Playing 'a hot mess' in Never Have I Ever, Canadian actor Maitreyi Ramakrishnan wants to shake up conventions

Actor Maitreyi Ramakrishnan returns as a hot-headed teen Devi Vishwakumar in the Netflix comedy series Never Have I Ever, and the Canadian star is relishing every minute of it.

Star of Netflix series wants to see more actors of colour as complex leads rather than just sidekicks

Canadian actor Maitreyi Ramakrishnan relishes portraying impetuous teenager Devi in the Netflix comedy series Never Have I Ever. (Isabella B. Vosmikova/Netflix)

Devi Vishwakumar continues to be "a hot mess" in Season 2 of Never Have I Ever, but Canadian actor Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is relishing every minute playing the impetuous teen at the centre of the Netflix comedy series.

"She makes the worst choices," Ramakrishnan, 19, said of her character. 

"It is so fun to play a hot mess — I'll be honest — but sometimes it's so hard because in my brain I'm like, 'This is so absurd.' "

Despite having no previous professional acting experience, the Mississauga, Ont., performer shot to fame with the April 2020 debut of Never Have I Ever. Created by Mindy Kaling, the series is about an ambitious Indo-American teen tackling high school concerns as well as the loss of her father. 

The streaming comedy provided escapist laughs early on in the pandemic. In Season 2, Ramakrishnan's character faces new challenges, including navigating romantic relationships, potential new rivals and an impending move to India.

Ramakrishnan, left, with Never Have I Ever co-star Lee Rodriguez, wants to see more actors of colour cast in lead roles in Hollywood. (Isabella B. Vosmikova/Netflix)

Iconic roles 'don't have to be white'

Playing Devi, a complicated character who tends toward selfish and hot-headed decisions, has whet Ramakrishnan's appetite for more.

The young South Asian-Canadian actor recently signed on to play Lizzie Bennett in The Netherfield Girls, a forthcoming Netflix adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice set in modern times. 

WATCH | Maitreyi Ramakrishnan on wanting to see more lead actors of colour:

'We're definitely growing. But the reality is... we can't stop'

2 years ago
Duration 3:08
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, the Canadian star of Netflix teen comedy Never Have I Ever, on maturing 'a smidge' alongside her character and her desire to see more lead roles for actors of colour.

Rather than being relegated to sidekicks and "fan favourites," she's envisioning more actors of colour — including fellow performers of South Asian heritage — scoring complex lead roles.

"These iconic characters and these iconic roles that are written as white … They don't have to be white," Ramakrishnan said.

"We can switch up the narratives to also make them narratives that are more relevant to today."

Still, she admits she's not opposed to playing second fiddle if the Marvel Universe comes calling. 

"I've already thought about where I could fit in … I would ideally be like an anti-hero."

Noting that her super hero preferences lean more toward Deadpool than Captain America, Ramakrishnan said she needs roles to be about "going my own way … bending the rules."

In Season 2, Ramakrishnan's character is caught between potential relationships with two classmates, portrayed by Jaren Lewison, left, and Darren Barnet. (Isabella B. Vosmikova/Netflix)

Retaining her Mississauga roots

Ramakrishnan hasn't had a conventional start to her acting career.

Never Have I Ever debuted about six weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, so it didn't get a traditional red carpet premiere and she said she hasn't made the rounds at myriad Hollywood parties.

When she's not working, Ramakrishnan says she's mostly hanging out, playing video games on her Nintendo Switch. 

A big believer in the motto "everything happens for a reason, she mused that the pandemic "is what it is. I can't control it." 

"But I am very thankful that I got to stay grounded, and also it's helped me retain my Mississauga roots and still be authentically me."

With files from Eli Glasner