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Never Have I Ever: Jaren Lewison on Devi's Decision, Ben's Proclamation, and Pranking the Fanbase

He also discusses the sex scene which left him giggling

Max Gao
Jaren Lewison and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Never Have I Ever

Jaren Lewison and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Never Have I Ever


[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Never Have I Ever Season 4. Read at your own risk!]

For Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison), beginning the next chapter of his life at Columbia University wouldn't have felt complete without one key person: Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), his longtime academic rival and, as it turns out, the only girl he has ever truly loved.

In the series finale of Never Have I Ever, the hit Netflix dramedy series that graduated on June 8, Ben decides to fly from New York City back to Los Angeles to confess his feelings to Devi, who was enjoying one last summer night with her family and friends — sans Ben — at her grandmother's wedding before moving to New Jersey to start her freshman year at Princeton. "I was in New York, and all of a sudden, I got this feeling that I needed to tell you that I… like you," Ben says nervously. "Actually… I think I love you, Devi."

Following the premiere of the final season, Lewison sat down with TV Guide to discuss why he thinks Devi and Ben were destined to end up together, the evolution of his friendship and working relationship with Ramakrishnan, and the rom-com inspirations that he used when thinking about the execution of that big "I love you" scene in the finale.

Never Have I Ever Let Its Love Triangle Grow With Devi

The final season is essentially bookended with two intimate scenes between Devi and Ben — there's the moment immediately after they hook up in the Season 3 finale, and then the moment when they come back together after saying "I love you" to each other and escaping Nirmala's wedding. How did you and Maitreyi want to show a contrast between those two scenes to illustrate the growth of your characters this season?
Jaren Lewison: We started off talking with Erica Oyama, who directed the first episode, and [showrunners] Lang [Fisher] and Mindy [Kaling]. We wanted to toe the line between it being really awkward, but also just relatable and representative of a high school experience where you're friends with someone for a long time and then you take this extra step, which is very intimate, very personal. It feels weird, but it's not like they're freaked out that they are so regretful, but they just don't know how to process it, so it was very interesting to explore what tone felt right.

When you look at the end of the season, and you look at the aftercare from after they've hooked up that second time, it is very different. It's very tender; it's very warm. They even reference [the premiere] — Devi's like, "Are you gonna tell me to hit the hay again?" And Ben's like, "Oh my God, did I say that? I'm so sorry." I think that it shows how much they've grown as people and as prospective partners. They have learned how to deal with romance and intimacy, and I do think that's something that's underrepresented in media — how intimidating and nerve-wracking and how powerful young love can feel, especially in high school. It is one of the most potent forms of love and emotion that you can really experience. The theme for Season 4 is growth and identity maturation. They've now gotten into college, they're ready to embark on the next chapter of their lives, and Ben says, "I've gotta have you in it. We gotta give this a try." That shows real growth. It's sort of a reclamation of that first moment where they can almost have a do-over and say, "You know what? We both freaked out. We're different people even now, and we're ready to explore what this means as young adults."

To be fair, you technically shot three different intimate scenes with Maitreyi in the last two seasons — the middle one being Ben's dream sequence in Episode 8. What was it like to shoot that ridiculous scene?
Lewison: [Laughs.] Oh, we were giggling our butts off. The director for that episode, Adam Countee, did such a good job, and he was like, "We want it to look like Euphoria, but we want it to feel like Never Have I Ever." The tone was interesting and slightly contradictory because that dream sequence is in the middle of Ben having just taken an absurd amount of edibles with Trent and explaining this sequence to him. It has to not feel super overtly sexy, but a little bit where it's like, "Whoa!" [Puts his hands up and laughs.] I think that the set design, the costume design, and the writing really do that, and then you can also laugh at it too. It's harder than it seems at the beginning when you read it on the page to hit all of those beats, but I think that we did a really good job.

More on Netflix:

How has your friendship with Maitreyi evolved in the time that you've worked together?
Lewison: We connected really immediately from pretty much the first day that we met. We are very similar just personality-wise. I think our work ethic, the way that we see the world, the way that we like to treat people, the goals and aspirations that we have, and the way that we approach certain situations are very similar — and even our senses of humor.

