There was a scene in episode six of the first season of Never Have I Ever where Jaren Lewison’s character, Ben Gross, meets Andy Samberg at a Jamba Juice. “It was pretty representative of how I would be in real life,” Lewison tells StyleCaster. “He was like, ‘Oh my God! You’re Andy Samberg! I love you.’ I don’t know if I would have to act much because I would have been so excited and starstruck that I would’ve acted the same way.”
While the scene, which was one of two scenes Lewison read for his audition for Ben, was cut from the final script, Samberg did go on to narrate Ben’s thoughts in the episode—in the same way tennis player John McEnroe narrates the thoughts of Ben’s nemesis-turned-love-interest, Devi Vishwakumar. “When I got that script, that was when I was like, ‘He’s going to be the voice in my head? He’s going to narrate Ben Gross’ thoughts?’ I couldn’t believe it,” says Lewison, who considers Samberg one of his idols and counts Hot Rods among his favorite comedies. “If Andy Samberg could narrate my thoughts 24/7, I would find a way to get that chip installed in my head.”
But Samberg—who returned as the voice in Ben’s head in season 3 of Never Have I Ever, which premiered on Netflix on August 12—wasn’t the first choice to narrate Ben’s thoughts. “It was supposed to be somebody else, and I won’t say who because I don’t know if I’m allowed to,” Lewison says. “But it wasn’t originally Samberg.” Still, Lewison, who still hasn’t met Samberg, can’t imagine anyone else serving as Ben’s internal monologue. “I want to meet him so badly. I don’t think he’s a big social media person. I tried to find him once and I feel like I had a really hard time,” he says.” But I’d love to work with him in real life. If he ever wanted to collaborate at all, I’d be there at the drop of the hat. I’m on a plane to wherever he is in the world.”
Lewison plays Benjamin “Ben” Gross in Never Have I Never, Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher’s coming-of-age series about an Indian-American teenager navigating young adulthood after the sudden death of her father. Lewison, who has been acting since he was five, had just graduated from high school when he received the audition. “At the time it was called Untitled Kaling/Fisher. As soon as I saw that, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ For Netflix? And It was already picked up to a 10-episode order? I knew it was special,” he recalls. Lewison sent his self-tape into the “blackhole that is the audition process” and put the role out of his mind. “I was like, ‘Alright! Whatever! That was fun. Really cool project. That would be crazy if I got it!’” he says. Lewison was at orientation at the University of Southern California, where he graduated from this year, when he received a call telling him that the producers liked his tape and wanted him to fly to Los Angeles to screen test.
When he arrived at the screen test, he learned he was among the final four or five actors still competing for the role of Ben. “Funny enough, I actually met Darren [Barnett] at the screen test, who plays Paxton,” Lewison says. “Each of us thought the other one was auditioning for the other person’s role. I was like, ‘This dude is way too much of a hunk to play Ben Gross. He’s not getting it!’” Lewison read two scenes in front of executive Mindy Kaling, Lang Fisher and Howard Klein, and walked out feeling good about his audition. “Usually I’m very hard on myself when I finish an audition, but afterward, I was like, ‘Wow. I feel so good about that.’ I don’t think I could’ve asked for anything better. If it’s meant to be, it’ll be. If not, I’m not going to be upset because I gave it everything I could,” he says.
Lewison was working as an acting coach and playing Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love at the International Thespians Festival when another acting coach pulled him into a last-minute meeting. “She was like, ‘Jaren…we have a problem. There’s a big staff meeting. I have to dial you in,’” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. What’s wrong?’ Then my manager comes on the phone and he’s like, ‘Hello?’ And I was like, ‘…Hello?’ He just goes, ‘Congratulations, buddy. We’re so proud of you.’ I was like, ‘Get the fuck out of here!’ I just kept saying, ‘I don’t believe you.’ Then I moved out two weeks later.”
