As far as Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is concerned, it feels as though Never Have I Ever is already over. Despite the fact that the Netflix megahit’s penultimate season just came out a few weeks ago, because its fourth and final season has already been filmed, the show’s star has partially moved on.
“To me, it's already over,” Ramakrishnan told In The Know for our September digital cover story. “Because [to me] the show is acting and being on set. That's where I'm the happiest in my life. Nothing makes me happier than being on a set, reading a script or being with other actors doing a scene. So in a way, it's like I'm already dealing with [the end of the show].”
Getting slightly ahead of herself is admittedly common for the Toronto native. As a self-described workaholic, Ramakrishnan finds herself looking ahead to her next project, her next dream role and her next career goal constantly, because she wants to do it all. That’s the very concept for this month’s cover shoot, which sees the 20-year-old inhabiting the roles of a queen, a futuristic warrior and an action hero, all roles that she’d like to embody on-screen. There is no limit for Ramakrishnan, who is such a natural, dynamic and captivating performer, it’s still hard to believe that her starring turn as Devi on Never Have I Ever is her first professional acting gig.
And while she’s rightfully unapologetic about having astronomical visions of her future, Ramakrishnan knows that what she has right now is special and she wants to appreciate it as much as possible before the show truly is over. After all, Ramakrishnan didn’t always have a “the limit does not exist” mindset when it comes to what’s possible for her acting career. Growing up, there was no obvious person doing what she wanted to do who she could see herself in and know that anything was possible. It’s a role she recognizes that she probably now represents for millions of girls around the world.
“I realized how accepting I was about the fact that people like me aren't at the front. You know? I just realized that my younger self really was just accepting that this is how it is. Only after Never Have I Ever came out did I realize that I had normalized that, and I don't want that ever to happen again,” Ramakrishnan said. “After each season comes out, after pretty much any project or every year that goes by that I'm in the industry, [that] only feeds that want to take up those other roles in all different spaces. Maybe before I would have said something smaller [or] on a smaller scale, because that's what I thought I deserved. But we're getting bigger and more grand.”
Keep reading for Maitreyi Ramakrishnan’s conversation with In The Know’s Gibson Johns for our September digital cover, where they further discuss the aspirations she has for her career, what she’s picked up on from Mindy Kaling and more.
Gibson Johns: The cover shoot today is all about the different roles that you can embody as an actress: You can be the comic relief, you can be the protagonist, the villain, the queen, the action hero. When you were first envisioning yourself acting or being on camera, did you have one of these roles most prominently in your vision? Did you think of yourself playing one certain kind of role?
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan: I personally like so many different genres. It's hard for me to say which genre is my favorite, and I want to take characters in all of these different spaces that have depth and dimension. That's what it's always been for me. Characters that are smart, characters that have a story to tell [or] a crazy arc [or] a crazy journey. It could be a hero's journey, it could be a villain’s journey. Whatever it is … that's the kind of stuff that I've always wanted to do.
Gibson: For you, it's almost like the bigger the challenge or the crazier it is, the more excited it makes you.
Maitreyi: Yeah, exactly. Because then you have more to sink your teeth into, and you get to take up that space. It doesn't necessarily have to be a space that you only get because of your culture or whatever it is. It’s just because it's a cool role.
Gibson: Now that you're in the business, and you're several seasons into a huge show, does that dream role change at all? Does what that tunnel vision looks like change for you at all?
Maitreyi: Only after having Never Have I Ever come out the first season did I have this realization: I realized how accepting I was about the fact that people like me aren't at the front. You know? I just realized that my younger self really was just accepting that this is how it is. Only after Never Have I Ever came out — and I was being asked constantly, “Which character did you identify with growing up?” And I would never have a proper, solid, thought-out answer, because there wasn't a character — did I realize that I had normalized that, and I don't want that ever to happen again. That's so sad. So, after each season comes out, after pretty much any project or every year that goes by that I'm in the industry, [that] only feeds that want to take up those other roles in all different spaces. Maybe before I would have said something smaller [or] on a smaller scale, because that's what I thought I deserved. But we're getting bigger and more grand [in that vision].
Gibson: Devi is also such a complex character, in that she can be the comedic relief or the one who's making the mistakes and the one who's making it right and having to apologize. You get to play so many of those different roles within this one character. Have you felt like you've been able to scratch some of itches along the way?
Maitreyi: I have been very blessed with that character, because she does have so many different emotions. She is that nerd, but she's also confident. She's not the shy nerd that doesn't like to interact with people. She's a nerd who's very smart. But she's also very confident, very hot-headed, [wears her] heart on her sleeve. The emotions run high, and that's very fulfilling as an actor to play those kinds of roles. So, yeah, some itches have definitely been scratched. But, if anything, because of Devi, going forward, all I want is to have roles that are more, if not the same, as right now. It would be a disservice to who Devi is if I only went in the other direction totally.
Gibson: It's almost like you’re a little spoiled, because you got to start your career with such a fantastic role.
Maitreyi: I got so spoiled. I'm so blessed with just everyone on that set in general. It was just an amazing first experience. I couldn't have asked for a better way to get into the industry. But, damn, she set the bar high!
Gibson: You said that when you were growing up, there wasn't a person who looked like you that you could look to or who felt like you could really kind of see yourself in. Do you think about the fact that you are that person for so many people now? Is that an overwhelming thought? Or is that something you don't let overwhelm you?