We did this concept called "Goodbye Letters" and — because we genuinely didn't know what the other one was writing — we both said in that goodbye letter, "Thank you for helping me believe in myself when I was in doubt," or something of the sort. It is really nice having someone that cares for you in that way, that is so fiercely in your corner, that when you're not having a good day, the other one would be like, "Hey, you're freaking talented, you need to pick it up right now. You're doing great. Here's the things that I appreciate and love about you." That's amazing because then when you translate that onscreen, the banter is so quick and easy. And when you have those more intimate scenes, you can take that foundation of trust and care and project that into a romantic scene. That "I love you" scene in the finale is probably my favorite scene of my entire career, so getting to do that with one of my closest friends is really special. 

We'll get to that "I love you" scene in a minute, but there's something interesting that I learned from Maitreyi. During this final press tour, when journalists would ask her if she was on team Ben or team Paxton (Darren Barnet), she would usually choose one side and find some sort of reasoning, but for the next interview, she would choose and argue for the opposite side. Did you know that she was going to do that during the junket interviews with you and Darren?
Lewison: [Laughs.] Oh yes. She did ask Darren and I to play it up and do it with her. Obviously, you're never gonna know if she did have a team, but I do firmly believe that team Devi is absolutely the correct answer. Maitreyi has never told me or Darren if she actually does have an opinion [between Ben and Paxton], but she is someone who loves to mess with fans and prank them. So I know that she had a lot of enjoyment in making them crazy and having a fandom be like, "We won!" And then the other fandom would be like, "No, we won!" And then the other one would be like, "Oh, she pranked us…" [Laughs.

You discovered that Devi was going to end up with Ben in Episode 10, while you guys were shooting Episode 8. What did you want to convey in Ben's big romantic gesture in the final minutes of the finale?
Lewison: I think that when you're looking at that scene specifically, that is the culmination of four years of ups and downs and everything in between. It's a cliché, but there's this saying: If you love something, you have to set it free, and if it loves you, it'll return. I do think that there are a lot of things wrong with that sentiment, but in this case, it does represent their relationship a little bit. Ben's like, "Alright, I gotta go." And they let each other go their separate ways, and then they decide, "No, we love each other."

Ben's flying across the country. He's having this grand romantic gesture, which is his declaration of love. He lays it out on the table, she receives it and then also says "I love you" back, which is just such a massive moment for the two of them, [with] the ways that they made each other crazy or even hurt each other without meaning to at times. There is a lot of pressure when you read that scene, but I thought it was one of the most beautiful moments that I've ever read, and I was really hopeful that it would be reminiscent of the When Harry Met Sally declaration at New Year's, the Say Anything boombox moment, the 10 Things That I Hate About You singing moment — those iconic moments of enemies-to-lovers in rom-com history.

Mindy and Lang were the shepherds that guided us to the correct tone and the feeling that that scene was supposed to embody. There are so many different emotions coming through one phrase of "I love you." How are you supposed to be able to encapsulate that in just a phrase? But I really do think that that was the best it could have possibly been done. For a lot of the viewers, I know that meant a lot to them and that was a really big moment, and I just really appreciated Maitreyi for giving me so much to play with in that scene.

Jaren Lewison, Never Have I Ever

Jaren Lewison, Never Have I Ever


At one point in the season, Ben tries to tell Devi that he wants a girlfriend who makes him feel more at ease or makes him feel better about himself, but honestly, I think he's a person who needs to be pushed. Was there a specific moment where you felt an internal switch in Ben, where he realizes that his feelings for Devi were maybe more romantic than antagonistic? 
Lewison: I think the first inkling of that is Season 1, Episode 5, the Model U.N. episode where they work together for the first time. Ben says to Devi, "Hey, I guess we're a pretty good team for two people who hate each other." [Laughs.] I think that's the first moment where they look back and say, "We're maybe a little bit more similar than we thought, and we do make a good team." And then Ben has that scene at the [Vishwakumar] dinner table where Devi's like, "Oh, no chance," and then they bond more. You go through the rest of that season, and Devi is not going to get to say goodbye to her father properly and spread his ashes in Malibu, and Ben, under the threat of the law, drives her very slowly and surely to be able to say goodbye. He does get her there in time, which I think is a really beautiful thing and shows how much they care for each other. Enemies-to-lovers is a powerful trope for a reason.

