like something that a confident girl would wear. Also just having Lang Fisher there on set every day helping guide me if I ever needed it. It was fun, it’s just basically playing the opposite of me, honestly.
Nalini reminds me of my own mother: she’s strict, has a set of rules that needs to be followed but at the end of the day, she is very well meaning and just wants the best for her child. What inspirations did you draw on when you were approaching the character of Nalini, Poorna?
Poorna Jagannathan: Every authority figure. Every South Asian authority figure. Every uncle that spouts rubbish. My mother who’s bounced non sequiturs day in-day out. There’s a very particular kind of parenting where you don’t have to think about what you’re going to say, you already know the parenting rules. And that’s why I actually play her really fast. She talks really fast, she just knows. Not many questions, just a bunch of statements. But you know, she totally makes sense, like, if you’re studying in your room with a boy, don’t have the door closed. It all makes sense to me. There’s a lot of times where I’m like, “wait, what’s funny about this line?” Because there’s nothing wrong in what she’s saying. My inspiration is everyone who has raised me.
I mean, it’s a perfect portrayal of an Indian parent. And I love that in the show your character says Tamil phrases here and there. I love the use of “kanna,” it’s very natural to what the household would be. How much of that is scripted versus improvised?
Richa Moorjani: [to Poorna] I think probably there was only one line for you that was scripted; everything else that you do is improvised.
Poorna Jagannathan: The “kannas” are probably written in…Even in my life, I either use “kanna” or “raja,” but a lot of it is improvised. And they don’t say anything! It’s amazing. [laughs].
It adds so much complexity and depth to the scene.
Richa Moorjani: It adds authenticity, yeah.
Richa, for your storyline this season, I thought it was really great that it departed from the romance focus of season one, and went into a workplace drama—specifically around women being neglected in the workplace. How much did you identify with that storyline?
Richa Moorjani: I definitely identify with it a lot. It’s something that I think all women experience in every industry, but it’s something that I learned more about when I was given the storyline. [It is] a very common thing that happens to women and especially women of color in STEM fields. Throughout history, women in scientific fields and mathematical fields’ contributions have been completely erased from the books and their names haven’t been credited, and they’ve been silenced. So it’s something that I think is so real. And obviously not just in STEM fields, for women in every field. But yeah…it’s something that I think is so important to show. Especially when we have the opportunity to show it with a character like Kamala, who is getting her PhD in science. And I just hope that it is something people will be able to relate to.
Paxton also had to reinvent himself a little bit this season, especially after the injury that derailed his swimming career. Did you identify with that feeling of reinvention?
Darren Barnet: Yeah, I think everyone at some point in their life faces a dream or a pursuit that is not going to come as easily as they would like it to, or maybe they’re not willing to do what they need to do to acquire it. And things change all the time, life changes. I think there’s a very valuable lesson in that. And it allows Paxton to explore and take on his greatest monster, which has been academia, and he’s not as bad at it as he thought he would be. It doesn’t come as easy, but I think there’s also a joy in being like, wow, this is something I’ve actually had to work for and earning it feels a lot better than just attaining it without any sort of effort.
This season Fabiola doesn’t seem to be struggling as much with her queer identity after she came out last season, but rather she’s struggling a little bit more with her “nerd” identity, so to speak, since it’s being challenged by her girlfriend’s friends. Did that surprise you at all during table reads for season two?
Lee Rodriguez: That’s such a great way to put it, her nerd identity. I thought it was very funny. Fabiola is just making very unfavorable decisions, just being the opposite of who she is. And after spending the first season with Fabiola…the decisions she was making in season two, I was just like this girl, she’s gonna get to a point where she’s gonna explode. I already know it’s coming.
What kind of responses have you gotten from fans for playing an out-and-proud person of color?
Lee Rodriguez: It’s been a very heartwarming response after season one came out and just how Fabiola’s character inspired other people to come out as well. So I got a lot of DM’s like that, and those I wasn’t expecting, but I’m so glad that her storyline was that impactful.
Richa, what do you think is next for Kamala? She’s kind of caught up in a love triangle of her own.
Richa Moorjani: I think that Kamala still has so much growing to do. She’s still learning so much about herself and about her new American life and identity, and what she’s going through at work. Especially in season two, she’s dealing with a lot at work, so the last thing that she wants is to have a toxic relationship. So I just hope—if we have season three—I want to see her continue to be the badass that she’s learning to be in season two and to be able to stand up for herself.
Speaking of love triangles, Ben also gets to be in this secondary love triangle with Devi and Aneesa. What was that like?
Jaren Lewison: It’s awesome. Both of those girls are so incredible at what they do and just really fun people to be around. So as an actor, it’s really interesting to kind of dive into two separate relationships. I think that both girls offer something really interesting for Ben; Aneesa is effortlessly cool and immediately takes an interest in him, which is something that doesn’t happen very often. I think that they’re maybe a little bit more representative of what you think of when you think of a high school couple, kind of all over each other, extremely flirty, that vibe. And I think that his relationship with Devi is extremely strong.
I think that it also helps because Megan, Maitreyi and I are all close in real life. So the chemistry is really easy to play back and forth between each other…I also just love those Ben and Devi moments, whether they’re being serious, or having witty banter back and forth annoying the heck out of each other. I think that it’s just really interesting, the juxtaposition between the two relationships, and I just love kind of playing through them. And without giving too much away, hopefully season three, if we get that chance, kind of explores that a little bit more, because it’s gotten a little messy.
Do you think Devi and Ben are endgame?
Jaren Lewison: You know, I have no idea, that boy has got a lot going on right now. I mean, great for him but I do think it’s difficult, though. He doesn’t necessarily know what he’s doing. I think that the relationship with both girls is strong in their own unique rights. But now, again, without giving too much away, Paxton and Devi seem to be having a little something something, so it’s hard to try to forecast that. So again, it would have to be season three, hopefully. And then a four, who knows, and see how that plays out. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I would love to find out just like I’m sure everybody else will.
Are you Team Paxton or Team Ben?
Lee Rodriguez: Ah, I would say season one Team Ben, season two Team Paxton.
Megan Suri: I think I’m gonna go with Team Paxton even though honestly we probably should do Team Ben—like you should probably rock with the guy that’s about you from the jump.
Lee Rodriguez: That’s true, that’s true. I think at the beginning of season two, Team Ben. But more so towards the end, Team Paxton.
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan: Team Devi all the way. It’s a very valid option. I’m gonna ride that sail till I die. It’s just team Devi all the way.
Watch Never Have I Ever Season 2 on Netflix