Jaren Lewison On Devi & Ben Twist – Hollywood Life

Never Have I Ever

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Never Have I Ever has made its triumphant return for season 3 on Netflix, and it’s better than ever. As with every Never Have I Ever season, the writers pulled one last twist on us in the final moments. Devi started out season 3 with Paxton and then her love life became a love square, but it was Ben she ended up coming face-to-face with in the season 3 finale to have him keep his promise for “one free boink.”

This gave Team Ben fans hope as the show nears its fourth and final season. HollywoodLife spoke EXCLUSIVELY with Jaren Lewison about getting to see the show’s impact in person for the first time, why Devi ended up at Ben’s door, the legendary meat stick episode, and why Ben’s arc this season hit close to home. Read our Q&A below:

Jaren Lewison
Jaren Lewison at the ‘Never Have I Ever’ premiere. (Netflix)

How have the last few weeks been for you? The Never Have I Ever cast has been on a crazy roller coaster ride of press. 
Jaren Lewison: Quite honestly, it’s been one of the best stretches of my entire life with these last three, four weeks in getting to do a lot of press, talking about season 3, and then with the premiere, which was probably one of if not the best day of my life. Seeing all the reactions after the release. It’s just been so much fun. Really, truly, probably some of the best days of my life.

The first season was released in 2020, right in the thick of the COVID pandemic. The second season came out last year. You guys have never really had the chance to have a big premiere. 
Jaren Lewison: We never had any kind of premiere. The only thing that we did was I think we jumped on a cast Zoom call for season 1 or 2 or something like that where we all celebrated together virtually because that was the safest possible thing that we could do. So to be able to have the community the other night was incredible.

What was it like seeing the magnitude of the show? 
Jaren Lewison: What’s crazy is I know that we’re in like 190 countries. We have over 50 million viewers and people around the world love our show, but I think it’s difficult to kind of quantify that until you have the opportunity to feel that energy in person. I remember the night of the premiere we had a couple of crew members that have worked with us from like season 2 all the way through season 4, and they went early. One of them went around  1 p.m. and the screening was supposed to start at 8. He messaged me a video, and it was already 5 blocks long and growing. And then when I pulled up by 7:15 or whatever it was, I got out of the car and very few times in my life have I felt electricity in my veins. Genuinely, you could feel the physical presence of everybody there. You could feel that excitement. It was just such a dream come true because, again, since we haven’t had an opportunity for a premiere and we haven’t gotten to interact with fans in this capacity really much before, it was so special to be able to share this moment, share our hard work with the fans and each other. Netflix and Universal put on this unbelievable, gorgeous premiere with a pink carpet. It was like a fairy tale. It really was.

There’s so much to dive into with season 3. Let’s start with the ending with Devi showing up at Ben’s door. Did you think that they would end up together from how things started out at the beginning of season 3?
Jaren Lewison: So I have a really bad habit of when I get a script, I can’t help myself and skip sometimes to the end. I’m trying to get better at it, but this particular script for the season finale, I got it and had just gotten home after like a 14-hour day of work. It was pretty late and I was doing some live Zoom classes because at the time I was a student at USC. I saw my inbox and was in the middle of one of my Zoom recordings. I immediately exited that out, went to the script, scrolled down to the end, and was like, “Holy eff. How the heck? Oh my God.” And then I went all the way to the start and found out how we got there. I was texting Maitreyi [Ramakrishnan] the second I got it. I was like, “Oh my god, the ending.” She was like, “There’s no freakin’ way you read it back quickly.” We were both texting each other, and I think that it was really cool for those two characters to have that moment. What I really love about it, too, is that it’s not a definite. We’ve already shot season 4, so I know what happens, but some fans are like, well, did you or didn’t you? I think that’s also really fun for fans to try to be seeing the aftermath and what happens after this door shuts. I think that’ll be really, really fun when they eventually get to see what happened in season 4.

Jaren Lewison
Jaren Lewison as Ben Gross. (Netflix)

The love triangle is alive and well on this show. Why do you think she chose Ben in this instance, especially after Paxton’s graduation speech? 
Jaren Lewison: Like you said, it’s still ongoing so I don’t think that it’s safe to say that she’s chosen anybody yet. I think that if Never Have I Ever’s love triangles have taught us anything it’s that Devi tends to vacillate between the two if not others. We saw Des a little bit, so who knows what season 4 will bring? But I think it is definitely because of the foundation that Devi and Ben have in terms of friendship. I think that they care about each other a lot, and I think that they push each other out of their comfort zones. I think the biggest thing for them is in times of turmoil and peril they’re always kind of there for each other. I think that when you are trying to think about intimate moments, and you’re thinking about who’s giving you butterflies, which I think John McEnroe says in episode 10 when Ben’s like, “I don’t want you to leave.” I’m pretty sure McEnroe’s like, “Yep, there’s the butterflies.” Or something like that. I think that when you go through so much together and you’re there for each other through those ups and downs, that is when you get those butterflies and that is maybe the driving force for the reason why Devi decided to go to Ben’s house and that door closes. We’ll find out in season 4 what ensues after that. But I think it’s because they genuinely really care about each other, and you can feel that. You can feel that through the look that they give each other at the end of the episode where you see them have this unspoken conversation before she steps inside. I love that about those characters. I think that Maitreyi and I work so well together because she and I are so close in real life. She’s one of my best friends, and we just get it. We can honestly say a lot without saying anything. It was really great to be able to do that with her as well.

