taste test

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan Graduates From Never Have I Ever

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photos: Getty Images, Everett Collection, Nintendo, Amazon, Portrait: George Pimentel

In 2019, Mindy Kaling put out an open casting call on Twitter for her untitled coming-of-age Netflix series: “ATTENTION DESI LADIES,” the tweet began. A close friend sent it to 17-year old Mississauga native and bona fide Desi lady Maitreyi Ramakrishnan. She’d never acted professionally when her self-tape was selected out of 15,000 other auditions for the lead role of Devi Vishwakumar, a plucky and ambitious Indian American teenager who lives in Sherman Oaks, California, and is desperate to get laid.

The rest is Never Have I Ever history. The series, which first aired in 2020, foregrounded a layered Indian American girlhood in ways that hadn’t been done before, with Ramakrishnan leaning into Devi’s grief and horniness and teenage impetuousness with verve and wit. (She juggles Model U.N. and a love triangle!) The series comes to an end this summer with a fourth and final season, in which Devi leaves high school and its colorful characters behind for the next chapter of her life, whatever that may look like. Ramakrishnan, now 21 and every bit as witty as her onscreen counterpart, can relate to the ensuing uncertainty. “It’s weird, I really did grow up onscreen with Devi,” she tells the Cut. “I started fresh out of high school, and then basically reentered high school for the next four years.” It’s a double graduation for Devi and Maitreyi alike, which calls for a little taste-test celebration.

How are you feeling about the final season?
All good things have to come to an end. I have a lot of mixed emotions. As an audience member, I’ve always been team end stories when they need to end; I don’t like when TV drags on just for the sake of it. So as a fan, I’m glad it’s ending now instead of getting dragged out. But as an actor, it’s more complicated. It’s sad but also exciting. When I actually graduated high school, I had no idea I was going to do this. It’s a new chapter — I genuinely have no idea what I’m going to do after this.

The show, and your performance in particular, has done such a great job of capturing the consistency of grief. We see Devi’s grief evolve, but it never neatly resolves. What’s that been like for you as an actor?  
The journey of grief in the storyline, especially in season one—just that true finding and discovering yourself is a plot I love so much. It’s why, when we call Never Have I Ever a young adult show, it’s such a disservice. People can relate to it even if they don’t look like the lead. If you told me at 17, “Hey, you have to portray losing your dad and going through grief,” I probably would have thought that I couldn’t do it. Like, that’s very serious acting, and at most I can make a fart joke. I underestimated myself. I guess I’m pretty damn good at being a sad girl, as much as I am a funny girl.

Agreed! Now for the Taste Test questions: Where do you get your best culture recommendations from? 
All my pop-culture updates come from social media, but I also feel very out of touch. There’s many things I don’t know, which I’m okay with. Growing up, a lot of my influences came from my older brother and cousins, who are like my sisters. They got me into video games and anime and I’m always staying up to date now.

What’s your favorite game? 
Of all time? Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Right now I’m playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, because I’m getting ready for the new game.

You’re hopping in an Uber XL and can bring five celebrities with you — who’s coming?
I don’t put celebrities on a pedestal because we’re all humans, but I also don’t want to get excited and then meet someone and they’re awful. But I’m going to put all my money on the fact that Dolly Parton is an amazing person. Dolly can ride shotgun. And of course Mindy Kaling. Mindy’s just the homie. She just gives me all the emotional support. Megan Suri, because she’s a homie too and puts me on a lot of good music. Character actress Margo Martindale — she’s got vibes. And Michelle Yeoh. You know when people call celebrities “mother”? I always thought that was weird, but Michelle Yeoh is mother, bro.

What’s the last thing you ordered for dinner? 
I got a kid’s size cheese pizza delivered to my room. Hear me out: the adult size pizza is on thin fancy bread, with all these toppings, and I love toppings, but I don’t like the thin dough. The kids size pizza at this hotel? Bam, thicker dough. Gimme the carbs, that’s what I’m here for.

What is your pre-filming ritual?
I take a lot of pride in my Spotify playlists. They’re very organized by moods and different character arcs, if you will. I need constant music; I’m not a big fan of silence. Sometimes I’ll listen to good ’50s and ’60s music, just for the vibes. If I could pick any decade to live in — just for the aesthetics and not for the rights, cause that would be stupid — it would be the ’50s. Darren Barnet calls me a nerd for the playlists. I’ll be blasting it in my trailer with the door open so people can come on in and enjoy the tunes. He comes in, yells that I’m old, and then just leaves.

I bet he secretly enjoys them. 
He does. He’s old.

What’s your comfort rewatch?
This is messed up and lot of people judge me for this answer, but BoJack Horseman. It’s so sad. I avoid the really heavy-hitter episodes, but I just think the writing’s really smart. I’ve seen it so many times so I know what’s going to happen. So it’s a toss-up between that and The Office. I love Will Arnett! Put him in the trunk of that car. If I could get an audio recording of Will Arnett telling me to get off my ass and go to work, that’s all the motivation I’d need. I’d never complain again.

What’s the best piece of gossip you’ve ever heard?
Not saying whether it’s on my show or not, but when I found out there were some on-set romances I had no idea about. I was bamboozled. I felt honored they themselves told me about it. I’m trusted! So obviously not going to expose anyone, but I was like, wow! Wow. Love wins! Whether or not they’re together now, love wins.

Name a book you couldn’t put down?
The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman. Super cool, and she’s also Tamil, so that’s dope. It’s a cool fantasy about four South Asian siblings trying to return magic to their kingdom, but they’re not on the best terms with each other. It’s good. Saying “South Asian” and “Asian” are the biggest bubble terms, but it’s nice to read South Asian–influenced characters in fantasy. All I want is for people who look like me to live their life not just in relation to their religious background or culture. And there’s a sequel coming out.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? 
People in my life are spitting bars at me on the regular. Half of Megan Suri’s advice to me is all influenced by Megan Thee Stallion lyrics, which is very on brand for Devi and Aneesa. My mom gives me lots of good advice about owning my voice; she’s a cool cat. And my best friend, Sahara, who sent me the infamous Never Have I Ever casting call that got me the job — because my anxiety has only gotten worse, they always tell me, imagine yourself on Jupiter, looking at Earth, and that it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I’m not going to combust. The Earth, with how we treat it, probably will.

What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?
People saying I needed to change my name cause no one’s going to remember a name so long. I’m like, fuck you, no thanks. I fucking love my name. Maitreyi is a kick-ass name. And Ramakrishnan is all I’ve known — with Tamil people, the dad’s first name is the kid’s last name. I don’t care about that, but I care that I share the name with my brother.

I’ve also been told once you’re 18, people will expect you to do nudity in Hollywood if you want to become a bigger star and take on doing bigger roles, and I think that’s fucked up. To each their own, but it’s something I never want to be forced to do: “If you want to be successful and continue to do your craft, you must show your titties.

Will we ever catch up with Devi in college? 
Who knows, everything’s getting a goddamn reboot these days. Teletubbies was rebooted. All the baby faces in the sun, they’re diverse babies. It’s not the same white baby. It’s great, as someone who grew up loving Teletubbies, and who was desperately afraid of that little vacuum. Who knows? Right now, I’m very happy with the show’s journey. Never Have I Ever did its thing.

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan Graduates From Never Have I Ever