Maitreyi: It's pretty wild to think that people see Devi and they see themselves. To be honest, I can understand; she is a very well-written character. I'm sure many people can relate to her. It's insane to think that people look up to me. That's pretty intense. I mean, I'm super honored — that's so kind of fans. But I would like to say that they should never look up to me or love me more than they love themselves. [You should] look up to your own self first and love your own self first, more than you should ever love me.
Gibson: We're coming off of Season 3, meaning that there's just one more season of Never Have I Ever. Are you ready to say goodbye to Devi? Are you ready to let this project go after four seasons?
Maitreyi: I am super happy that we got to know that it was our last season. Because oftentimes, you just find out, like, “Oh, by the way, that was your last season.” And it's like, “Oh, wait. What?” Here we got to know going into it. So everyone in the cast, the writers room, directors, the crew members could just really give it their all with one last hurrah, if you will. I mean, we're actually done filming Season 4. So to me, it is sort of already over. Yes, we'll still do press when that season drops, because right now it's in like a little piggy bank. When we decide to break the piggy bank and let the world see it, we'll do press and all of that then. But to me, it's already over. Because [to me] the show is acting and being on set. That's where I'm the happiest in my life. Nothing makes me happier than being on a set, reading a script or being with other actors doing a scene. So in a way, it's like I'm already dealing with that.
Gibson: This was your first professional acting gig in Hollywood, which is again really wild to think about. What about it do you feel primed you for this industry and primed you to take on whatever comes next for you?
Maitreyi: It definitely taught me what an eyeline is and what a mark is. The practical, technical stuff, if you will. But besides the obvious, I was really, really fortunate to be on the set that I was on, because everyone was willing to teach me all of those things. Everyone was very empathetic and kind and patient to realize, “Oh, she is new. She's straight out of high school — two weeks out — and she knows nothing.” People were understanding and very helpful. I think because of that, because everyone was so kind, it will only keep my standards of how people should be respected on sets and how being an artist, being an actor should be when you're not being a diva. You're just respecting people. Yes, we're all here to do a job, and everybody's craft should be respected. No one's better than someone else. I mean, we've all probably had diarrhea. Let's be real. I'm better than anyone; we're all humans. We're all human, and we all take a shit at the end of the day.
Gibson: Mindy Kaling cast you out of, like, 15,000 applicants for this role…
Maitreyi: Yeah, it's the infamous number.
Gibson: I'm sure you've thought about this a lot, but you’ve spent so much time around her over the past several years. She’s such a pro. She's one of the ultimate icons in this industry right now, touching so many different projects and roles. What have you observed over the years from her that hammered home for you like, “Oh, this is how she's gotten to this point. This is why she’s so damn good at what she does.”
Maitreyi: Just the outright obvious is that she is really talented, of course — like, immensely talented in so many ways. She's just so multifaceted. Being able to be near that is so inspiring — to witness that talent in action, seeing her brain just work and function. There's [also] a lot that I can relate to when I watch her now, and I wonder if over the years, I maybe have taken in all these attributes naturally, like maybe that she's definitely a workaholic. I would say I am the same. She's a hard worker; she's probably the hardest worker I know, and I think that's really admirable. She's always willing to just put in the work, because she doesn't see why it shouldn't be hard to take up that space. She makes her own projects to make her own space, and then she kills it. She shows the world, “Yeah, I just did that. What’s next? Let's go.” I will call myself out here and say, I think that sometimes when things happen to me, because I'm also like, “OK, what's next? All right, let's go.” Like that workaholic mode. I tend to forget to just sit in the moment and appreciate it. That is something that I know I should work on.
Gibson: That’s interesting, because that's a big theme from the end of Season 3 for Devi, which is that she's so focused on the future, and she always has been, but what about the now? What about the comfort and the at-home-ness that you feel now? There's probably such a push and pull for you in terms of being on Never Have I Ever and just appreciating this moment, but also being like, “OK, but I have big ideas for myself beyond this.”
Maitreyi: It's tough because I am a dreamer that likes to think about what's next, and about what's out there to keep myself busy and keep my brain distracted. While filming Season 4, though, because I knew it was our last, I really tried to actively practice being grateful for every single day and just appreciating every time I walked onto set or walked into the trailer. I wanted to appreciate every moment and just tried to soak it in. It’s something you definitely have to practice and work at actively doing in your brain, or [else] you'll just regret and you'll think, “Damn, I should have probably taken more behind-the-scenes photos because I have none.” Now I'm asking everyone else for their shared album. [Laughs]
Gibson: There's a rom-com coming up for you, and I know you do a good amount of voice work on animated projects. What is next? What is the plan for after the season that you filmed already? It's gonna come out next year, I’m guessing. What do you want that next era of your career to look like?
Maitreyi: That's a good question. Because for me, honestly, what's next is learning that it's OK to not know. It was really hard at first because I didn't know what I was going to be up to, and I was sort of like, “Oh, my God, I'm freaking out. This is scary.” But then I realized, “Hey, I didn't know that Never Have I Ever was gonna happen way back when, right? And I don't know what's gonna happen later on in my life.” I just booked plane tickets for my first vacation since I was probably 15 or 16. The thing is, I hate vacations…
Gibson: You're gonna learn to love them.
Maitreyi: I need to. I need to, and I know this about myself. I need to work on not having anxiety on vacations. Like, over winter breaks and summer breaks, I feel very anxious. I'm checking my phone, even though everyone's just on holiday break, and that's why they're not calling. My brain is convinced that I am just missing something. So I'm going to learn how to vacation.