The “one free boink” got me.
Jaren Lewison: That was a good one. I thought that was pretty funny.

Given the dynamics with his parents and whatnot, Ben’s always been a bit closed off and not as comfortable with sharing his feelings. But we peel back those layers a little bit this season. How did you feel about Ben’s journey in season 3 just in the emotional sense? I feel like he opened up — even in small ways — a lot this season.
Jaren Lewison: I loved it. Honestly, every single season I’m so grateful to the writers that they’ve created such a multi-dimensional, complex character because there’s so much depth and layers behind Ben. And as we keep going along, we’re learning more and more about him and about other characters in the series as well. For this season, especially, the theme I think was pressure. Obviously, internally and a little bit physically as well. I think that it was really important to showcase that because when you have a character or a person in real life who is such a perfectionist, I think to a certain extent you think they have it all together. But when you have the opportunity in a show, for instance, to really dive into who they are in their life, you find out as an audience that they’re really struggling, they’re trying so hard to keep it together, they’re so high strung, and they end up kind of exploding. For me, that was something that I could really relate to because throughout my whole life, and I’ve been working on this a lot as Ben has, I was and still am a little bit of a perfectionist. There was a quote that one of my mentors Alex Gay, who actually put me on tape for the role of Ben, he said to me that perfection is the enemy of art. I thought that was really poignant and profound, especially for this season of Ben’s journey because Ben eventually takes art classes, which I really loved. I think that it’s about trying to open up and free yourself from those shackles of perfection. I’m working on this, and I think that Ben is starting to grasp this concept, but I have a few years on him. I would hope that you know at the age of 21 or 22, Ben would also get here, but I think that he’s trying to realize that perfection isn’t necessarily making sure that every situation everything always works out. I think that, for me, perfection is trying your best while still taking care of yourself and your mental health, which Ben has not figured out how to do. I think it’s really important to showcase that because perfectionists and people who are striving toward greatness do struggle. A lot of times, they don’t open up to people. I know that I struggle with that, and I have some really incredible friends, Maitreyi included, and my roommates who pushed me to open up. Ben is sometimes forced into that based on the situation, but I’m so glad that we’re able to showcase how he kind of navigates during those tumultuous times. Because by showcasing that I would hope that perfectionists out there can look at that and be like, “I need to open up to people to help me through this situation because this is really difficult. If I continue trying to handle this by myself and bottle this up, I’m not going to handle it well, and it’s going to have a very adverse effect on my mental health and it’s not worth it.”

Jaren Lewison
Ben Gross chomps down on a meat stick. (Netflix)

Ben gets another standalone episode in season 3. Did you ever in your wildest dreams think that meat sticks would be what takes Ben Gross down? 
Oh my god, it almost took me down. Those meat sticks were the bane of my existence. I am not a big beef jerky fan, and the crew thought it was so so funny that I had to eat these things over and over and over and over again. For every scene, I think that there were maybe six of them where Ben is eating a meat stick, and I’m probably taking at least 30 bites per scene. By the end of that, I had had maybe like 210 meat sticks if my mental math is correct. It might not be. I don’t know. But  I literally was like, “Oh my god, I’m gonna die of meat sticks.” They were spicy, which was so much worse. I don’t know why they were spicy. I think that someone was like, “Oh, what kind of flavor should we use? Jalapeño sounds good.” But then you don’t realize that after 30 bites of a jalapeno meat stick a) people can smell you from down the hall and b) your tongue is on fire.

Those things don’t necessarily make you feel great after you eat them either. 
Jaren Lewison: No, they don’t. And then the crew thought it was so funny and kept bringing it up. When I graduated from USC, the crew members part of the camera department got me this big, seemingly nice something. I opened it and it’s a huge thing of meat sticks.

