Darren Barnet and Jaren Lewison on Character Development in ‘Never Have I Ever’

Darren Barnet and Jaren Lewison star as Paxton Hall-Yoshida and Ben Gross in Never Have I Ever. Season 3 of the Netflix comedy is now streaming. The series has already been renewed for a fourth and final season, which is set to premiere in 2023.

Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix

In Season 3 of the coming-of-age comedy Never Have I Ever, Indian American teenager Devi continues to deal with the everyday pressures of high school and drama at home, while also navigating new romantic relationships.

I spoke with the duo about the new season, Paxton and Ben’s growth throughout the series, which props they took with them after officially wrapping, the different relationships, revisiting their characters in the future, and much more. Keep reading for everything they shared with me!


What was the moment you realized that this show had such an enormous impact on its audience?
Darren Barnet: I think right after season one, the amount of response and the amount of fans that we gained so quickly, and the feedback in general. There was so much discussion of like people saying, “I feel so seen. Oh, I’ve never seen something like this.” It was really rewarding for me. I mean, I’m sure for everyone, but definitely for me.
Jaren Lewison: Yeah, it’s really special, especially getting to interact with fans of different backgrounds and like intersectionalities, and hearing what it means to them because each one of them it’s something different and so special. I feel like to be on a show that means so much to so many people that are so different from each other in so many different countries, that’s incredible and really something special.

What is your favorite moment of growth or development for your individual characters from season one to season three?
Barnet: I think there was a very superficial nature to Paxton in season one. You got to see him grow through season one and see some more of his heart, and that developed through seasons two and three. So it’s been really amazing having to dig deep in that character in terms of like once swimming goes out the door for him, he has to figure out a new path of life. He has to dive deeper into academics and figure out that he’s smarter than he thought. It’s a very nice journey of self-discovery. So it’s been a really nice kind of opening up the inner workings of Paxton as a whole.
Lewison: For episode 3×06, Ben’s got another solo episode, so I think that there’s so much growth from the start to finish of that, it’s really astounding how much he goes through. I think the theme for Ben in this season is about pressure and I think that this college application is really freaking him out and he’s so stressed out. He’s so nervous, he hasn’t had time to poop in 16 days! That leads to one of my favorite scenes, there’s two in that episode that I think are just brilliant. Amina Munir is the writer of that episode and she is just so talented, so are the rest of the writers, and Mindy and Lang’s leadership. I thought that episode was so rich and so multifaceted, but the scene with Paxton in the hospital where they’re both being so vulnerable, I think is just brilliant.

I love that these two men are struggling with different things and they’re being so vulnerable, and I hope that it would incite young men who are watching or just people, in general, to have really difficult conversations who don’t like opening up and who aren’t vulnerable like these two men, Ben and Paxton, and watching them open up to each other and having that be so positive in the aftermath, I think that that’s really important to see on-screen. Then especially the other scene with Michael Badalucco, who plays Ben’s dad, that scene is really powerful, especially for Ben and his growth and development, to hear that his father’s proud of him, to allow kind of that sigh of relief that we see at the end of the scene to come through. It allows Ben’s healing and his journey of the acceptance and identity to kind of begin. He still has a long way to go, but I’m proud of him for starting and I’m excited to see the rest of it. Well, I do know, but I’m excited for everyone else to see the rest of it.


You finished filming the final season, it breaks my heart to let you guys go, but I’m excited to see it. Did you take any props with you when you wrapped?
Barnet: Oh, yeah. Once they shut down Paxton’s garage, I took a couple of swimming trophies and his medals, and I think I took his classic beaded bracelets that he wears every episode. So it was nice.
Lewison: I always take the back of my chair because I take it every season, I give it to my parents or I give it to my grandparents, and it says Never Have I Ever on the back, which is really special. Then I felt like for this season I really wanted something that I could put in a frame and show to people, whoever walks into my house or whatever, so I had all of the cast and crew sign the finale 4×10, write little notes and stuff. I felt like that really encapsulates the spirit of Never Have I Ever, because we are all such a family, and getting to have everyone write me little notes and things, I can look back in 20, 30, 40, 50 years, show it to my kids, my grandkids, and the rest of my family and friends and look back, remember what an incredible experience this was, and how lucky I am to work with such unbelievable talented and kind people. So it’s really been a dream.

What do you hope Paxton and Ben’s different relationships with Devi teaches audiences to apply to their own relationships in their personal lives?
Barnet: I think one thing is definitely that you have to find happiness within yourself before you can find it with anyone else and that you can’t rely on anyone else to instill happiness inside of you. Also, the fact that she’s idolized Paxton for so long and put him on such a pedestal, but then she sees him dealing with his own vulnerabilities and his own insecurities, just to understand that no matter how perfect you may make someone in your head, they’re dealing with the same exact things that you are. They just express them differently or are hiding it. So just always realize that you’re not alone. You need to find happiness alone though before you find it with anyone else.
Lewison: I think for Ben and Devi, it’s definitely some self-love like Darren was saying, but I think that it’s also patience, resilience, and recognizing that relationships are hard work and they’re messy, and sometimes they’re very frustrating and very rewarding. But you have to recognize that there are these ups and downs and if you really do care about each other, you’ll find your way back, but it needs to be in a healthy way, you need to approach it maturely, and you need to try your best to sacrifice for your partner while also kind of maintaining your own self, your self-love, and prioritizing your own mental health as well as theirs. It’s difficult, but it’s definitely worthwhile.


