“She wasn’t just reading lines. You believed everything that was coming out of her mouth.” – Casting Director Brett Greenstein on Maitreyi Ramakrishnan
The Netflix series Never Have I Ever, which was co-created by actress Mindy Kaling, features a number of South Asian actors who most viewers are likely unfamiliar with. Because of that, series casting directors Collin Daniel and Brett Greenstein (both Casting Society of America Award winners) had their work cut out for them when finding the right actors for the series. While describing the casting process for series to The Hollywood Reporter, Daniel and Greenstein reveal how the series became the biggest casting job of their careers.
On casting the series’ most important roles — the teenage lead and her mother — Greenstein notes how it was obviously important for them to get that casting right, saying, “It was really about getting Devi and her mother cast, as they are the heart of the story.”
Based on the number of South Asian actors on television and movies, one might conclude there simply isn’t many actors out there in that demographic. But you would be wrong, as Daniel says, “It was the biggest casting search we’ve ever done in our career. We actually hit the limit of how many emails Gmail can accept in a day.”
Of course, helping inflate the number of submissions was the fact that Kaling had posted a casting call on her social media. Greenstein adds, “We got so many emails from agents asking, ‘Where did you find these actors?’ Everybody was blown away. We were so touched that people were really moved by the show and actually watched it. It is one of our most rewarding jobs.”
One of the aspects that made the job so rewarding is how much previously undiscovered talent was found by the duo. For example, upon seeing Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who portrays the series lead Devi Vishwakumar, Greenstein recalls, “We were like, ‘Wait, did we just see somebody who literally has zero acting experience and was that great?’ To see somebody with natural comedic timing who really got the nuances of the scenes and really got the multidimensional character — she wasn’t just reading lines. You believed everything that was coming out of her mouth.”
An actor that they cast in the series with more experience was Richa Moorjani, who plays Devi’s cousin Kamala. Daniel explains, “We did an open call for Kamala and I feel like [Richa Moorjani] came in pretty early on. We’ve read her over the years and have been a fan of hers.”
Portraying Devi’s mother on the series is Poorna Jagannathan, who has appeared in a number of films and television shows since 2004 including HBO’s The Night Of and Netflix’s Gypsy — both shows that nobody would confuse for being comedies. Regarding that, Greenstein notes, “Poorna has for most of her career been a dramatic actress, and she was like, ‘I never get to come in on comedies because nobody thinks I’m funny.’ We wanted to see her because we were such huge fans from all the things that she’s done, especially The Night Of. She came in and was so natural, so funny. She was channeling her own mother, is what she told us. Literally, we were all just howling because she just got it.”