In the midst of the meat stick fiasco, this was a really great episode to see Ben and Paxton together because you guys really don’t get that many scenes that don’t involve Devi. What was it like getting to work with Darren [Barnet] in a closer way and see each other’s characters in a new light?
Jaren Lewison: We were really excited about that scene because Ben and Paxton are very, very different. They don’t really interact with each other often except for when they get publicly embarrassed by Devi for the most part. However, especially because Darren and I are so close in real life, we were really excited to bring about this very unexpected friendship to screen because I think that when you have two characters that are so different, you have the ability to expand the scope of problems in terms of tackling like toxically masculine issues. For Paxton, his identity’s kind of been crushed by the lack of athletics, which so many of my guy friends and I relate to. After you finish high school athletics, if you’ve dreamt about playing in college and don’t even though you’ve been doing that for so long, it’s like, “Who am I? What is my future?” For Ben, it’s about the pressure that he feels of being an academic machine and trying to seek validation from his father. To be able to have them open up to each other I thought was really special, and I hope that it encourages viewers and young men or people everywhere to just have these difficult conversations where they open up to people that they may not usually in order to gain a different and fresh perspective on some really hard issues and things that people are struggling with. I think that a lot of times young men in general, and I’m also guilty of this, believe that opening up to people and showing your emotions, your vulnerability, shows a bit of a weakness. And it doesn’t. I think that the scene that shows that so beautifully is afterward when you see the kind of connection moment that Ben and Paxton have a couple of scenes later, where Grubbs is like praising Paxton for his essay, and they have this unspoken conversation where they look at each other. I think the subtext there is like, “Thank you. We’ve kind of got this mutual respect now.” I just thought that it was really powerful, and I was so grateful that Mindy [Kaling], Lang [Fisher], and the rest of the writers decided to put that scene in there because I think that it does so much for character development for Ben and Paxton in terms of showing some of that vulnerability and showcasing the fact that opening up to people makes you stronger.

Was Paxton carrying Ben down the hall always in the script?
Jaren Lewison: It was in the script. The second that I read it I was like, “Darren, you better start doing the pushups, big boy.” It’s really funny because I am like deceivingly heavy. I’m pretty stocky and quite muscular. I work out a lot, so when Darren picked me up, he was like, “Oh my god.” After a couple of takes, I would sort of give him all of my weight because I was like, “Dude, I want your veins to be popping. I want everybody to see how huge your arms are.” So I’d just give him all of my dead weight and have him carry me down the hallway. It was fantastic.

Last season ended on a big cliffhanger with Ben finding out that Devi was going to choose him. Everything kind of snowballed, and the moment had passed for him to say something when he saw Devi walk in with Paxton. Were you surprised Ben didn’t immediately fight for Devi after hearing what Eleanor told him at the dance?
Jaren Lewison: I don’t think he could. When he saw Devi walk in with Paxton, I think Ben still respects and wants the best for Devi. I think he also realizes that she is a strong, independent young woman who makes her own decisions. If that’s what she feels is best, I don’t think that he’s going to try to sabotage that. I think Ben’s also smart enough to know that that’s not going to be how you eventually get this love of your life by trying to sabotage her current boyfriend when she seems really happy. Although it was obviously painful for him, and we saw that in that look at the end of season 2 when he’s watching them dance, I think that in high school sometimes you want to be with this person so bad, and for whatever reason, it just doesn’t work out. I think that Ben was like, alright, I just have to find a way to be a good friend to Devi. If she needs me, I’ll be there. And if that doesn’t work out, not that he’ll be waiting in the wings, but he’ll be there to help her through that as a good friend should. As we see later in the season, that does kind of end up happening, and she does end up coming to his house at the end of the episode. We’ll see in season 4 how their relationship will continue, their friendship, and seeing kind of those ups and downs again. Because, as Mindy Kaling says and loves to say, “Stable relationships are boring.” There will be ups and downs like every season of Never Have I Ever. I’m just very, very excited for fans to see it all.

Jaren Lewison
Jaren Lewison and Darren Barnet as Ben and Paxton. (Netflix)

I know you can’t say much about season 4, but is there anything you can give me?
Jaren Lewison: I feel like I say this in every interview that Never Have I Ever just continues getting better and better and better. I think that I will continue that trend and say that season 4 is the best.

You also recently graduated college. What are your plans? Are you going to stick with acting?
Jaren Lewison: Acting is the plan. I’m not quite sure what the next project will be yet. I’m trying to take time to kind of process the fact that Never Have I Ever has ended, but I’m just really excited. I think that Ben, especially the season, has taught me that I need to relinquish control a little bit. What is meant to be will be. I think I’m just excited about the prospect of a new role that hopefully will resonate with fans as much as Ben has. Getting to be a part of Never Have I Ever has been such a dream come true and has profoundly impacted and changed my life. I’m also still excited for everyone to see season 4 because I think that fans’ jaws will just be absolutely on the floor by the time they finish that season. We’ll see. I’ve got some really cool ideas in the works. We’ll see what’s meant to be.

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