I’m gonna give you a two-part question and you can pick which choice you want to go with. What would you hope for your character in the future, past the finale, or if you could catch up and visit with your character, maybe play him again at a certain point in his life, what point would you want to revisit him during?
Barnet: Oh, man… I would love to see Paxton retired. I feel like, for some reason, he’s gonna be living on a yacht. I don’t know, I think there’s something about Paxton. I’ve joked about it, I was like, “I could totally see Paxton falling into a multilevel marketing scheme, but actually killing it and being the one person that makes it doing that career, and just becomes loaded and lives on a yacht in the south of France.” I think that would be hilarious.
Lewison: I’d love to go visit Paxton if that’s his fate. I think for Ben, I also would like to see when he’s like… I don’t know, 70, 75 because there’s two ways that he goes: it’s either he’s the grumpy old man from Up or he is like one of the grandpas from Going in Style, that heist movie with Morgan Freeman. So he’s one of the two, and which one, I don’t know, but I would be interested to see.

Barnet: I still think he’d be a grumpy grandpa no matter what.
Lewison: Maybe, but everybody loves him, that grumpy grandpa is like the best. I love that movie. It makes me cry every time.

I don’t have to tell you how passionate the fans are about their ships on this show. When it comes to your personal favorites, do you have a shipworthy moment? A moment where you were like, “oh, this is special.” Like, if you’re trying to get someone to switch teams, which moment are you showing them?
Lewison: Yeah, I think for me, I watched that heat waves moment and I was like, “Woooh, that was steamy!” I watched it and I texted with Darren and Maitreyi both, and I was like, “You guys killed this. People are going to go crazy over this. It is so beautiful.” When you come in through the window with the rain as well, that’s romance right there, come on!
Barnet: It was freezing, by the way! But I mean, look, when Ben picks her up, takes her out to Malibu to send off the ashes, and they kiss in that car, as much as it pained me to watch because when I saw that, I was like, “I think I’m getting written out of season two. I don’t know if I’m gonna be back,” but it was gorgeous. It was a great moment. It really was, it culminated like all of the crazy, controversial stuff that you guys have been through and how much you challenge each other and drove each other crazy. It really was like, “Okay, great. There’s something definitely spicy going on here.”

Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Netflix

Is there anything that you learned either acting wise or in your personal life from your individual characters?
Barnet: Upon completing the show, I know everyone was in a state of somewhat panic thinking about — cause I think as an artist, as an actor, whatever, you’re always like, “What’s the next job? Am I going to work again? Is it going to be as special as this,” and you get caught so much in that headspace that I feel sometimes it’s easy to forget how much gratitude you should be showing in the moment, and staying in that moment, relishing in it, and really appreciating it. So I was trying to take it day by day, moment by moment, while I was on set for the last couple times, like taking it in, breathing in the air, really cherishing the relationships because it is irreplaceable. I’m sure we’ll be on great sets again in our life, but there’s going to be nothing exactly like that again. So instead of worrying about tomorrow, appreciate today and I think I’ll take that with me personally.
Lewison: I love that. I think for me, Ben definitely taught me — there was this quote that one of my mentors, Alex Gay, said, “Perfection is the enemy of art,” and I think that Ben strives so hard to be a perfectionist and sometimes so do I, and I try to do that even as an artist. I think I’ve realized that Ben goes through art class and finds meaning within this pear, and I think that that’s a really special moment. I think for me that was a bit of a turning point where I was like, “Wow, yeah, I can’t be perfect because life is chaotic, messy, sometimes frustrating, incredible, and all of those things. I can strive to be my best, but I also have to take care of myself so I, unlike Ben, won’t end up in the hospital and haven’t shat for 16 days.” So I think that that’s something to remind myself that I can do my best and that’s all I can do, and I’ll know what my best is, but I think sometimes I need to take a little pressure off myself and stop trying to be perfect because there is no such thing.

I feel like this is just such a special series for friendships as well. Is there a dynamic or friendship that has been your favorite to bring to life on-screen?
Barnet: Yeah, honestly, I mean, I’ve been waiting to do a scene with Jaren for the longest time, and that scene we had together, you know, another thing to take from that is like your competition per se may have a lot more in common with you than you think. I think they both learn that about each other. He learned that Paxton was like, “Nah, dude, I’ve always kind of thought you were so much smarter and I could never be that for Devi, and I kind of looked up to you,” and he was like, “Wait, what?” So I think that bond was really nice to form because I think we’ve both been waiting to do a scene together, for one, but I’ve also been wanting to see Ben and Paxton interact more. So it was really, really nice.
Lewison: Yeah, that was really special for me as well and I think other special scenes that just like immediately popped to the front of my head is anything that Mr. Shapiro has, because I think that Shapiro thinks that he’s friends with his students. So he’s always just really trying hard to establish connection, and he’s so weird and tries so hard to be hip, cool, woke, and all these things that it just fails miserably. So I love that, I love that relationship as well. I think that that’s like so brilliantly written and well-acted. It’s a blast to be in scenes with Shapiro.