Maitreyi Ramakrishnan Is All Grown Up
As the first big chapter in her acting career comes to a close, the young Canadian star can’t wait for the next one to begin.
by : Joanna Fox- Aug 11th, 2023
Reiner Carlos and Brittany Alyse
I first met Maitreyi Ramakrishnan when we were deep into the pandemic. I interviewed the young Tamil-Canadian actor ahead of the second season of Never Have I Ever, the hit Netflix show in which she plays the lead character, Devi Vishwakumar. Speaking via Zoom from her family home in Mississauga, Ont., she sat in her bedroom, just like any other 19-year-old, and gushed about her love of The Office character Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell), noted the irony of the fact that she’s now working with Never Have I Ever co-creator Mindy Kaling (who was both Carell’s co-star and a writer on The Office) and shared her longing for the return of dance parties. So when I sit down IRL with Ramakrishnan at a hotel in New York City almost exactly two years later, it feels like a full-circle moment. Not only can we hug and speak face to face but Ramakrishnan is celebrating the end of her show (the fourth and final season) and she has gone from being featured in a short profile in our September 2021 issue to being our September 2023 cover star. “But I still live at home,” she tells me, laughing. “I’m still in my bedroom—the exact same bedroom that I called you from before.”
It’s about the only thing that hasn’t changed in the 21-year-old’s life—that and the fact that she’s still incredibly sweet, candid and funny. What I do notice when meeting her in person for the first time is that Ramakrishnan is not that teenager anymore. She has just changed into low-key clothing—although she has glam hair and makeup as she’s fresh from a press junket—but she still steals the spotlight, with everyone in the lobby turning to look at her when she comes down to greet me.
It’s lucky we were able to find a couple of hours to meet—the rising star’s schedule has been jam-packed thanks to all the media around Never Have I Ever’s final season, which was released this past June and immediately became Netflix’s number one show around the world. It’s a testament to how far-reaching and universal this coming-of-age comedy about a first-generation Indian-American teen is. “It’s not just a South Asian show for young South Asian girls to relate to,” says Ramakrishnan. “It’s for everyone.” She’s absolutely right—I love this series too. It makes me feel nostalgic for the past, cringe at all the awkward moments and remember the ups and downs of first loves, but it also pulls at my parental heartstrings. I tell Ramakrishnan that I think it’s a smart, touching show based on experiences we all share. “Exactly!” she exclaims. “These characters are so freakin’ human, and the things they go through are so human. That’s why people can relate no matter how old they are or how they identify. It’s just human emotions.”
But it’s not just the show; it’s also the star. Since Ramakrishnan—who had no previous professional experience—hit the acting jackpot and was plucked from an open casting that drew 15,000 other Devi hopefuls, viewers have been able to watch her character grow up. The show (which was co-created by Lang Fisher) is loosely based on Kaling’s life, and it’s obvious that the award-winning actor, writer and producer and Ramakrishnan have formed a special bond. “Maitreyi has a natural charisma that makes her unforgettable,” says Kaling. “She’s just so comfortable in her skin, which is so dynamic and wonderful to see in a young person. I love her so much. Our relationship transcends the normal producer-lead-actor relationship—she’s like a member of my family. When she comes to L.A., she stays at my house, which I love because I can keep track of her like a nosy auntie.” The warmth and admiration is mutual. “Mindy and I definitely make a good team,” says Ramakrishnan. “I’m so grateful for her, and I know that this is not the last time we’ll work together on something.”
Ramakrishnan admits that it was hard to close this chapter but says it was also very cathartic. The last episode of the series is emotional and sad, but it’s also a celebration. “It’s a nice send off,” says Ramakrishnan. “We’re all very lucky to have been on a show that highlights these stories and has such a big platform around the world. So, for all of us, it was like, ‘Hey, you really have to cherish this moment now or it’s gonna be too late.’”
Although fans of the series are only now dealing with the loss of the show’s beloved characters—played by a brilliant ensemble cast—filming ended back in August 2022, so Ramakrishnan has had a year to unpack those emotions and is now looking forward to the future. “I’m excited for just, you know, whatever is gonna be thrown my way,” she says.
“Mindy and I definitely make a good team. I’m so grateful for her, and I know that this is not the last time we’ll work together on something.”
Even when Ramakrishnan was working on the show, she had other projects on the go–notably, she voiced the character Priya in fellow Canadian Domee Shi’s Oscar-nominated Disney Pixar animated feature, Turning Red (which also featured Sandra Oh), as well as a main character in more than 50 episodes of the animated series My Little Pony. Now, she’s ready to either be part of a zombie apocalypse or play a cool villain, and she’s putting her ultimate pie-in-the-sky role out into the universe: She wants to play Rapunzel in a musical film. “That’s the dream,” she says, lighting up. “I love singing, and I’m using this press tour as an opportunity to tell people which roles I want. And, yeah, my dream role is Rapunzel. Every purple dress I wear is intentional. There’s a method to the madness.”
She’s following in the footsteps of Justin Bieber and collaborating with Tim Hortons, and she has also partnered with a brand that’s very close to her heart: Nintendo. A true gamer, she has a Kirby tattoo, and Zelda is going to be her next one.
