The actor talks to ET about what you didn't see in the emotional beach scene, if he secretly wishes Mohan wasn't dead and season 2.
Netflix's Never Have I Ever is more than a teen comedy, it's also an exploration into how an Indian American teenage girl, Devi, and her family deal with the unexpected death of their patriarch, Mohan, in their attempt to move on. Since the breakout series dropped on the streaming service on April 27, it's been praised for its unapologetic portrayal of grief in all its different forms, being inclusive in all senses of the word and for shattering Asian stereotypes. Sure, there's the juicy Team Paxton versus Team Ben debate or the off-the-wall schemes Devi dreams up, but at the heart of the story is Devi's relationship with her late father.
For Sendhil Ramamurthy, who plays the charismatic, tennis-loving, Moped-driving Mohan in flashbacks and dreams, the response to the character has been deeply gratifying and eye-opening. "It’s been overwhelming and totally surprising," Ramamurthy, 45, told ET during a recent phone interview. "I don’t think anybody thought that it would have this kind of response... It’s blown me away."
Ramamurthy, who has graced TV screens as Mohinder on Heroes, Jai Wilcox on Covert Affairs and Bloodwork on The Flash, hopped on the phone with ET to chat about playing a "hot" dead dad, what you didn't see in the finale beach scene, the ideal narrator for Mohan's inner monologue, his personal season 2 hopes (he's totally game to return!) and much more.
ET: Congratulations on Never Have I Ever! What has the response been like for you?
Sendhil Ramamurthy: It’s been overwhelming and totally surprising. I don’t think that anybody thought that it would have this kind of response. It just kind of took off. I really haven’t even come to terms with it yet. I’m still in shock about how it’s been received on the whole. And then how the character has been received, because I really was not expecting that at all. It’s blown me away.
Has there been a specific story a fan has shared with you that has affected you the most?
The thing that really struck me, certainly within the first 24, 48, hours of the show dropping, was the amount of people that reached out to me who had lost their father or a parent at a young age and how deeply affecting the series was for them. The number of people that wrote to me saying that they had cried and how they felt the show was speaking to them and the grief that they still feel. How Mohan comes back to her in her dreams and seeing him places; that’s what happened to them. They still see their father or their mother, or whoever it was in their life and they still talk to them regularly. When somebody is that big of an influence in your life and you lose them, it affects you so deeply, especially at a young age. It didn’t really click in my head. And that’s the thing that’s really struck me the most, is the number of people who’ve reached out and have been happy to see that grief portrayed in a realistic way.
How did this part come to you? You played Ravi, Kelly's doctor fiance, on The Office. Was it your previous relationship with Mindy Kaling that led you to this role?
Yeah, they just called up and said, "Hey, you want to play the dad on this show?" I hadn’t even read the script. It was weird. I got the call saying, "Will you come play Bloodwork on The Flash?," and then four hours later got the call saying, "Will you come play the dad on Never Have I Ever?" Once I found out what the show was and read the script, I got really excited because I loved seeing a South Asian family on TV or Netflix. I got really excited about that and I wanted to be a part of it in any small way. Thanks to J.P. Flynn, the line producer on The Flash and Leanne Moore, line producer on Never Have I Ever, they worked it out so that I [could do both]. I spent a lot of time flying back and forth between Vancouver and L.A. last year doing both shows. I feel really grateful that everything worked out.
What is your reaction to the internet's thirst over Mohan? Everyone’s been calling him a "hot dad."
(Laughs.) That has definitely been a surprise to me. That is not the reaction that I was really expecting at all. Literally, that is the last thing, not even the last thing that I would’ve thought, you know? This is the first time I’ve played a dad and I thought, "This’ll be really cool." I have a 15-year- old daughter and I was like, this is awesome because I think she’s really going to like this show. She does, she loves it. But now she’s equally mortified, because of all the stuff [on the internet]. I think she’s really grossed out because she’s on social media and she reads it. And I’m like, "You should probably not do that. I think that’s a bad idea for you." It totally came out of left field for me. I was not expecting it at all.
You’ve been around with Heroes and Covert Affairs. Is it funny that you're having a mini resurgence this year with The Flash and Never Have I Ever?
I think it’s different demographics, right? I don’t think a lot of people who watch a show like Never Have I Ever have watched some of the genre shows that I’ve done. Even doing New Amsterdam has opened me up to a different audience than what I was normally used to. And that’s one of the really cool things about this show is the amount of people who have messaged me, and been like, "Where have you been?" And they're like, "I looked you up. I didn’t watch those kind of shows. This is my kind of show." I feel lucky that I’ve been opened up to a new audience that maybe didn’t really watch the kind of stuff that I did before.
You’re in an interesting spot, where you play a character who we know is dead. What were the unique challenges in playing a part like that? Was it a different experience than previous roles?
No. I didn’t know that the character was dead when the role was offered to me. Then I started reading it and I was dead on page 3 and I was like, "This isn’t great. What has happened here?" I kept reading -- they sent me the first three episodes after they offered it to me -- and, like, OK, the dead dad worked out pretty good for [Heroes co-star] Milo [Ventimiglia on This Is Us]. This seems to be the way forward. As far as I’m concerned, we’ll corner the market on dead dads and sail into the sunset. It really appealed to me because of the role that Mohan plays in Devi’s life. It’s kind of like an idealized version of what a father can be. And you can really only get away with that in dreams and flashbacks.
