Everyone’s favorite coming-of-age comedy will be heading back to Netflix on July 15. The Mindy-Kaling led series, which is based on her own childhood experiences, has captivated audiences for its authentic and honest portrayals of trivial high school drama, love triangles, and strong representation. When we last saw the emotional and explosive Season 1 finale, we saw a development in the Ben, Devi, and Paxton love triangle, among other things.
The new season promises to be exciting and still focused on bringing sensitive topics to light. YEM got the chance to speak to Jaren Lewison, who plays Ben in the series. He had been the arch-nemesis to Devi, but he is possibly becoming more. Jaren spoke with us about being Team Ben or Team Paxton, the show’s success as well as representation, working with Mindy Kaling, and balancing school and acting.
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YEM: Coming-of-age comedy gets the Mindy Kaling treatment in the hit teen series, Never Have I Ever. Season 2 premieres on Netflix July 15 and joining me now is one of the stars, Jaren Lewison, who plays over-achiever and love interest. Hi, Jaren, thanks for talking to Young Entertainment Mag.
Jaren: Yeah, thank you!
YEM: Absolutely. Well, let’s jump into the show. Fans know in Season 1, we see Devi and Ben, your character go from you know, frenemies to friends, to maybe more than friends, maybe, after sharing a kiss there. So, what does that kiss mean for Devi and Ben’s relationship coming into Season 2?
Jaren: Well, you know I think they’ve got this blossoming romance, but for fans that have not seen Season 1, you need to, but for fans that have, you know that there’s a bit of a love triangle brewing. You know it’s going to be difficult for Ben and Devi to navigate that and Devi also has to navigate her prospective relationship with Paxton so I think Season 2 definitely hits the ground running; we pick up right where we left off, and it really dives into the complexities of that love triangle and it is a very wild ride so I’m very excited for fans to see that.
YEM: Alright, well you mentioned the love triangle, so, subjectively speaking here, Team Ben or Team Paxton and why? Defend you answer.
Jaren: I mean, obviously, I play Ben, I’m a bit biased. I’ve gotta be Team Ben. If I did not play him, I think I would still be Team Ben. I think that for me, um, you know what builds a strong foundation in a relationship is the witty banter, being able to joke around with your partner, and also have the ability to be serious. I think that Ben and Devi do that really well; They’ve got zingers back and forth at each other and those great Ben and Devi moments. Also, they get each other. I think that Ben was there for Devi when she was going through that rough period with her mom, she lived at Ben’s house, he drove her to Malibu, and helped her accomplish the spreading of her dad’s ashes and kind of move a bit of that grief process along and he’s always there for her in these really difficult moments and you’ll see that again in Season 2. But, I think like any good love triangle there’s pros as well for the other side. I think that Paxton is quite a formidable opponent; I think that he offers a lot of interesting things for Devi as well. I think that in Season 2 that’s explored further. Team Paxton will also have some more, um, evidence for their team and we’ll just have to see how that works out.
YEM: Alright, cool. Well don’t tell the actor who plays Paxton. It’s Darren, right?
Yem: Okay, well don’t tell him that I’m Team Ben as well.
Jaren: Laughs. Okay, I won’t tell him.I will knot let him know.
YEM: Alright, alright. Backing up to the onscreen kiss that I was mentioning at the end of Season 1, that was your first onscreen kiss, I understand, and considering it was a pivotal moment there, was there a lot of pressure? How was that experience?
Jaren: Truthfully, it was a great experience. I don’t really think I ever felt the pressure. To Maitreyi, who plays Devi, is such a close friend in real life. I think if anything, she made me feel the most comfortable, like she was always like, “Yes, this is awesome,” “This is gonna be great for our characters,” like we’re doing so well like and I think Mindy and Lang especially too were super supportive of that scene and Maitreyi and I just, I don’t know, we felt like we got it right and I think when you have an MTV Best Kiss nomination it definitely validates that uh, perspective a little bit. I’m really proud of it, and it was so important to fans, and they loved it so I’m feeling really good about it.
YEM: Nice, and by the looks of the trailer for Season 2 more making out to come does appear.
Jaren: There are some scenes there; Yes I will agree.
YEM: Alright good and steamy. Alright, well you know because the first season premiered at the beginning of the pandemic, the series really was a quarantine comfort show for a lot of people, so, what has your reaction been to the fandom for Never Have I Ever?
Jaren: Truthfully, I don’t think it will ever completely hit me that we’ve almost had 50 million global viewers. I mean, there are people in other countries that I can only dream of going to that love our show so much and I just think that that’s amazing. To be a part of something that was such a light in such a dark time is really special, and will always be so special. This is like the biggest project I think I’ve ever done and it’s my first series regular that has been on multiple seasons and I think for me, like to be a part of a special show is just so impactful for me, I mean, again you talk about how diverse and relatable our show is, that’s what you hope for as an actor. You hope to be part of a show that means so much to so many people and I’m just so grateful to Mindy and to the rest of the creative team, and Lang for giving me an opportunity to be part of it.
YEM: Yeah, well, and picking up there the diversity and cultural representation being an important part of the show, your character is Jewish, as are you in real life I read, so what does it mean to you to get to represent that on TV even with you know, the humor that the show brings?