Fast forward and Lewison has played Ben for three seasons of Never Have I Ever, which just finished its fourth and final season expected to premiere in 2023. Ahead, Lewison talked to StyleCaster about why he felt “ready” for Never Have I Ever to end, what fans can expect from the final season and that season 3 finale moment that everyone will be talking about.
On the first time he met Mindy Kaling
“I was a little starstruck. I would like to pretend I wasn’t. I came in [to the audition] and I was pretty nervous, so I made some goofy joke about horses because I’m from Texas. Maybe they asked if my mom was with me or something, and I was like, ‘No, I rode my horse all the way from Texas.’ It was the goofiest joke, and they laughed even though I wasn’t funny.. It definitely made me a lot more comfortable.
There was one time with Maitreyi [Ramakrishnan] and I. It was one of the first weeks of shooting. We didn’t know Mindy that well yet. Wwe were going to eat, and Mindy and a bunch of the writers were sitting around this table. I was like, ‘I’m not going to go sit down there because I don’t want to interrupt what they’re doing.’ Maitreyi and I went to sit down at a table by ourselves and Mindy was like, ‘What are you guys doing?! Come over here!’ And Maitreyi was so unphased and was like, ‘Hell, yeah, we’re coming.’ We sat down and Mindy was asking us how we were feeling. Like, ‘Are you OK? I know this can be a lot. You both just recently moved to L.A. How are you doing? Do you need anything?’ She just cares about you as a person. She’s a mom so you feel that motherly energy. Having someone that is such a huge star and so accomplished and storied and does so much for the industry as a whole, that is something that left such an impact on me. I hope one day I can give a younger actor this feeling. That cliché of don’t meet your heroes, not true with Mindy. Meet Mindy.”
On how he relates to Ben
“There are a lot of parts I relate to in terms of trying to be a perfectionist. But I’m getting better at it, just like Ben is. There is a quote that one of my mentors and the person that taped me for Never Have I Ever. He told me that perfection is the enemy of art. As an artist, I can’t be perfect. I can’t be perfect in every tape. I can’t be brilliant in every scene. Sometimes the character isn’t right for me and I don’t do well, and I need to learn from that rather than be angry and upset at myself for not blowing everybody’s minds. Ben is also learning that lesson. I’m a little bit older than him so I got a small headstart. He’s on that journey of realizing that perfection is subjective. I think perfection as a whole is when you try your best. Within that, you still have to take care of yourself and prioritize yourself. For me, mental health and self-care is something I’ve definitely tried to dive into more as an adult. When I was younger I was like, ‘Everything’s fine!’ But as I got older, I was like, ‘In order to be the best friend and son and brother that I can, I need to be strong myself.’’
I’m trying to relinquish control and take a lesson out of my own playbook and Ben Gross’ too.
On the last day of filming Never Have I Ever
“I thought I was going to be so somber that it was ending. Although it was bittersweet, mostly, 95 percent of my heart was filled with overwhelming joy and gratitude. I was so grateful to do such an incredible show and to be a part of something that is so groundbreaking in terms of diversity, inclusion and representation. It is one of my favorite shows of all time just as a fan. On the last day, our line producer for this season and the rest of the office staff organized a street fair for us. We had food trucks and there was a DJ, massages and henna tattoos and we had the gag reel, which included bloopers from season 1 all the way up to season 4. It was this proper send off. When we finally called wrap and Maitreyi gave a speech at the end, which was so perfect, I felt ready. As ready as I could be. I was talking to Maitreyi when we did 4×10 table read. I was like, ‘I feel like this show found us when we needed it most.’ Because we were both having tough times and wondering what was next for us, and she was like, ‘Don’t you feel like then it’s leaving when it knows that you’re ready? And knows you’re OK?’ And it crushed me.I do think in a certain sense, this show has been a guardian angel. it’s shown me I can believe and I can do this because, as a kid, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh. Being an actor feels like a pipedream.’ You’re sending out hundreds of auditions for 13 years into the darkness and you’re getting frustrated and you’re trying to keep going but you need that hope and this show solidified that for me. I definitely feel like it was fate or divine intervention that I was able to be on this show.”