When Ramakrishnan stops and reflects on the past few years, she can’t believe that this is actually her life and that she’s been so fortunate with her career. Meanwhile, Kaling, who got to watch it all happen from the other side of the camera, could not be more proud. “Maitreyi came in as an incredibly bright, magnetic actor with so much raw talent,” she says. “Now, four years later, she’s a powerful young actor and a force in Hollywood. She is totally in control of her instrument.”
Ramakrishnan’s self-assurance is evident; she’s still the same person I spoke with two years ago, but the way she expresses and carries herself is full of new-found strength and energy. “When I was 17, I used to really rag on myself about season one, like I didn’t know anything,” she says. “Now, I’m actually quite proud of what I did. When I look back, I’m like: ‘Yo, you know what? You learned quickly, and you were actually really good at it.’”
After filming ended, Ramakrishnan was able to throw herself into the “normal” life she couldn’t have during production. She went back to Toronto’s York University and completed two full semesters studying human rights and equity (students often stopped her and asked if she was there to play a role), went to Spain on her first real adult vacation (“I got a lovely thirst-trap photo out of it”), started going to the gym (and learned how to love it) and took vocal lessons (to prepare for the aforementioned Rapunzel musical she wants to star in—the girl can sing).
Another thing that has piqued Ramakrishnan’s interest is fashion—she’s been posting more and more glam photo shoots and pics on Instagram. I mention this to her. “Thank you!” she says, relieved that her efforts have not gone unnoticed. “I do love fashion, and I love exploring different brands and designers.” Having a style identity also gives her the opportunity to support brands she has a connection to, like India-based Tamil designer Ashwin Thiyagarajan, one of whose menswear shirts (from his Drip collection) she wore to a Never Have I Ever promo event. “I saw an [Instagram] post of Thiyagarajan’s where he created this outfit [with] an absolutely gorgeous South Asian man wearing [this shirt and white pants], and I was like: ‘I want to be him. I want to look like him.’”
In terms of what’s next for Ramakrishnan in the acting world, she doesn’t know—and she’s fine with that. There’s so much pressure in Hollywood to always have the next job lined up, so after production on Never Have I Ever wrapped, Ramakrishnan felt the stress. She was worried she’d go out on the red carpet at the show’s season four premiere and have nothing to say—to the media or her peers—about what she was working on. “It’s just like: ‘Oh, you’ve done nothing all this time? What have you been doing—just sitting on your ass?’” she says. “I was going through all these anxieties.” And it’s no wonder. When she started this journey, one of the first pieces of advice she received was to make sure to always jump into something new—no matter what it was—because otherwise people would forget about her. “What the fuck is this to say to a 17-year-old?” asks Ramakrishnan. “That’s insane. You don’t say that to an adult, let alone a child. That is very toxic.”
“I’ve been working crazy hard since I was 17, so I'm cool to just take a little breather. I know myself. I know I’m a hard worker. I know I will never stop working.”
What ended up being the best advice she’s received—and what she’s been holding on to these past few months—was from experienced casting directors around the time the series wrapped. “First of all, [they said that] the projects will come,” says Ramakrishnan. “There are a million reasons why projects don’t work out. And that’s okay. It’s not anything personal. It’ll happen on its own time. [They told me that] I’m talented and I need to recognize and see myself how everyone else sees me, because if I don’t see it, then I’m doing myself a disservice.” Then they told the young actor to go out and live her life and that real, authentic experiences would only enrich her performances.
“I’ve been working crazy hard since I was 17,” says Ramakrishnan, “so I’m cool to just take a little breather. I know myself. I know I’m a hard worker. I know I will never stop working.” When Ramakrishnan saw those casting directors again at the Never Have I Ever premiere almost a year later, she thanked them for their invaluable advice. “I was like, ‘I hope you guys realize how sad and depressed I was and how much you definitely helped my mental health.’”
Now, the actor can see the bigger picture and her place in it more clearly, and she feels empowered to speak her mind. “I refuse to feel like my value [can be] discarded,” she says confidently. “I used to be very nervous about putting my dreams out there because there are people who are always praying for your downfall. But now I know that I have to put myself out there, stand up for myself and stick to my guns while still very much saying what I want.” Then she leans in close to me and says, “This purple dress was on purpose.”
Find the full story in the September 2023 issue of ELLE Canada — out on newsstands and on Apple News+ August 14. You can also subscribe for the latest in fashion, beauty and culture.
Join our mailing list for the latest and biggest in fashion trends, beauty, culture and celebrity.
Zadie Smith Is Examining History Through a New Lens
The novelist talks her new book, hypocrisy and how she feels about aging.
by : Sruti Islam- Oct 3rd, 2023
Everything Coming to Netflix Canada in October 2023
Here, we highlight the new titles coming to Netflix Canada this month to help you decide what to watch.
by : Patricia Karounos- Oct 2nd, 2023
This Powerful Skincare Line Will Transform Your Routine for the Better
Say hello to firmer, brighter and more lifted skin.
by : ELLE Canada- Sep 27th, 2023