Darren Barnet became an overnight sensation with his dreamy turn as Paxton Hall-Yoshida on Netflix’s runaway hit, “Never Have I Ever.”
The show, which was co-created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, follows Devi, who faces hurdles of friendship, family and romance as a high school sophomore in Southern California all in the wake of losing her father. The charming comedy served as an introduction to a lot of promising young stars — including Barnet, whose character Paxton is the most sought-after guy in school on the show.
The 29-year-old actor was so right for the part that he basically booked what would become the biggest role of his career to date right on the spot — while Mindy Kaling was in the room, no less.
“I didn’t realize Mindy Kaling was attached, even though Mindy Kaling’s name was on the breakdown,” Barnet said of his initial audition during a recent interview with In The Know’s Gibson Johns. “I was like, ‘I dig the role, cool story. Let’s go in and do it.’ Boom, done, left, and probably not going to hear anything. It’s usually what it is. But I’m not taking it personally.”
“All the sudden, it was like, ‘Hey, you’re testing with Mindy Kaling.’ I was like, ‘What?’ And I walk in the room to Mindy when we’re testing,” he laughed. “The first thing I say, I walk in, and I’m like, ‘Oh, wow.’ I’m like, ‘Mindy Kaling, low-key freaking out right now.’ And, thankfully, it broke the ice.”
What was so extraordinary about Barnet on the Netflix series is that, though he inhabits the archetypal role of the high school jock, he also gives Paxton depth by making him more sympathetic, funnier and slightly edgier than your average standout high school athlete. And, clearly, Kaling saw that potential in him.
“We had a great time. They flexed me a little bit, saw that I could do with character, you know, threw some things at me. And then I booked it like a week after,” Barnet explained. “It was very unorthodox, because I’m used to — I’ve been through the wringer. Actors out there relate to me on this. Usually, it’s the audition, the callback, the director session, the producer session, the test, the network test, the screen test, the chemistry read. None of that. No chemistry test, no anything. So, somehow we all worked well together on camera. I think Mindy is like a Jedi.”
Though the alum of “The Office” was the boss on set, Barnet never felt intimidated by Kaling, noting that she was “open to collaborating with all the actors” in a way that isn’t always the reality on television sets.
“I had such respect for her, and I think it was mutual. And she was very much open to collaborating with all the actors. And she opened it up to be a playground where she could have been, if she wanted to, in her own right, because she’s so seasoned in what she does, she could’ve been a dictator,” Barnet told ITK. “Never was. It was a dream.”
And he’s not just saying that: While Paxton’s character wasn’t initially written with Japanese heritage, when Kaling found out that Barnet came from Japanese descent, she asked him if he’d like for that to be incorporated into his character, to which he said yes.
“She really opened up the platform for me to bring ideas, and the whole cast in general. I mean, obviously, we do have to stick to the writing and respect the writers and the creators in general and just keep their vision, but I think Mindy really did open up the platform for us. And that’s why we were able to mesh so well,” he said. “I think actors are just better when they can be real and bring some of themselves to it. And Mindy, having done this for so long, totally understands that.”
Listen to our full interview with Darren Barnet below. “Never Have I Ever” is available to stream on Netflix now.
If you enjoyed this article, check out In The Know’s recent interview with “Modern Family” star Nolan Gould here.
More from In The Know: