Jaren Lewison Revealed That His Early Messages With Costar Maitreyi Ramakrishnan Were "Cringey"
Long live Pickle Rick!
As a long-time lover of chaotic teen content™, Never Have I Ever was a show right up my personal alley. However, this series is so much more than teen hijinks — it's a nuanced coming-of-age rom-com-dram that folds in ethnic, sexual, and religious identities ALL WHILE BEING FUNNY AS HELL! So, it was an honor and a privilege to hop on a Zoom call with Jaren Lewison — who plays Ben Gross (aka my favorite character) — to discuss memories from the set of NHIE, his love of Robin Williams and Adam Sander, and a little someone called "Pickle Rick." Here's everything we learned:
When you can make someone laugh as hard as you can make someone cry, that's something special.
1. What is the first thing you do in the morning?
I immediately get up, get ready, and go to the gym — probably by 8:30 am, I'm in the gym lifting.
[Writer's note: Jaren and I discussed his recent love of tennis — his preferred method of cardio — and how he hopes to become good enough one day to play a game with Never Have I Ever narrator and tennis legend John McEnroe.]
2. What is the last show you binge-watched?
3. If you could work with any actor — living or dead — who would you choose?
Robin Williams. For me, some of my role models are people who are really able to dive into comedy, but at the same time...their dramatic work is brilliant. I think [Robin Williams] is the best example of that. Good Will Hunting is one of my favorite movies — as is Dead Poet's Society — and his performances are still so meaningful to me. I feel every emotion that he conveys, like, in my soul. Alive? I think Steve Carrell would be another amazing person to work with, as well as John Krasinski. ... When you can make someone laugh as hard as you can make someone cry, that's something special.
4. Describe your style in three words.
[Loud laugh] Comfortable. Rugged. Simple.
5. Who would you cast to play you in a movie?
I would love to pull in Andy Samberg. He could play adult Ben while I narrate and it'll be a fun switcheroo. [Writer's note: Andy Samberg narrates the Ben Gross–centered episode of Never Have I Ever.]
6. What was your favorite memory from the set of Never Have I Ever?
Honestly, it would be whenever we're all together. So, Season 1 would be any of the classroom scenes because we'd all be together, plus Shapiro [the history teacher] is one of the funniest people on the planet. For Season 2, again whenever we were together, like the relay race episode and the big dance — there was this magic in the air and we were all dressed up in suits and dresses and it was the BIG FINALE and it was magical. And for us all to be together, to have that shared experience, was so meaningful. I still look at pictures and they still fill me with warmth.
7. What was your favorite scene to film from Never Have I Ever?
Season 1, I have to go with "Pickle Rick." David Theune is a master of comedy and every single take, I swear to you, I was biting the hell out of my lip to keep from laughing and breaking character. ... It got to the point where [the cast and crew] would hide pictures of Pickle Rick on set just to get me to laugh — like I would open a locker and a picture of him would be staring at me and I would always break character because I wasn't expecting it! It became a long running joke on set [laughs].
8. What was your favorite memory from the set of Tag?
[Writer's note: You may be wondering why I pulled this deep cut out of nowhere, but fun fact, dear reader, Tag is honest to goodness one of my favorite films, so there was no way in hell that I wasn't going to ask Jaren about his time on set.]
Oddly enough, the nut-punch. That action is just so goofy. It was my first time working with a stunt coordinator — they gave me a pad and it was specifically choreographed. It was super cool.
9. What was your initial reaction to getting cast as Ben Gross?
I said, "I don't believe you." Over and over again. Weirdly enough, I was in Nebraska at the International Thespian Festival performing Shakespeare In Love — I played Shakespeare — and I was with all of my friends and I got the call from my acting coach back in Dallas and my agent and manager hopped on the call and said, "You did it, you're Ben Gross." I just started crying and all my friends jumped on me and we popped some sparkling cider and celebrated all day.
10. How did you prepare for the role of Ben Gross?
The first initial thing was trying to pin down the exact writing style of Mindy and Lang and the rest of the team. I read the pilot numerous times; I watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine and other shows Lang has written, as well as Late Night that Mindy wrote and starred in — and obviously, several episodes of The Mindy Project. I just really tried to understand their comedic style.
Now, when it came to Ben, it was really trying to understand the psychology behind his actions. I'm a psych major at USC and I had to understand the thoughts behind his actions, which was especially important for Episode 6. [Writer's note: The episode in question is "The Loneliest Boy in The World," aka Ben Gross's solo episode.] It's definitely a journey and I'm constantly learning more and more about Ben.
11. What were your first impressions of Maitreyi, Darren, Ramona, Lee, and Megan?
Darren: I first met him at my screen test, I thought he was auditioning for Ben Gross. We had this very weird interaction 'cause I was dressed in these hypebeast clothes — I looked like an asshole — and he was in this rugged shirt and had a jawline that could cut diamonds, and we were both looking at each other like, "Okaaaayyyy." But then we met each other at the first table read and we were like, "Hey!"
Maitreyi: I messaged her on IG the second I got cast — it could have gone really poorly, but it ended up being really great. We often go back and cringe at those earlier messages because we're super tight now and we're just like, "Oh god, we used to be so cringey."
Lee: She's the most adorable person you've ever met — if kindness was a person, it would be Lee.
Ramona: I met her a little later — she wasn't at the first table read — but I remember hearing her laugh, and the second you hear her laugh, like, every worry you've ever had goes away. It is so infectious.
Megan: When she was cast, I remember messaging her because I know how intimidating it can be to come into an already set show, and when we met — I think it was around Episode 4 — we were already friends.
12. What was your first impression of Mindy Kaling?
I was like, "Oh my god, it's Wonder Woman." She's so nice and made me feel so comfortable, but truthfully, I was so nervous.
13. What was a typical day like on the set of Never Have I Ever?
I mean, tone-wise, so much positivity, so much energy, drive, perseverance, creativity, collaboration, hard work...every day was the best day.
14. Who was your childhood celebrity crush?
15. Have you picked up any new quarantine hobbies?
I'm teaching myself how to ice skate! I'm a big sports guy — I played football in high school and I'm a power lifter as well — but I've always said that my biggest regret is quitting skating lessons as a kid. I love hockey — big fan of the Dallas Stars — so I decided to get back into it so I could play in an adult amateur league.
16. What was the last thing you looked up on Google?
It was doing research for my summer writing class — I'm in the middle of an essay, so I was just looking for sources.
17. What is the most used emoji on your iPhone?
18. What was the last book you read?
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker.
19. What is your iPhone wallpaper?
It's me and my best friends at Manhattan Beach. Every time I look at it, it makes me happy.
20. What was your most starstruck moment?
When I met Adam Sandler. I played his son in a movie called Men, Women and Children when I was 13 — super small role, I didn't even have any lines, but I got to spend two days sitting next to him. After we finished, I remember he told my mom that I was really talented, and that's carried me though for the past eight years [laughs].
21. Desert island: three shows you cannot live without.
Game of Thrones, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and La Casa de Papel (Money Heist).
22. Do you have any guilty pleasures?
23. What can you not leave your house without?
Aside from my keys [laughs], my watch. I always like knowing what time it is, but I don't like looking at my phone constantly.
Try your best — your best is all you can do.
24. What is your go-to comfort food?
My mom's homemade mashed potatoes. Also, Texas barbecue.
25. What is your go-to karaoke song?
"Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks.
26. What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?
"Try your best — your best is all you can do." My parents tell me that every day.
27. Last, but not least, #TeamDevi or #TeamAneesa?
I'm gonna pull a Maitreyi and say #TeamBen. OR #TeamTrent.