Photo by Jamie Lendrum
On Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher’s Never Have I Ever, Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) navigates the complicated life of being a teenage girl. In season 2, she’s particularly thrown for a loop when cool girl Aneesa Quereshi arrives at Sherman Oaks High School and she stumbles her way through a friendship of joy, connection and jealousy. The girls come to figure it out, but the season ends with Aneesa’s boyfriend Ben (and Devi’s nemesis-sometimes-love-interest) still pining after Devi.
Ahead of the season 3 premiere on Aug. 12, Megan Suri, who plays Aneesa, opened up about getting justice for Aneesa, why kindness and confidence go hand and hand and why she loves horror movies.
Aneesa is pretty opposite from Devi and Ben, and even to a degree Eleanor and Fabiola, about her future. She’s not so intense about school and much more laid back about academics.Why is it important for audiences, especially those who are teens themselves, to see a character like this?
I think it's even more specifically important to disrupt the stereotypical narrative of what we assume Indian girls to be like. Growing up, even though I can relate to Devi in so many elements characteristically, I didn't grow up caring too much about school towards the end and I was just trying to get through it. And just like my story is valid and different than the very studious Indian nerds that we've just tirelessly seen, I thought that it was important to shake it up and show that there are different layers and there's not a monolithic experience to being an Indian brown teenager. But it's also really important I think, again, just to shift the narrative that there are cool Indian girls and we're not all nerds. And even if we are nerds, you could be a cool nerd. There's different layers to that.
Aneesa has quite the journey this season. What did you enjoy about her season 3 story arc?
I enjoyed the fact that she gets to get the justice that I so desperately was pining for after the season 2 finale. I did not like the way that Ben was pining for Davey after he took Aneesa— his girlfriend, might I add— to the dance, so I'm really, really stoked that the writers gave her a good send off in that way.
Quoting again from Shrek, one of my favorite movies, I really, truly think that Aneesa is an onion with many layers and as we'll see in season 3, we will discover another new complexity and layer about Aneesa and I'm excited to see how fans respond to that side of her that no one has seen yet or knows about.
How have you been able to collaborate on Aneesa’s character?
In certain scenes, even though Aneesa isn't necessarily the most perfect representation of what a Muslim young girl is, there were just certain elements that I wanted to always point out whether it was making sure that my clothing was more conservative or if it came down to a scene where we're all drinking alcohol, I didn't want Aneesa to drink alcohol and so just elements like that I thought were important to Aneesa and her culture and religion.
What do you hope audiences take away from Aneesa this season?
Aneesa, fortunately, for me personally, has been an incredibly powerful character and the way that she handles all these obstacles that have been thrown her way and sometimes have just arisen whether it's from Devi’s teenage angst or if it's just stuff that she's dealing with internally. And so I think what I'm excited for viewers to see in season 3 is how Aneesa deals with vulnerability, deals with challenges, deals with love and deals with it with such grace, but also, more importantly, how she pivots from being focused on other people to ultimately focusing on herself and the power and importance of self love and being totally comfortable with being on your own and being just cool with yourself. I feel like if you can't be cool with yourself, you're in for a really, really long brutal ride.
How has Aneesa had an impact on you?
On a grand scale, I'm doing things that I've never done in my career, whether it's being a part of press junkets or living in that whole world of glam and style. But I think on a deeper level, Aneesa has taught me so many things. I really view Aneesa as an aspiration. She's who I wish I was and will actively have her 16-year-old self as an example for my 23-year-old self. The greatest takeaway, and I've said this before, is through Aneesa I've learned that confidence, number one, is cool. And two, confidence and kindness go hand in hand. It doesn't have to be one or the other.
In season 3, there are a lot of lines that I feel like a lot of viewers will resonate with. They’re cathartic expressions that I feel like we've all wished we could have said to one person or some person in our life that we never really had the chance to. So I get to vicariously live through her in that way.
It's been fulfilling because of all of the people that have resonated with Aneesa. Her journey in season 2 with her eating disorder was something that was super tough to tackle and so important and to read DMs or comments about people resonating with Aneesa like breaks my heart of course, but I'm also super glad that they get to see a great example like Aneesa who is actively seeking the help that she needs and is healing through it. I think that like fan base connection has been super, super beautiful and important for me.
Photo by Jamie Lendrum
You’re in a number of upcoming films, including Searching 2. What do you like about working in the thriller-horror genre space?
It’s the reason why I'm an actor initially. I like being able to explore different scenarios, especially ones that I'm most likely not going to be in, hopefully anyways, and walk in the shoes of that life. As an actor, it's so emotionally fulfilling to be able to experience emotions or at least imagine and try to recreate what these high stakes emotions you would probably feel in this fake but make-it real-scenario. It's such a release and it's like, “Oh, I get to be human,” because I think in real life, we are taught we have to conceal these emotions. If you see someone screaming in public, it's not normal. And I feel like being able to do them in TV or in film, it's just a very real human experience that I don't even know how to describe it. It's just a release. And they're just fun. They're super fun.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Jamie Lendrum; Lara Solanki/Netflix;