How about this season? Did you also feel a certain switch at some point, even if it took until the finale for him to act on it?
Lewison: Yeah, it's also in the midway point again, around Episode 4 where he gets paint on his shirt. And of course, Devi literally gives him the shirt off of her back. So, again, how can you argue with someone that is willing to give you everything and knows how important this moment is to you when you're not on good speaking terms? That's someone who I think really cares for you and maybe loves you. 

And then there's their heart-to-heart scene in Episode 5, after Ben tells Devi how he feels out of place at Columbia.
Lewison: And Ben takes a punch in the face to try to protect her! They love each other!

How do you think college will work out for the two of them, now that they are a couple?
Lewison: It's hard for me to predict that because throughout this entire series, I would try to predict various character storylines, and I was never once correct. So I don't think I'm the best person to ask. It's really hard to predict whether it's like stormy waters and they come out the other side, or maybe they meet people at their respective schools that really challenge them and facilitate their growth and their learning, and they decide to break up and date those people.

For me, in college, I met some of my best friends that really profoundly changed the way that I view the world and that I interact with people, and I think that Ben and Devi will find that as well. Maybe that will drive them apart; maybe that will drive them closer together. But the romantic in me says, well, Ben and Devi always find each other, so even if they break up, they'll find each other once again. But I have no idea. I'll just say, "In the writers, we trust," if we do a film or something 15 years from now. [Narrator] John McEnroe did say "for now," though there are no plans, I promise you! If that ever comes to fruition, I guess we'll find out. [Laughs.]

Given that this show is set in Los Angeles, there will always be some interesting cameos or guest stars. Early on in the season, NBA star Dwight Howard appears and gives some dating advice to Ben about Devi. What was it like to work with him?
Lewison: I'm gonna say first off: His dating advice sucked, but that was the writing and I never got the chance to ask Dwight himself about actual love advice. So I will give him the benefit of the doubt in saying that maybe his love advice is actually good, but the writers had him give bad advice.

You never know, when you're gonna work with an athlete, how they're going to approach things. But Dwight was nothing but a professional. He was so kind and gentle. People use the phrase gentle giant all the time—and by the way, he is insanely tall. I'm 5'7", and he is 6'10", so I literally was looking up at him. But he was so sweet to everybody, shaking everybody's hands, saying hello to everyone. He was so directable, he was so excited to be there. He was prepared, and I thought he was pretty dang funny. I was talking to Erica Oyama, who directed that episode, and she said to me, "Dwight is killing it." And I was like, "I was gonna say the same thing!"

Did you get to take anything from the set after you wrapped?
Lewison: I have a series finale script that the entire crew wrote messages on or signed their names on. It's in a frame, and it's one of my most prized possessions. 

It's like a kind of yearbook.
Lewison: Exactly!

While shooting Never Have I Ever, you also found a way to get an undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California with a major in psychology and a minor in forensics and criminality. It's difficult to predict what the future holds, and there's only so much that you can control as an actor, but have you thought about what stories you'd like to tell that may allow you to put that education to good use? Are you done playing high schoolers, or are you still going to consider playing them if they are different enough from Ben?
Lewison: Yeah, if they're very different from Ben, for sure. I am very athletic in real life, and I love sports. If it's a sports movie, whether it's soccer, football, hockey, powerlifting, or bodybuilding, I would love to do something like that. I think that my process is very much psychological in terms of how I approach characters, so that's why I got the degree. I think that it's really helpful for me in humanizing characters that are more dark or twisted and also understanding characters that are just different from me [in terms of] recognizing their background and how they were raised can influence the way that they behave in certain situations. I think that'll carry me throughout my life, and I always say I'm a sucker for good writing. I was very spoiled with Mindy and Lang being the leaders of my big break, with this show.

But there are a lot of writers that I look up to and directors that do both [acting and directing], like Cooper Raiff, who's just a few years older than me and absolutely tearing up the industry. I'm a big White Lotus fan, so anything with Mike White. Greta Gerwig, obviously, is at the top of my list, as she is everyone's. And of course, there are up-and-coming writers and directors that are actively creating things right now that are going to be amazing and hopefully, I get the chance to be a tool in their toolbox to help them create their vision. I'm excited to see who says yes. Mindy and Lang took a chance on a kid from Dallas, and I think it worked out pretty well. [Laughs.] So if anyone else out there is unsure, I'm looking forward to proving what I can do.

All four seasons of Never Have I Ever are now streaming on Netflix.