Never Have I Ever star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan doesn’t know what’s next. She likes that.

“By the time I was 10, I knew exactly which high school courses I was going to take to get my college animation portfolio done. Now? Yeah, we don’t do that.”

Katie Underwood
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If you believe the early hype, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan rolled off her parents’ couch in Mississauga, Ontario, and into a star-making lead role in Netflix’s hit high school rom-dram Never Have I Ever. It was 2019, and a friend sent the tweet announcing Mindy Kaling’s casting call. Ramakrishnan, then 17 and tired from a long day at real-life Meadowvale Secondary School, went, so it goes: Eh, why not?

In truth, Ramakrishnan, now 21, has always had big plans. Okay, maybe “preferred manifestations.” She hadn’t banked on besting 15,000 other young girls to play the now-iconic teenage try-hard Devi Vishwakumar. Acting wasn’t her first dream; she wanted to be an animator. Later, she was cast as Priya Mangal, an (animated) South Asian tween, in Pixar’s Turning Red. Things have a funny way of working out—just rarely in the way she imagines.

The final season of Never Have I Ever, set in Devi’s senior year, streams this month. Another freshly adult actor who’s had less success with serendipity might dread an open schedule, but Ramakrishnan is mostly relaxed. What’s the next big thing for the erstwhile “next big thing”? A university degree? A stint as a Disney princess? She’ll figure it out—or the universe will.

Devi’s finally graduating. In a way, you’re graduating, too. Congrats! Where’s your head at as the series winds down? Reflective? Sad? On to the next?

A mix—sad, excited for the unknown. It ended when it needed to. I hate when shows drag out. That’s a pet peeve of mine.

The good thing about the high school conceit is that it can really only last four years—unless you “fail.” 

Right? In real life, I started high school in 2015. Then the show went from 2019 to 2023. I’ve been in high school for eight years. I failed every year, basically. Oh my god.

Was it surreal to attend fake high school right after attending one for real?

It was. In season one, I was so excited to see what a real set was like because I’d never worked on one. I looked at everything like, “This isn’t a real door! It’s all fake!” But, very quickly, it became my stomping ground, that little hallway that we re-dressed in a million different ways. You’d never know!

Speaking of transformations, you had one of the more dramatic pandemic glow-ups. Never Have I Ever debuted a month after we went into lockdown, and you came out of it an it girl. So, you know, how was that?

I don’t know about an it girl. I definitely came out wiser than I went in. For most of lockdown, I was filming. During months off, I played video games with my family and finally learned how to do transitions on TikTok. I had that phase of “Maybe I can start working out!” then slowly realizing, “No, I can’t start working out.”

So you were living with your parents?

I mean, I still live with my parents.

I’m well aware that Mississauga and Hollywood are two very different worlds…

What?! The Meadowvale Town Centre isn’t the Walk of Fame?

…but what do you do when you’re home?

I still do press, take meetings and audition. (After the pandemic, everything is self-tapes.) I also do fun, spontaneous things like visit Toronto Comicon and fan expos. I dragged my best friend to paint pottery the other day. I picked a plate—easy, because it’s flat—and painted “I feel lucky” with charms around it. I think it’s gonna look good, but it might look like garbage, to be honest.

Your parents immigrated here from Sri Lanka before you were born. What do they think of all the Hollywood fuss? How do you even begin to broach something like that?

They’re supportive and protective in all the right ways. They understand the Hannah Montana switch I do because they’re right beside me. They also keep me humble. I’m very much like, “I can walk into Square One, no problem!” And they’re like, “Just stay low-key. Don’t be an idiot.” It’s a really hard thing to wrap your head around, living a regular suburban life and having people say, “You’re famous!” I’m kind of a turd, actually.

I apologize for using the term it girl earlier. I know it’s a bit gross to admit you love fame, but are there any parts that make you go, “Man, this is amazing”?

Being an it girl adds a shit-ton of pressure, mainly the pressure to stay one. To me, being an it girl is people getting hyped about the things you’ve been the whole time—they’re just noticing them in that specific moment. Every time a season of Never Have I Ever comes out, we’re “what’s hot on Netflix.” Then it fades. But we’re all so much more than being hot on the internet.

Okay, but I’m sure the thirst traps you post are better with a glam squad and some art direction behind you, right?

Thirst traps are fun, I can’t even lie. For red-carpet events, I have a photographer—with lighting. I never thought I’d be this person. I was lounging in the fetal position 10 minutes later, but a shot my cousin took of me on vacation is actually one of my most-liked photos. I hope people know how much went into that perfect pose. My toes aren’t even in it! I’m not gonna let the internet see those for free.

On the topic of image versus reality: when you play such an iconic character right out of the gate, you run the risk of fusing with them in people’s minds. What do you want everyone to know about you in your own right? Go ahead—set the record straight.

At one point, I hated Devi for that very reason: people just think I am her. I’m Devi in the same way everyone is. I make mistakes and feel a lot of emotions. I know I’m my own person. I want to play many different personalities in many genres, especially so I can prove—as a young brown woman—that I’m not just saying lines. I’m damn good at my job and I want audiences to watch me do it in 100 different ways.

So versatility is the name of the game for you?

