By Neeru Saluja
The Netflix teenager star who has won our hearts has ‘never ever’ acted on screen before. Meet Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, the 18-year-old Tamil Canadian girl who plays Devi in the latest teen romcom ‘Never Have I Ever’ that is topping the charts on Netflix.
Co-created and loosely based off writer-actress Mindy Kaling’s own childhood, the show revolves around Devi Vishwakumar, a smart, sassy, funny and slightly nerdy 15-year-old Indian American girl. Her complicated teen life not only depicts how she is trying to navigate high school and find a boyfriend, but also grieve the recent death of her father and a mysterious bout of paralysis.
We got to talk to Maitreyi in a fun and chatty conversation and asked her about how she is dealing with her sudden found stardom, if she relates to Devi and how the series has risen above the typical stereotypes given to Asian characters in Hollywood.
You have become a household name as ‘Never Have I Ever’ topped the charts on Netflix. How do you feel about the newly acquired stardom being a newcomer?
Honestly, I feel pretty normal. I have seen how it is the number one show on Netflix in various countries and the high ratings. I knew the show was going to be successful as I had full confidence in ‘Never Have I Ever’. But I could have never prepared myself for how big it could get.
You were selected for this role out of 15,000 participants. How was the audition process?
It was really fast and furious. It all happened within a span of a month. I had to do two trips to LA and then did a video of myself from home. Before I knew, it was all done and I got a call from Mindy saying I got the part.
How was your experience working with Mindy Kaling? Did she help you prepare for the character?
Mindy was so helpful! She was not only helping me but the entire cast, to find our character and figure out the process how we should approach the character.
The series has broken the typical Asian stereotypes. What do you think makes it stand out from other series that have made similar attempts?
Firstly, it is based out of Mindy’s life. No matter what – you can’t validate that as it is based on someone’s lived in experience. I also think that between the experiences of myself as a teenager and Mindy’s experience while she was a teenager it makes an authentic story as it’s based on real life.
Was your high school experience like Devi’s? How was your growing up journey in Toronto, Canada?
Like Devi I’m very competitive and tried to be part of every single club I could. I was always on top of my homework. My Mum never had to check if I did my homework. But I think Devi cares lot more than me. She is more hot-headed and is focussed on boys that I never care of. If I met Devi in school, I would want to know why she is so uptight and has so much going on.
We had so much fun watching the show. On the sets, during which scene did you have the best time?
It is so hard to pick one! I loved the scenes with my friends Eleanor (Ramona Young) and Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) as we are friends in real life. We met during the show and bonded super quickly. A scene that stands out in my memory was the modelling scene as it was super horror but lots of fun! I tried to model and I had to make it look weird and awkward, and then I realised I can never be a model as I can’t hold these poses for too long as I was about to fall over!
Besides acting, what are your interests and have you cultivated a new hobby during quarantine?
Playing lots of video games. I also enjoy singing, playing the piano and violin, that’s something I have picked up in quarantine. And lots of Netflix!
What advice would you give to teenagers who are confused about their double identity?
I would tell them that if they are trying to figure out their identity or culture, to welcome it on their terms and time. It’s not for anyone else to choose their identity. Because you have to respect yourself on your own terms.
Now the question that is on everyone’s mind – Is Season 2 coming out soon?
None of us know it as yet! We are still waiting to hear back from Netflix. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Season 2 and till then reading scripts.
Author bio with Neeru pic
Sydney based Neeru Saluja is a film journalist writing for Australia’s oldest Indian newspaper ‘The Indian Down Under’ for the last 16 years. She has interviewed numerous leading Bollywood actors, directors and singers and covered major film festivals.