Jaren: It’s awesome. I mean, I think for me there wasn’t a ton of Jewish characters growing up that I was able to watch and relate to so I think that it’s awesome. I think it’s also really cool that it’s not the defining characteristic of Ben’s identity, just as it isn’t mine. You know for me I grew up and went to a Jewish school and I’m very proud of being Jewish that identity and I loved my bar mitzvah as well, but it isn’t my defining characteristic. I think that’s something that is the same for Ben. Ben talks a lot about his bar mitzvah as well because he loves *inaudible* and Blake Griffin was at his bar mitzvah so he beats me at that cool factor so I think it’s awesome that we can showcase that and it’s great for me to be able to portray that authentically and I love that we explore some of that history. I love my Jewish identity and I know that Ben does too.
YEM: Yeah, and one thing I love about the show is you know sometimes my jaw dropped because it really goes there and doesn’t shy away from addressing stereotypes and that sort of thing so, is your jaw dropped too sometimes when you’re reading the scripts?
Jaren: Well, you know, truthfully, I think that the show is awesome, like every episode I kinda feel that way every time I finish one of the episodes for a table read I’m always like, “Give me the next one!” I’m so eager to know what happens next. I think that the entire writing team is one of the best I’ve ever worked with,, I think they’re so great at layering so many different characters and kind of exploring the world they created and giving us as actors so much freedom so my jaw does drop and you’re right, we don’t shy away from difficult topics which I think is just so awesome but we still approach them with care, and authenticity, and honesty and we’re not gonna shy away from them; we’re gonna be truthful about the representation that we’re showcasing but it’s done in a respectful manner which is just really great and it’s the right way to do it.
YEM: Sure, great balance. Well speaking of your great writing, creator of Never Have I Ever is Mindy Kaling, one of the creators who has based the show on her childhood experiences. What is it like having a comedic genius that is Mindy Kaling as your boss?
Jaren: It’s the best of both worlds because not only is she an insanely incredible writer and she gives such great notes, and also she’s just such an amazing human being. She’s so inspiring to me; She’s one of my role models in this business and when you have a role model that is so kind and genuine and wants you to be the best that you can be, it really does so much for your growth both personally and professionally. I think that Mindy creates such a positive environment on set; Everyone loves working with her and if you look so many people repeat on so many of her projects because she is such a joy to work for and with and I’m again, just every time I get the chance to chat with her, to learn from her and just be around her, it just makes me a better person and a better actor and I’m just so grateful for all of those experiences.
YEM: Very nice, very nice. Let’s talk more about you and your character, Ben. He is the over-achiever in high school. What kind of student were you in high school, and what was your high school experience compared to Ben’s?
Jaren: So, I am very similar to Ben in that overachieving in high school characteristic; I was a straight A student, I was very passionate about my high school academics so much so that it carried over to my college academics, almost a straight A student in college. I’m a full-time student at USC so academics are something that I take really seriously. I was also really involved like Ben in my high school, but I really enjoyed athletics which is something Ben doesn’t gravitate towards. I was captain of my high school football team; I was on the varsity powerlifting team where I won several meets in the 132-pound weight class. I did theater, which I don’t think Ben would be in to and I did a bunch of other community/high school-based organizations. You know, I think Ben really wants to get into a great college, that’s something I wanted to do and I think I’ve achieved it and I know Ben will as well.
YEM: Yeah, and so you have been in college, full-time student while shooting Never Have I Ever so how have you been able to balance school and being on this show?
Jaren: Truthfully, each season is like a new voyage, you know with this second season we were filming during the pandemic so my zoom lectures were recorded and that allowed me to come home at whatever time of the night or day it may have been and watch all those lectures, so that I wasn’t behind but really, truly, it’s about time management. It’s about getting things done early and it’s about being open and honest with my professors. I let them know that I’m living my dreams right now and I’m on this incredible show that means so much to me and so many people around the world but I’m also really passionate about my academics so I’m not going to expect special treatment or mess around in their class and I’m going to show them that I’m a hard worker and I’m gonna make sure that I will always get all my academics done and that I’m really focused on that as well and hopefully then, they understand that I really want to do both things at a high level and then they’re more inclined to help me if I need to reschedule an exam or anything like that.
YEM: I admit it. Very nice, very nice. Alright, as we wrap up here, I kind of have a random question but I was curious, why do all of your Instagram posts have #RememberTheFeeling?
Jaren: That’s a great question. So, it is my life motto. It was passed down from my grandfather, it my father, to me, and then to my kids one day, It’s really kind of, uh, the chief point of that motto is to just sit back and enjoy the little things in life; It’s to understand that there’s just so much incredible feelings you can experience in your lifetime and a lot of times we’re moving so quickly we don’t take a second to remember the feeling and sit back and say, “Wow, my life is really awesome” or “I feel so joyous right now” or “I’m so grateful for x,y, or z” so I try to stop and remember the feeling the little moments, for the big moments, and for everything in between to remind myself, “Hey, enjoy life, this is incredible what you’re doing, these are incredible people you’re surrounding yourself with, you’re so lucky to be where you are” and I post that so people will hopefully stop and remember the feeling for their own lives and recognize how awesome parts of their life can be in whatever situation that they’re in.
YEM: Very nice, very nice. Very deep. Love it, love it. You seem to be in a season of life where you are wanting to remember the feeling so that’s great.
Check Out Jaren Lewison’s interview on Youtube and Spotify!
You can check out YEM Interviewer, Whitt Laxson’s Duff Enough Podcast @ – https://open.spotify.com/show/4oHCNSzj3DOTZnAuyTHDt0?si=ioeyIE7WQ8-5uroAVn5IQQ&dl_branch=1