If you dig coming-of-age shows, here’s one more that might strike a chord. Meet the 18-year-old Maitreyi Ramakrishnan who has landed the plum role of Devi Vishwakumar in Mindy Kaling’s first Netflix Original, Never Have I Ever, that premiers this month. From being picked from an audition of 15,000 people to being the newest face of the diaspora, Ramakrishnan is still reeling from the exhilarating fairytale-twist that life has taken for her. ELLE speaks to the new Tamil-Canadian teen star from Mississauga.
You were selected for a lead role that 15,000 others auditioned for. How does that feel?
Honestly, it’s crazy to think that out of 15,000 I was the one who was chosen. It really shows how much of a demand there is for some south asian representation on screen and that there is no excuse that we “can’t find people” to fill certain roles in Hollywood. I’m excited to be able to tell a story that many people will be able to relate to.
What’s your favourite thing about Mindy Kaling?
One thing? Well that’s really tough to narrow down, because throughout filming I gained even more respect and admiration for her. And I was already her fan well before the show. She constantly gives back, creating opportunities for so many to shine and be creative. Of course, as both an actor and a person she is absolutely hilarious and fun but she is incredibly smart, kind and thoughtful.
What did you and Mindy connect on most?
Mindy and I talked about our experiences growing up in North America. Her being born in the USA and myself in Mississauga, Canada. Especially when it came around to finding our identities within our culture and that’s something I think a lot of people will be able to connect to when watching the show! We are two brown girls taking up space authentically, Mindy being my fairy godmother helping me be the hero of my own story so that someday I can do that for others. Also we definitely connected on our love for food trucks!
How much of your own experiences growing up have you managed to bring into the character?
There were sometimes where I brought my own experiences into the character of Devi. One of those that really stood out for me was when Devi tries to understand the complex space of not really knowing where you stand within your culture. When I was younger I was confused as to what being Tamil meant to me and how it fit with all that was around me as a Canadian. Now I confidently know exactly who I am when I identify as Tamil-Canadian. For Devi, she goes through a very similar journey which I feel many diaspora from all ethnicities around the world will be able to relate to.
Growing up, did the lack of South Asian representation in popular culture bother or affect you?
Growing up, it sucked to not be able to see someone who at least superficially looked like me onscreen. I think over time many south-asians have just normalised not seeing themselves represented on screen which isn’t okay because that is like living in the shadows. Never Have I Ever, is a show about a regular family who happen to be South Asian, not a show about a South Asian family who happens to be regular – see the difference?
What do you do when you’re not working?
I have a lot of hobbies like playing piano, drawing and painting, singing, but on the other hand I also like to ride my motorcycle! I’m also really into video games, specifically Nintendo. Right now, I’m playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons but my go-to game is always Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I have a pretty big family within easy reach of my home so we also like to meet up often, play a bunch of board games together when we get the chance, and of course enjoy food.
What are your favourite artists to listen to?
My go to artists are Rex Orange County, Childish Gambino, and Panic! at the Disco. Right now, I’ve been listening to a lot of Doja Cat’s music. My music taste is all over the place!
What’s your most used emoji?
Definitely the goofy face emoji for all the crazy shenanigans I pull with my friends.
What’s next for you?
Continuing to find roles that take up space and challenge the status quo. I think an action or thriller film would be amazing but I’d also love to try doing voice over work for animated films. I want to act in challenging roles, roles that are funny, dramatic, thought provoking and memorable. I want roles that aren’t stereotypical south asian but those that tell the story of the extraordinary.
Photographs: Vinsia Maharajah