One hundred per cent. Season one was definitely heavier on people thinking I was just Devi because, in all fairness, there wasn’t much out there about me at the time. I was like a one-year-old in my career. A famous baby. I’m still just a four-year-old, so please be nice! Unfortunately, audiences are never going to know who I really am. In fact, I realized no one in my life will know me the way I know me—except for maybe my dog. He sees me in my room, whether I’m having a dance party or a mental breakdown.

Maybe I can tell you what I think I know about you. There seems to be a perception that you’re pretty blunt. Even in My Little Pony: Make Your Mark—which is just voicework—you play the tough, no-nonsense pony.

I do.

People can also learn a lot about you from your Twitter, namely that your mom wanted to burn your old shoes, that you get motion sickness in cars and that, in addition to your spontaneous pottery, you once got a spontaneous tattoo. Are you not a planner by nature?

Whenever I do plan, I realize it’s kind of a waste of time. I love going on adventures with my friends. In the middle of the night, I’ll say, “Hey guys, let’s drive two hours away from here and see what’s happening. Let’s do it for the vibes!” I will say: I am driven, too. I’m a big dreamer.

Being plucked out of 15,000 young women at an open casting call, as you were, might make someone believe in destiny. Do you? Or is this all just a random free-for-all?

I’m a spiritual person. I believe in things like manifesting—you know, speaking things into the universe. I’m that girl who wishes on 11:11 every morning. I say all of my goals as quickly as possible in that minute. I’m sure it does nothing at all, but it is mentally nice to be positive. Like, take Ke Huy Quan, this year’s Best Supporting Actor winner: he talks a lot about never letting go of your dreams. I agree with him.

Do you ever think you’re always manifesting things, but maybe not in the exact way you thought? Example: You wanted to be an animator when you were a kid. Then you were cast in Pixar’s Turning Red.

Yes. I can think of so many things like that. I watched The Office in high school and always said, “One day, I’m going to meet the cast members!” I haven’t met Steve Carell yet, but I’ve slowly started checking off some others: the Mindy Kaling, of course. Angela Kinsey played Ben’s mom in season one of Never Have I Ever. That was a freak-out moment for me.

Were there any notable non-Office manifestations?

In real high school, I came up with something called “Maitreyimas,” which is on December 28—my birthday. I would joke to my friends that one day it was going to be an international holiday. Now my fans tweet “Merry Maitreyimas” to each other from all around the world. Isn’t that cool?

Very. Can you speak something into existence for me? 

What do you want? Some career stuff? Some good ol’ happiness stuff?

Well, my childhood dream was to be the Canadian Oprah—which is a lot like what I’m doing today, actually.

Okay, so it’s going fine already. Anyway: Katie’s going to receive something super amazing and fulfilling. She has no idea what it is, but it’s going to happen.

I appreciate you using your powers for good.

My mom always says it’s important to put good energy out there.

I’m now going to kill the vibe a little and ask about your anxieties.

I love anxiety. Woo!

Never Have I Ever was watched in 40 million households in its first month. Do you ever wonder whether lightning will strike twice?

Oh, yeah. After season one came out, I was like: Wait, what if this is it for me? But then, I have other thoughts I hold on to. I don’t think a girl who is a flash in the pan makes the Time 100 Next list. I’m not even trying to toot my own horn, but: the cover. If that’s the case, people would want to see my face on screen, right? I also think about how much Mindy believes in me. I try to give myself flowers instead of waiting for others to give them to me.

There’s a certain line of conversation that tends to crop up around young, successful women of colour: She’s the one representative for everyone, so she has to be perfect! It’s nonsense, of course, but was that initial spotlight in any way empowering for you? Or was it just limiting?

In the beginning, I knew it was special to represent so many people. But it did turn into: Why am I being asked this question when white people don’t get asked this? Seventeen-year-old me was tweaking out about the fact that she had to stand for so many South Asian people. Too much pressure. And not all brown girls see themselves in Devi! Maybe they’re not fans of the show or my acting or my face—no hard feelings! Anyway, those representation questions don’t really bother me anymore. Someone has to answer them if we all want to move forward. That’s a privilege that I take very, very seriously.

When all is said and done, what’s your dream role? I heard it’s Rapunzel.

I’ve been on that agenda since, like, 2020. I have a sticky note on my vision board that just says: Rapunzel. I listen to the Tangled soundtrack once a week, so that, in the event that someone eventually asks me to sing the songs, I can be like, “Yeah, I got you.” I told my team and my agents to let everyone know.

Well, now we know it’s going to happen because you’ve said it.

I feel like this one’s gonna need me to say it a good couple hundred times. Honestly, there are so many books that I want to adapt for the screen. I even want to be on Hot Ones, that YouTube show where you eat spicy chicken. That’s a goal, and I’m gonna put it out there. That’s courage.

Years ago, you deferred acceptance to York University’s theatre program to shoot your show. Then you changed your degree program to human rights and equity studies. You just finished your first full year. Isn’t that funny—you’re back in school again.

I try to fit in as many courses as I can when work isn’t crazy. People ask me when I’m going to graduate and I don’t know. I have no plans to die soon. By the time I was 10, I knew exactly which high school courses I was going to take to get my college animation portfolio done. Now? Yeah, we don’t do that.