‘Never Have I Ever’ Stars Poorna Jagannathan & Richa Moorjani on Romancing Common and the Importance of Representation

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 2 finale of Never Have I Ever, “…been a perfect girl.”]

Co-created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, who’s also the showrunner, the Netflix original coming of age comedy series Never Have I Ever follows Indian American teenager Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), as she continues to deal with all of the drama at home and in high school. Juggling new romantic relationships with new friends and still trying to channel her rage in a healthier way, Devi definitely makes mistakes but she also learns from them while, at the same time, pushing those around her to want more for themselves.

During this virtual interview with Collider, which you can both watch and read, co-stars Poorna Jagannathan (who plays Nalini Vishwakumar) and Richa Moorjani (who plays Kamala) talked about realizing the level of success of the show, what they most relate to with the characters, what Common brought to Season 2, Kamala’s journey to find her own voice, what they would like to see in a possible third season, and who they’d each like to have narrate their own life.

Collider: I loved the first season and am happy that I can say I loved the second season as well. Because the show was not based on source material and no one knew who these characters would be and what to expect from them, the audience went into the first season with no expectations. When did you realize how much of a success the show had become and that it was connecting with audiences on a global level?

RICHA MOORJANI: Probably right after the trailer of Season 1 came out, before the show even came out. When the promos and the trailer came out, all of our followings skyrocketed, and we were all getting messages from people saying that they were dying to see the show and that this was exactly the kind of show they’d been waiting for their whole lives. When I saw the response we were getting just from the trailer, I was like, “Okay, hopefully it lives up to the expectations, but this is something that is clearly so special and so needed right now.” And then of course, when the show came out and became a global success almost overnight, it was just so incredible and such an honor for us, being a part of this show.

POORNA JAGANNATHAN: For me, it was when white people pronounced our names correctly, with a level of respect and trying to get it right. Our names are so butchered, it’s not even funny. I respond to anything that sounds like it vaguely starts with a P. So, when they really took the time, I really felt like, “Wow, the show must have really resonated. They must’ve thought it was an important show.” We were all in quarantine, so I certainly had no fan interaction at all, except for Instagram, but there were definitely a couple of comments which really made me understand that people were watching things very differently. Like the fact that the South Asian dad, Mohan, shows up as a loving presence in Devi’s life and a present parent, I didn’t pick up on that in the writing, but people were just yearning to be seen and to see different representations of what South Asians could look like.

There is something for everyone in this show and it’s easy to find something and someone to connect to. What do you most connect to? Is it something directly related to your own character, or is it something related to someone else on the show?

MOORJANI: I would say I relate to a combination of all of the family’s characters. Unlike Kamala, I did not grow up in India. I grew up here, more like Devi. That being said, there’s so much with Kamala that I do relate to, as a young South Asian woman who did feel a lot of pressure to get married. I don’t know if this is just a South Asian thing, but both of us have really high expectations of ourselves and we feel like we have to be the perfect child, the perfect sibling, or the perfect whatever it is that we set out to do. We are both really ambitious and we go after what we want, but then at the same time, we have this disease to please. I think that is a cultural thing, where we feel like we have to fulfill these expectations and make people happy, but that gets in the way of our own happiness. But then, I also completely related to so much of Devi’s character, growing up in this country. She said it in the first season, “Somebody says I’m not Indian enough. And then, another person says I’m too Indian. But all I wanna do is eat a donut.” And I have felt that way, many times in my life.

Image via Netflix

Donuts solve many problems, so I get that.

MOORJANI: Definitely.

JAGANNATHAN: I find a lot of myself in a lot of the characters. I am nothing like Nalini in real life. Nalini is ancient for me. It’s the non-sequiturs that my mother spouts. It’s the way that my stepfather used to speak and my uncles, who made no sense. The thing that I did with the character is say the lines really quickly. Everything comes out of her mouth really quickly. There’s no thinking. She just knows parenting advice. She just knows it right away. She knows what she wants and she knows what she thinks, even if it’s nonsensical. It’s the South Asian parenting where there’s no middle ground. There’s zero, middle ground. She’s my aunt. She’s my mom. She’s a composite of all these wonderful women that I’ve grown up with, and I enjoy bringing that aspect.

RELATED: ‘Never Have I Ever’ Showrunner Lang Fisher on How That Love Triangle Is Still Up In the Air

I love that Nalini gets a bit of a love interest this season and that it’s in the form of Common — because who doesn’t want Common as a love interest. What was it like to give her a romantic storyline in Season 2?

JAGANNATHAN: I just wish all the Common scenes were actually for HBO. They would be totally different.

MOORJANI: It would be a very different show.

JAGANNATHAN: Just for that section, we could hop over. It was wonderful. He’s so hot and so nice and so generous and so compassionate. I’ve never quite met someone like him. It was wonderful to be acting opposite him. I didn’t realize until Common stepped into the role that Nalini feels seen, probably for the first time, in a way that even Mohan couldn’t professionally. She values what she does so much, and here’s Dr. Jackson who’s like, “You did that? I’m jealous.” I loved exploring that aspect of her. I hope there’s a lot more.

