Mindy Kaling's long-awaited Netflix Original Never Have I Ever has finally dropped on the streaming service, and it's one show you'll definitely want to binge. Netflix says this coming-of-age comedy tackles what it's really like to be a first-generation Indian American teenage girl, as Maitreyi Ramakrishnan takes on the role of Devi, "an overachieving high school sophomore who has a short fuse that gets her into difficult situations."
One of Devi's "difficult situations" she finds herself in involves Paxton Hall-Yoshida, played by Darren Barnet. Paxton is your typical high school crush — but Darren brings more to the table for this role than good looks and smoldering shots.
Darren talked exclusively with Distractify about his character and how he took your stereotypical high school jock to the next level.
Who is Paxton?
Darren describes his character as "a high school heartthrob jock with layers you may not see on the surface" who's "very much judged" by the cool-guy vibe you see on the surface. Think: your high school's homecoming king or captain of the football team, but if you really got to know him.
"On the surface, he's the heartthrob of the high school, the hottest guy at Sherman Oaks High —but you don't realize other things about his home life," Darren said. "He's smarter than he looks, and he deals a lot with people just assuming that he's dumb. It really gets to him."
Darren is part-Japanese, which he reveals became part of Paxton's character after he was overheard talking in Japanese to one of the crew members, a "collaborative effort" he felt made the roll more dynamic. Darren says he was really able to draw from his real-life experiences when preparing for this role.
"I was captain of the lacrosse team, and I was a good student and I was quote-unquote I guess... popular amongst my peers," he said. "A lot of people would tell me, 'Before I met you I thought you were a real jerk,' and I'm just like I don't know how to take that. I wasn't the most approachable person. I did kind of keep to myself and was the quiet brooding type — and Paxton is also kind of like that."
Paxton's on-screen sister is played by an actor with Down syndrome, and Darren reached out to a friend who also had a sibling with Down syndrome to better understand what that was really like before coming on screen, adding another new layer to Paxton's character.
Devi has a huge crush on Paxton.
The show's trailer gives off massive To All the Boys I've Loved Before Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky vibes. But is that really the kind of dynamic we'll see between Paxton and Devi?
"I think you're definitely going to see those dynamics," Darren laughed, admitting there are just some parallels between the two you can't avoid. "It's a Netflix show centered around high schools with a lead that is kind of the outcast... but I think it's going to take its own nice little spin on it. I think Mindy and Lang [Fisher] really accomplished that in their writing."
As Devi and her friends are on a quest to reinvent themselves to be more "cool," of course popular-guy Paxton is on Devi's radar. Darren jokes that Devi "kind of falls into [Paxton's] lap" when the two cross paths, but it's the energy the characters have that make them a swoon-worthy pairing.
"I think [Devi is] a girl he wouldn't ever look at as a love interest," Darren said of the characters' relationship. "But there's something just so... I mean, Devi is a firecracker, she really goes against the grain, and I think it's something different than Paxton has really ever seen in his life. It sparks his interest."
Darren wouldn't reveal much else about Paxton and Devi's connection, but from the sneak peaks alone, it's bound to be a spicy one.
Darren had a cameo in 'This Is Us.'
If you think you recognize Darren, you've probably seen him in his role on This Is Us, where he portrayed a young Jack Pearson.
But Never Have I Ever is just one exciting project Darren has in the works. While he wouldn't reveal what else he has planned, he did say he's got his sights open for "more darker, twisted roles" to follow up his previous popular-guy characters. But until then, he's fine being your next heartthrob.
"I have the ability in those roles to really put my own spin on it," he said. "I know on the surface what this guy is, but what can I do on the inside to make this guy relatable, likeable, and a real human being? And that's always a challenge."
Never Have I Ever is now available to stream on Netflix.