If it was portrayed as real life, as what is happening now, it would be too saccharine, whereas the way it’s used as a storytelling device, it takes her back to a different time in her life. Obviously that connection between the two of them is so strong, I just love the fact that the majority of the interactions would be these joyous things that I got to be a part of. Especially playing a villain on The Flash at the same time, it was really nice for me to, from one day to the next, switch and do a total 180 and be playing these two polar opposite characters. It was a) really challenging, but b) incredibly satisfying.
Are you secretly bummed he isn’t alive in the present day?
There is in that I think that Mohan would really did enjoy being a part of Devi’s life and he really loved his family. His family was everything to him; being a part of their everyday lives, the good and the bad is something he would really miss. It would be fun to portray that, to be a part of that. It would obviously be a very different dynamic, but I think it would be challenging. I’m also into the flashbacks and the dreams and the apparitions, where he just shows up because the nature of them is positive and joyous. And I think that’s good.
A lot of the focus has been on who Devi should be with: Paxton or Ben. But the real love story, to me, is Mohan and Nalini.
That's something Poorna [Jagannathan] and I spoke about, so we would know in our head how it was. I would have loved for there to have been time to explore that and that would have been cool, but in 10 episodes -- and the show is about Devi -- you’re not really able to get into all of that. Perfect world and unlimited time and perfect budget to shoot what we wanted, I would love to explore Mohan and Nalini's relationship. How they met and how they fell in love and all of that. I think it’d be really cool to explore.
So you guys did talk through their backstory?
Oh yeah, we discussed lots -- just to help us. We had to build it, because you didn’t really see it. We have had all sorts of discussions about it and I love working with her. I was a fan of hers before. We had never met. That was one of the selling points for me was getting to work with her, because I knew the majority of my scenes were going to be with her and with Maitreyi [Ramakrishnan]. We clicked right away, and with Maitreyi too. I just cannot believe what an accomplished debut this is for her.
If Mohan was still around, what would be the fatherly advice he would give to Devi about the messy Paxton and Ben she finds herself in at the end?
He’s Team "Keep Your Damn Hands Off My Daughter." I would like to think that he has some sage advice. I’m trying to think what I’m going to say to my daughter when the time [comes]. I’m still holding out, wishing she may be a nun or something. I do think Mohan would put a positive spin on it. He’d go the route of "It’s OK to have friends that are boys and there’s no need to get involved in this kind of stuff at this age." In the end, he’s going to have a very dad attitude. I don’t think he’s going to be like, "I'm Team Paxton or I’m Team [Ben]." He’s a great dad but he’s not that great. (Laughs.)
When Devi lets go of her dad and scatters his ashes into the ocean in the final episode, that was one of my favorite scenes of the season. Do you have a scene that is your personal favorite?
That was my favorite scene, 100 percent my favorite. I posted a video of it on my Instagram saying this is my favorite scene and it was me watching the scene of my ashes being spread. This isn’t the way that it cut together, but as the scene was shot, you actually pan behind them and Mohan was standing there, watching them and smiling. That’s how it was originally and that’s what we shot, but I actually like this version of it better. It works better to see them making that step without Mohan. And the way that the three of them played that -- the way that Poorna, Maitreyi and Richa [Moorjani] played that was so beautiful. It may have been too much, and I haven’t spoken to anybody about it, but I have a feeling it would have been too over the top if we kept them panning to Mohan behind them watching them. I was up on the cliff area looking down on [the beach]. Another reason it may not have made it is it got so dark. We were losing light so fast. I was like, "I don’t know if you’re going to be able to see me, it's so dark."
Everybody seems to want a season 2. When I spoke with showrunner Lang Fisher recently, she was pretty adamant that she wants to bring you back. Would you be game to return?
Oh my God, I honestly hadn’t thought about that but if they wanted me back, I had such a great time working with these guys and I’ve known Mindy for a long time. Getting to know Lang as well and her story and the fact that the two of them lost parents and know that feeling, is why everyone feels so strongly To get to be a part of that again and to get to work with Poorna and Maitreyi again and maybe get a chance to explore Mohan and Nalini's relationship and their origin story and their love story, that would be too good an opportunity to pass up. I’d jump at the chance.
Lang's words were, "He's too handsome not to have in the show."
I am ready to sign on the dotted line. I would like nothing more than for that to happen.
In the first season, Ben got his own episode narrated by Andy Samberg. John McEnroe is obviously Devi's narrator. If there was an episode dedicated to Mohan next season, who do you see being the voice of his inner monologue?
That is a great great question. With Mohan’s love of tennis, it would be cool to have Mahesh Bhupathi [the first Indian tennis player to win a Grand Slam]. I love this idea of Mohan, in his mind, being a daredevil with his Moped and cruising on a Moped. Having an Evel Knievel-type inner monologue for Mohan would be hilarious. His perception is so off-brand but he thinks he’s Evel Knievel and thinks he’s a NASCAR driver.
Do you have any personal wishes for season 2 outside of exploring more of the relationship between Mohan and Nalini?
If I were lucky enough to be a part of season 2, my No. 1 thing would be Nalini and Mohan, because we saw that in little snippets in flashbacks. I didn’t get a ton to do with Maitreyi because a lot of it was with young Devi, played by a terrific actress named Royal. I would love to have some more scenes with Maitreyi, because I would love to know what their interactions are, like when she came to him with problems she was having -- not just "boys at school called me an unf**kable nerd" -- but genuine things that came up and how he handled it. I want to see Devi's character, as the seasons go on, take some of that on board and see how she kept some of the things her father said to her moving forward and how they helped her navigate certain situations. I think that would be a really cool thing to see.
Never Have I Ever is now streaming on Netflix.
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