How did you find him, as a scene partner?

JAGANNATHAN: If I dig down deep enough, I probably have a hard time with goodbyes. As a child, I moved around. So, the scene where I break up with Common, it’s not because it’s Common, it would make any woman weep after having to say goodbye to Dr. Jackson. That was an excruciatingly hard scene for both of us to film. The whole crew was crying with every take. There was this possibility that Nalini could have a little joy and she wasn’t ready. This show is about, how do you move forward and not necessarily move on? It’s an exploration of that aspect of grief. It was really heartbreaking to shoot that beautiful scene.

There’s something so centered about him that it’s such an interesting balance to her.

JAGANNATHAN: Yeah, exactly.

Image via Netflix

Richa, I love that Kamala is really having the same issue in her professional life that she’s having in her personal life. She’s learning how to stand up for herself and speak up about what she actually wants. What was it like for you to go on that journey with her, as she found her own voice in both aspects of her life?

MOORJANI: Well, it’s definitely something that I would say, as a person in real life, I’m also on a journey with, learning how to use my own voice and just taking up space, and to not be afraid to ask for what I deserve and for what I want. So, there was a lot of catharsis happening with playing Kamala in this season. It was a journey for both of us. I just thought it was so much fun to do this. In Season 1, she’s more there as a foil to Devi’s character, whereas in this season, she’s learning to be more like Devi and too channel her own inner rage, and be a bad-ass and a rebel just like Devi is. It was so much fun. I hope we get to see more of that, if and when we have a Season 3.

At the end of the season, we see her literally run away from the life that she’s expected to live. She shows up at teacher karaoke, but we don’t know where that goes from there. What do you hope is next for her?

MOORJANI: Yeah, we don’t know where that goes. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I don’t think she ran away because she’s over Prashant and she doesn’t want to be with him anymore. I think it was just all of the pressure she’s been feeling, collectively from her work and from this relationship and from her family. It’s just getting to a boiling point. She’s already lost her shit at the lab and I think she’s still on a high or on an adrenaline rush from that, and she’s like, “I’m just gonna mess everything up now.” She gets a little bit of confidence from when she loses her shit at the lab. So, I don’t know where it’s gonna go, but I hope to see her be able to make decisions for herself, and continuing on this path of using her voice and standing up for herself and what she wants.

I just loved that moment of her literally running away because who hasn’t thought about doing that, at some point.

MOORJANI: Fully clad in a sari and jewelry and a lot of heaviness happening, and barefoot because she’s barefoot when she’s at home. When we filmed it, we decided that she grabs house slippers, so she runs away in her house slippers and sari, and goes to karaoke night.

Image via Netflix

Do you guys have your own personal wishlist of what you would still like to see with your characters, or things you would like to learn about them or explore with them?

MOORJANI: We kind of already saw this with Nalini, so more so for Kamala, I would love to see a flashback of Kamala, before she moves to the U.S. and her family. I would like to see who her family is and why she is the way that she is. She mentions in Season 2 that she has three sisters. I would love to meet her sisters and see what they’re all about, and if they’re more like Devi or more like Kamala. To see more of Kamala’s backstory would be awesome.

JAGANNATHAN: I can tell you stuff, but my ideas would be so insipid next to what the writers come up with. It’s one of those brilliant writers’ rooms that I have ever come across, in my entire life. What they have cooking for us is a hundred times better. Like Richa, I would love to see what Mohan and Nalini’s life was like, before Devi was born or as Devi was a child. I would love to just explore that dynamic more.

John McEnroe narrates Devi’s life. If you could have any famous person narrate your life, who would it be?

JAGANNATHAN: Mindy Kaling.

MOORJANI: She said it before I could. I was gonna say the same thing.

JAGANNATHAN: I’m just trying to sabotage you, Richa.

MOORJANI: Okay, fine, if I had to say somebody else, strictly because of the voice – I just love her voice – it’s Scarlett Johansson. When she did Her, I just loved her voice. And Mindy is a great voice-over artist and her comedic timing is unmatchable. She’s so different from both Nalini and Kamala, so the contrast would be hilarious.

Image via Netflix

Is there a quality of your character that you wish you had?

MOORJANI: Kamala is just so nice. Obviously, she has her limits and her boundaries, and we see more of that in Season 2, but she’s just such a nice, optimistic person. She’s the kind of person that truly sees the glass half full. I would love to have a little bit of more of that quality in my life.

JAGANNATHAN: Nalini really holds it together. She’s strict, but she really holds it together. She doesn’t like to show emotion, and a lot of times, it’s really hard for me to speak because I get so emotional. I like that quality. I wish I had a little more of that.

Never Have I Ever is available to stream at Netflix.

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