On what he took from the Never Have I Ever set
“I’ve taken the back of my chair every single season, which apparently I didn’t know is not great luck. But I was like, ‘Well, didn’t matter!’ The coolest thing I have is I had everybody in the crew sign the series finale script, and they all have little notes in them. I haven’t read them yet because I’m not ready to bawl my eyes out, but everybody from the office to pre and post had the ability to sign my script and write a little note and I’m going to put it in the nicest frame I can own and cherish it forever because it’s the people that make this show so special. To be able to have people’s messages on the script just felt like the perfect gift. The perfect memento.”
On what fans can expect from Never Have I Ever season 4
“There is nothing that season 4 left for me to be desired. I hate using the word perfect, but it was perfect for every character. I read it and I was like, ‘Wow.’ Especially that four finale. It’s killing me not to tell you, but I can’t. I think the fans are going to go bonkers over it. I cannot wait for everyone to see it. It’s incredible. I’m at a loss for words.
The three words he would use to describe Never Have I Ever season 4
“Brilliant. Heartwarming. Hilarious.”
On the moment he learned Ben and Devi ended up together in the season 3 finale
“It was the night before the table read. I had just finished a long day of work. I was in the middle of doing my Zoom classes because at the time I was a full-time student at USC. I got the script in my inbox late at night. I just remember quickly reading it, and I was texting Maitreyi. We usually discuss the scripts when we get them. I was like, ‘See you on the other side.’ After I read that moment, I was like, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! David. David. David.’ Because that’s what I call her in real life too. And she was like, ‘What? What? What?’ And I was like, ‘You gotta get to the end! I’m dying over here!’ And then she was like, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God? Oh my God!’ And then I was like, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God? Oh my God!’ I’m really excited, especially for fans to be able to see that moment, because they’ve come so far. Ben and Devi, when you look at the beginning of their relationship, it’s kind of aggressive. They’re both pretty mean to each other. Then you find out later in the seasons and we journey as we go along, where they’re showcasing a lot of kindness toward each other. Now to get to this moment where they both feel comfortable enough to even consider that is really special. I cannot wait to see fans freak out over that moment because I know every fancam is going to be, mwah, chef’s kiss.”
On why he thinks Ben is the best match for Devi
“They complement each other so well. Looking at relationship role models in my life. For example, my parents complement each other so well and they challenge each other, and they challenge each other to grow and to learn and to get out of their comfort zones and to try new things. Ben and Devi do that for each other. Ben and Devi make each other crazy and don’t handle certain things well, but that definitely comes with getting older and learning about yourself and what your needs and what the other person’s needs are and how to respond to certain situations. They’re young and they’ve got hormones raging. They’re figuring themselves and each other out, but I do think at the core of their relationship is this genuine kindness and love for each other. You look at this season and you look at this series as a whole and whenever there is turmoil, they tend to find each other and that’s special. When you look at real life, it is so representative and relatable where the closest friends to you are the people you can turn to in crisis and in chaos and they help you find peace. Although they make each other crazy, when it comes down to those difficult moments, they’re there for each other, and that’s why they keep coming back and back and back.”
On his hopes after Never Have I Ever ends
“I wanted to get a degree in psychology because A, I’m a lifelong learner, and B, it really helps me in terms of my process as an actor because I’m very psychological in my approach. I want to understand the thoughts behind my characters’ behaviors. I look at my characters from all aspects of psychology, whether it’s social or developmental or even abnormal or social neuro or different pockets of psychology to help me understand their motivations and objectives. I’m keeping my options open for next projects and I’m talking to my team about where we want to go from here. We’ll see what comes next. I’m excited about the future and what that holds for me. I’m not sure if it’ll be a thriller or a drama or a comedy or a rom com or anything in between, but whatever it might be, it’s going to be great. I’m trying to relinquish control and take a lesson out of my own playbook and Ben Gross’ too.”
Never Have I Ever is available to stream on Netflix.