Darren Barnet is feeling a little lonely. In the midst of "horny on main" season, Barnet's performance was the perfect thirsty fix for Twitter; the Never Have I Ever star is officially the Internet's new boyfriend thanks to his swoon-worthy role as Paxton Hall-Yoshida, the hottest guy at Sherman Oaks High and the crush of teen heroine Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan).
But despite this newfound popularity, Barnet is currently holed up in his Los Angeles home, allllll by himself. "I'm going on day 50 now [of self-isolation]," he tells ELLE.com over the phone. "It's been…eye-opening."
I am incredulous. A person this hot? By themselves during quarantine? "Not even a dog to hang out with?" He sighs. "Nope. I have absolutely nada." Barnet and I go back and forth about whether he should foster a dog when a thought strikes me. Am I…dating Darren Barnet? Yep, he got to me—just like the rest of the Internet.
Ahead, Barnet talks what's next for Paxton, thirsty DMs, and why Brad Pitt should join Never Have I Ever season 2.
One of Never Have I Ever's most memorable scenes is the dream sequence when Paxton shows up at Devi’s house and says, “I’m here to have sex with you.” But I really need to know: How did you get your shirt off like that?
[The producers] told me to go home and practice it. Originally they wanted me to pull it off with one hand with no assistance from the other from the back. I kept choking myself, so I figured [out] a way to do it on the day. I think take two is where I finally got it the way they wanted. I needed a bigger shirt because they were having this struggle of, "We want a shirt tight enough to flatter your figure but not so tight you can't get it off smoothly.”
Was the process similar filming that epic pool scene?
That was funny. It was like, "Hey, this is going to be in slow motion." The director Tristram [Shapeero] was like, "Squeeze your muscles out of the pool. Get out real slow, like really milk the moment." I did my best to do that without coming off awkward. I probably had to do that near 10 times. It certainly didn't feel like the sexiest thing. But you know, it works [in] slow-mo and the right angle does a lot.
Paxton’s high school hottie is very different from others we’ve seen in teen movies and TV shows. Were there any tropes you wanted to avoid?
Mindy and all [the producers] said they wanted him to be so much more than just abs. It was so much easier to take the role knowing they wanted him to have a heart.
Paxton’s not a douchebag by any means, but he’s also not a perfect guy. How did you maintain that balance?
It was very clear that [a douchebag] is what they wanted him to seem like at the beginning, and I enjoyed that because it gave me a place to go. My first interaction [with Devi] where she's asking me to have sex with her, there was a lot of direction in terms of wanting to play naturally off someone with my facial expressions, or I would sometimes improv with her. And they were like, "We see what you're doing and we love it, but this moment needs to be like, you care so little right now and you have this happen to you all the time." That was a struggle to portray because I wanted to do more with it, but that gave me the starting point. When people watch it they think, "Of course, the hot guy's a jerk."
There’s obviously a love triangle brewing between Paxton, Devi, and Ben. Do you think Devi belongs with Paxton?
It's too soon to tell. They definitely have their chemistry, but there hasn't been enough yet to say if they should be together. I'd say [I’m] 75 percent Team Paxton, and the 25 percent that I am team Ben is probably just because I'm in love with Jaren Lewison as a person.
If we get a season 2, what do you hope happens for Paxton next?
I would love to explore, kind of like Ben, [an individual episode] exploring his life. I'd love to dive more into who he is, his home life, maybe his parents. But I also think it would be a really interesting dynamic to watch Paxton in role reversal with Devi. He’s now pining for her and maybe he's too late, and he realizes it. Maybe he never tells her that he came to her house and she doesn't get the voicemail. He likes her, but she doesn't know it. Paxton hasn't ever had to deal with this because things have always come so easy to him. He could always get whatever girl he wanted and now he's in this place like, "Wow, maybe this won't work out for me." That'd be really interesting to watch him tackle as a character.
If they give you a Paxton episode, who would you want to narrate it?
Honestly, Brad Pitt. I'm such a fan of this man and I want to somewhat emulate his career. If Brad did it, it would be hysterical because he's such an enormous name, but he's also a guy who could relate to Paxton's character in terms of the characters he played when he was young.
What was your favorite scene to film?
The car scene where we kiss. And that's because they were playing that music while they were shooting us in the car. Cannons, "Fire for You." Incredible. They were blasting that from the speakers and the soundstage and it really got us in the flow and the mood. Lang and the director wanted the kiss to land so effortlessly. They wanted it to be like we kind of fell into it, but also like I went for it, but they didn't want it to seem like I went for it. They wanted it to be such a 50/50, 60/40 type of firework. She was like, "Cock your head this way, swoop into it." When we finally got it, you heard Lang and everybody on the outside just going, "Yes! Yes, they got it!"
What was it like working with Mindy Kaling?
She was an absolute dream. She is so seasoned in what she does. It would be so easy for her to be in a creative setting like, "Hey, I know the formula that works. This is the way it's going to go. I've done this so many times." She was never like that. She was so open to collaboration and let us know, "If something is not working, bring it to me, bring it to the writers, don't be afraid to speak up." It's easy to be intimidated by her, [but] I have never felt safer or more taken care of on [a set].
Twitter's calling you the Internet’s new boyfriend. What has the response been like for you?
I knew the show would do well. I didn't expect my character to be such a focal point. It's been amazing. Before all this blew up, I was the type of guy who wanted to reply, or at least “like,” everyone's comment. Now there's so much traffic, I'm trying to find a way where I can let everyone know I do care and you don't go unnoticed. The fact that people are loving the show means the world.
I'm guessing you've got people sliding into your DMs?
Every time I refresh it, there's like 100 or 200 more. There's a lot that are just, "Hey, the show has really helped me through a hard time." Or, "Thank you for making me laugh." And I love those and I try to reach out and respond to those. And then there's also the ones that are like, "Take your shirt off." And I'm like, "No."
Did anyone warn you about becoming a heartthrob?
We did ADR, which is when you go in and have to dub over some lines or change lines post-production, and I would see some scenes and there'd be cast mates in the room being like, "Hey, this is going to blow you up." And I was like, "Yeah, okay, whatever." And then I reached out to [co-creator] Lang Fisher just saying thank you so much for everything, and she said in an email, “I really think the world's going to fall in love with Paxton."
Is there a specific role you want to take on next?
Obviously I would never want to be typecast because I do consider myself a dynamic actor. I believe I can do any role thrown my way. Before I booked [Never Have I Ever], it's mainly been darker dramatic roles: This is Us, Criminal Minds, and I played a serial killer. So being put in a box was something I was hoping to avoid, but I'm confident enough in myself that it won't; one, because of my ability, but two, because they let me show a lot more colors than that through Paxton. If I could, I would love to play something like a Tyler Durden from Fight Club. Like a Brad Pitt character, something dark and serious with layers to him and some psychosomatic thriller with a crazy twist at the end. That's completely my niche.
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