Maitreyi Ramakrishnan thinks Never Have I Ever can “100 percent” heal people

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As Never Have I Ever’s Devi Vishwakumar, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan has reminded millions of Netflix viewers what it’s like to be a sometimes terrible but overall good-intentioned teenager. It’s something that Ramakrishnan isn’t entirely unfamiliar with herself, given that she’s only 19, but in a recent sit-down with the actor, we got the vibe that she has a distinctly good head on her shoulders. That could have something to do with the fact that season one of her Netflix show shot to global prominence while she was locked down in her parents’ house in Canada, or it could just be that she’s a pretty cool person. Judge for yourself in the interview, which is below in both print and video formats. We talk dead dads, how messed up it is that Devi’s trying to have two boyfriends, and whether or not we think that Devi actually likes herself. We also talk about the inherent healing capacity of a good, smart comedy.

The second season of Never Have I Ever is streaming now on Netflix. You can read our review right here.

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The A.V. Club: In a recent interview you did with Entertainment Weekly, you said that last season Devi was “your messy best friend,” but in season two, “When she messes up, you can tell she actually understands that there are consequences to her actions.” How do you think that plays into the whole two boyfriends situation? Because, respect to her hustle, but it’s pretty messed up.

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan: I’m glad that you said respect to her hustle because I mean, respect her hustle.

It’s definitely, definitely messed up. I can’t agree with Devi on this one. What I like about that is that, as a show with season one going into season two, Devi is not like some crazy mature person. She’s not like, “Okay, trauma’s dealt with. Now, I’m not the 15-year-old mess that I used to be.” She still is. She’s still herself. So that helped contribute to the seamless transition that we see from the first episode of season two onwards, to see that growth happen. In the very next episode, episode two, that’s the first time she listens to her dad’s voicemail and is like, “Okay, I’m going to take active steps to make sure that I’m not just blowing up and I’m not freaking out. I’m going to listen to this voicemail.”

I think a big part of realizing that there are consequences to your actions is seeing the people that you’re hurting. That starts first in season two with Ben and Paxton, these people that she says she cares about so much. When she says that in a confession to them, she genuinely does mean it. She doesn’t know just how to be with both of them. She doesn’t know how to show that affection in a way that is true and genuine that they understand.

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AVC: There’s also the sense while watching the show as an adult where you think, “Maybe she’s just not ready for either one of those relationships.” Being with Ben, for instance, could be a long haul situation.

MR: I don’t even know about that. It doesn’t matter if it’s like long haul or whatever. My joke that I say is “I’m Team Devi,” and people think I say that only because I don’t want to make a choice. It’s also because Devi’s not. When I was in high school and I dated people… now looking back, I’m like, “Girl, you were not ready for a relationship. You barely thought anything of yourself. You barely respected yourself.” And that’s the case for Devi. She barely respects herself first. She doesn’t like herself. So if you don’t do that, how are you ready for a relationship?

AVC: You told Vogue that Devi doesn’t think she’s a great person, but she still has this confidence and in-your-face attitude. She knows that she’s smart, and she maybe thinks that she’s cool. How do you rectify those two halves together?

MR: She knows she’s smart. She knows she’s book smart because she got the best grades. She’s got all these awesome grades and assignments. Boom. Great. She’s living it up. She knows she can manipulate her family and manipulate people because she actively knows that she did that in season one. But does she think she’s cool? No, she doesn’t think she’s cool. She tries to cover it up with confidence. That isn’t genuine. We know that because when she confesses she says, “I was just jealous of Aneesa because she’s prettier and cooler than me.” She doesn’t think she’s cool. Of everyone in her life, Devi probably thinks that she’s the lamest and the worst. She would probably rather be anybody else, which is really sad, but honestly real.

I personally have been there where I was that kid in high school. I was very loud, confident, and did a bunch of different activities and extracurriculars. But if I ever had to sit alone with my own thoughts, no way. No way! I had to call someone. I had to always have something going, because the last thing I’d want to do is spend time with myself at that age.

AVC: All of that plays into something that [co-star] Poorna [Jagannathan] said in an interview with the L.A. Times recently. She said, “I don’t think you’re supposed to cry this much watching a comedy. But you can because now you’re an adult digesting and holding the grief and trauma or injustice that you couldn’t hold as a child.” What do you think about that? Do you think that the show can help heal people in some sense?

MR: One hundred percent. It can definitely help heal people because film and TV have great power. We influence what becomes normalized in conversations in our day-to-day lives because who doesn’t love talking about what they saw on TV and then evidently reflecting on what they saw on TV? Right. That’s the power that media has, so it definitely can help heal.

The thing is, I feel like when I say that stuff about not wanting to sit with your own thoughts and actually being comfortable with who you are, not actually loving yourself and thinking you’re an awesome person is something that’s definitely normal at that age, like 15. It’s also very normal when you’re in your 20s or 30s or 40s or 50s and onwards. Many people—and it’s a very sad fact not to get too depressive—don’t like themselves. It sucks, but it’s true. And I think with a character like Devi, when we see her be a mess, when you see her break down, we feel that because that is us.