Spoiler warning: This interview discusses details of Never Have I Ever Season 3.
Over the course of seasons, Never Have I Ever has been fueled by the circular enemies-to-friends-to-lovers journey of Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and Ben Gross (Jaren Lewinson). As the coming-of-age comedy dives into its third season, Ben is romantically out of Devi’s orbit because she is officially with Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet)— not to mention he already has a girlfriend of his own, Aneesa Quereshi (Megan Suri). But as we know, teen romance is fleeting and 10 episodes is a ripe space for plenty of change.
Ahead of the Never Have I Ever season 3 premiere on Aug. 12, Lewinson spoke with LA Confidential about graduating from USC in three years, the beauty of Devi and Ben’s relationship and the shocking finale cliffhanger.
You’ve spoken before about balancing your coursework at USC and filming. Were there any different obstacles while completing your final semester and filming for the final season?
We just finished season 3 in March, which was my final semester of my senior year. And then I had about from spring break to around finals week, and then we started shooting season 4. I had to ask production—because my graduation was on Friday, May 13 and we were shooting our first week then— in advance if I can be off of work so that I could attend my own graduation so that they didn't call out my name and no one walked across the stage or my parents didn't have to cheer for nobody. And lucky enough, production was really kind and accommodating and they were able to allow me to go to graduation. So it was really special to be able to start the last season of Never Have I Ever and then also be graduating from USC in three years.
How did you feel on graduation day?
I was just surrounded by so many people who supported and loved me and allowed me to be successful that when I was walking across the stage, I was really thinking about them. And I was thinking about how proud I was to be able to accomplish such an incredible feat, to be able to graduate from such a storied university while shooting such an incredible show that so many people love so much and that it means so much to them. To be able to do both at the same time was seriously a dream that I’d had.
To go back a bit, why was it important for you to pursue higher education even with the intent to be an actor?
I was a psychology major with a minor in forensics and criminality because I've always just been a lifelong learner. I've always been someone who loves being at school. I hated when I was sick because I wanted to go back into the classroom. And I think it was just really important for me because I just wanted a college degree. I wanted the college experience. I wanted to go to USC football games and basketball games and live in the dorms and to be able to walk on campus and feel like a college kid because honestly, looking back at it, the amount of experience that I gained and just in terms of life experience, it really has helped me so much as an actor to be able to like draw on some of those conversations and different perspectives and people that I've met throughout college.
I think that it transfers really well in terms of acting because my process and the way that I get into characters and build that world for myself is definitely backed by psychology and backed by those principles… Being able to understand the thought process of my characters really helps me bring out that authentic performance and dive into that honesty, which hopefully viewers really appreciate and respond to.
Let’s dive into Never Have I Ever. I actually wanted to start at the end of the season. Were you surprised by the final scene of Season 3?
I was like, “Oh my god.” It was late at night, I just finished class and anytime that I get a script, Maitreyi and I pretty much are like, “OK, see you on the other side,” and we text. And it was so emotional. And I think that Lang and Mindy do such an unbelievable job, especially for the beginning and the end of the season— it is just so incredible what they can fit into one episode because like you're laughing, you're crying, you're wheezing, you're everything in between. There's so much in that last finale, and especially that cliffhanger is just bonkers. You see that “Free Boink” card and you're like, “Oh my god,” and the door is like closing, and I just love it. I just relish in how the fans are going to be geeking out over it. I was geeking out over it because I am a fan of the show and I am a fan of Team Ben and those two characters and watching them possibly get together. I don't know. Who knows? That's so crazy to even think about when you remember where they've come from.
Ben gives the “Free Boink” card as a joke, but do you think deep down he hoped Devi might take him up on the offer?
It's possible. I think that there is definitely maybe a 10 or 20% chance that Ben did something like that, but to be honest, I feel like that was just kind of like a Ben-ism. You know his loud, brash persona and his name dropy-ness.
I think that Ben was surprised. I think that when she shows up and she presents it to him, I think that there is that sense of like, “Oh my gosh,” and I think that you see it on Devi’s face, which Maitreyi did so wonderfully, where they're both looking at each other like, “Wait, for real? Is this actually happening? Are we going to do this? Who knows?” And then the door closes and we have no idea how that next couple of minutes and hours went.
Over the course of three seasons, what have you enjoyed about Ben’s relationship with Devi?
It's just such a complex and rich relationship. I think that it's so fun because they're both so good for each other and they challenge each other in so many ways. And I think that that's really important to find in a partner, and especially when people are looking for a romantic partner. They need someone who complements each other, they need someone who's going to challenge themselves and they need people that are going to push them to grow and to learn and challenge them to think outside the box. And I think that Ben and Devi do that so well. And at times, it can get frustrating because sometimes growth is difficult and challenging and it can really push you outside of your comfort zone.
We just need people to be that nurturing gentle hand that thrusts us off the cliff sometimes and I know for Ben that definitely is Devi and I'm really proud to be able to be a part of that world and make that come alive. And I give so much credit to Mindy and Lang and the rest of the writing team and to Maitreyi who gives me so much in each and every scene that allows me to dive into the complexities of their relationship. That tumultuous energy, the high highs and some of those lower lows because I think that it's so representative of real life, which our show does so well. We don't shy away from the fact that not all romantic relationships are incredible and amazing all the time and sometimes they are fantastical and they do feel like you're the main character in your own story. And other times they make you want to pull your hair out.
Ben also has a big turning point toward the end of the season. Why was now, Season 3, the right time for him to hit a wall and reassess the way he executes his lifestyle?
There's definitely a part of Ben that will always be high strung and will always be this person who is in pursuit of excellence and perfection. But with Ben kind of understanding art this season— and this was something that I really related to in my real life. There was a mentor that I had who is a really good friend of mine, his name is Alex Gay, and he was actually the person that taped me for my Never Have I Ever initial audition. And he told me one time that if you want to be an artist, you can't be a perfectionist because perfection is the enemy of art. Because art is chaotic and art is beautiful and art is messy.
Life throws so many things your way— like having 16 pounds of fecal matter stuck in your colon— that slow you down and force you to stop and think about what you're doing. I think that it's really important to recognize that and to realize that all you can do is try your best but best doesn't mean being perfect. It just means giving as much effort as you safely can.
I think that Ben is on his journey in doing that. And I still think that he definitely has a long way to go, as I think I do. And as we all do because sometimes we get so caught up in the crazy things that life throws at us that we don't take a minute to stop. I say, “Remember the feeling,” which is my life motto where you stop and recognize how lucky you are to be in a position that you're in. And to be able to say, “Wow, these small amazing things in my life have really profoundly impacted me in such a positive way and I'm going to take that and spread it to my inner circle and really elevate the people around me and be so grateful for the life that I have.” And I think that I could definitely use a little bit more of that, but I'm proud of him and I'm proud of his journey.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Courtesy of Netflix