Even though he has been catapulted to fame, Darren Barnet is surprisingly grounded, grateful and considerate. He’s currently based in New York City, and when he finds out that it’s 4am in Singapore, he immediately offers to reschedule the interview so I can get to sleep.
I should have known he’d be like this: Paxton, the character he plays on the Netflix hit series Never Have I Ever, which revolves around an Indian-American teen trying to level up her social standing in high school while coping with grief, family, friends and feelings, is the same. Although he’s good looking, popular, aloof, and has all the makings of a stereotypical jerk, the character has a heart of gold. I talk to him about the parallels between him and this popular character, and how he went from clinching zero jobs to now having over one million followers on Instagram.
First of all, congratulations on Never Have I Ever getting renewed for a second season. Do you know if we will get to see more character development from Paxton the way we got an in-depth look at Ben’s character last season?
I’m hoping so. Truthfully, I know as much as you do right now in terms of the writing process at the moment, but I think that makes sense. It’s something a lot of people have mentioned that they want to see and I think that probably is a high possibility that [an episode like that] would be the case.
What would you like the audience to see about him that hasn’t come through in the first season?
I’d love to see his home life, his dynamic with his parents, I’d love to see some flashback childhood stuff with his little sister. You know, just more about him and his home life and even his culture; maybe his grandfather who he speaks in Japanese with on the phone and him being taught Japanese as a kid.
Are there any instances where a scene from the show was extremely close to an event that happened to you in high school?
Like Paxton, I’m half Japanese, and that always quite the interesting conversation. Also, Paxton is always judged by his cover and that was very much me in high school, and I think there was somewhat of a mystery to me because I somewhat kept to myself. I had some very good friends but I wouldn’t say I was popular.
People would be like, “Oh he’s a good looking guy that plays sports. He must be a jerk.” I got that a lot. They’d be like, “Oh I never talked to you because I thought you’d be mean, but you’re actually really nice.”
Maybe you have a little bit of RBF?
You know what, I think I do. The question I get asked all the time is, “What’s wrong?” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” and they go, “You look so concerned.” I’m like, “Nope, just my face.”
So what’s one thing you wished people knew more about you? Maybe not necessarily about your personality, but a quirky fact?
I’m convinced my landlord believes there are 12 different people living in my house. I will shout at myself in different accents and characters all day and I will go around town with a mask on to order food at a restaurant and just put on an entirely different accent to test things out and see. I don’t know why I do it, I’ve done it since I was very young, but yeah, I love doing accents and dialogues and I try to experiment with them whenever I can.
You’re 29, so how has high school culture changed from when you were in high school versus now?
You know, high school was such a vulnerable time and even when I was in high school, you were a product of what you listened to and what you watched. Right now, there’s just an endless amount of things to watch and compare yourself to and try to be like. You’re told what to wear, what to look like, how to be appealing, how to not be appealing and I there are so many options and so many things that can influence you.
I think something that the show touches on that makes it so relatable is “doing you.” There’s nothing sexier than being unapologetically yourself and I think right now high school is just one of those places where it’s so hard to find an identity right now because there are so many variations. I think this series shows that it’s OK to be yourself.
People talk about how positive manifestation is helpful for going for your goals. Did you ever see yourself acting in a huge role like this?
I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was five years old. Every time I watched a movie I imagined my face on Brad Pitt’s face, it’s something I’ve always really thought about. I won’t lie, when I first started acting it’s something I became inherently negative about… going through two years of auditioning every week and being told how lucky I am to be auditioning because some people don’t even get auditions. It was like a double edged sword.
I was like, “Great, I’m auditioning, I’m getting a lot of opportunities but I have not booked one and I have maybe had one callback.” I got really in my head thinking maybe this isn’t for me–maybe I’m not as good as I thought it was. I asked myself if I can do this until I’m 40-50 years old and work as a bartender and do what a lot of people in LA do. It came to a point where I said I will never stop doing this no matter what and that’s when my mom got behind me, when she really saw that it was all that I ever wanted to work for.
The one year–I’m telling you, it’s weird–right before I started really working and booking things as an actor, I was doing positive reinforcement thing every single day. I would spend an hour a day listening to one song on repeat, over and over again and imagine in detail what I wanted to happen, what roles I wanted to do. I took this advice from Jim Carrey–it’s something he did for a long time and as dumb as I thought it sounded, I did it every day. You can call it magical or whatever, but what I realised–I mean I believe in manifestation and I believe maybe it did something energy wise–was it changed my behaviour and it changed my way of going about things, like the way I looked at myself and the way I carried myself.
I think that’s what translated a lot in the room and made me more appealing as an actor. Everything changed about me; the way I walked, the way I talked, the way I let things affect me. So yeah, I think it worked out for me.
Some celebrities have said fame can be rather isolating in a way. How do you go about dating and meeting people? Apps, mutual friends?
I don’t really do any of it. People have asked me to get on Raya and Hinge, and I won’t do it. It works for some people and I love it, but it’s just that every time I’ve done it, it’s just like… it’s not for me. That’s all I’ll say, but it’s just not for me. I’ve been so busy and so many things are changing for me at the moment, I think the last thing I need to do is put my heart on the line.
Right now my attention is so diverted, it wouldn’t be fair to meet someone and potentially have something started and have it not work out because I’m not available enough. I’m just trying to deal with assessing this new stage in my life and dating is just not part of it at the moment.
It’s so nice to hear someone else say that, especially since it seems that everyone else is coupling up during the outbreak.
It sounds dark, but I like being alone, so I’m fine with it. I love my friends but I don’t need someone with me all the time and I know one day that will change… dating, getting married, whatever, but right now I’m being honest with myself, I wouldn’t have the time that someone deserved.
Paxton is very smooth. Can you tell me about an instance when you weren’t very smooth with girls?
I had a serious crush on this girl in college. I was always too scared to talk to her. She had a class right next to me so I would see her in the hallway when I was early…and I’d see her walk in the hallway to the next class and one day I had a great idea. I thought, “Let me just plan this out and walk in at the same time and we’ll run into each other, so organic.” So I did that and my reaction when we bumped into each other? I went, “Hey, hey” and she just went, “What?” and I said, “I’m Darren.” My mind went blank and that totally ruined it, so I went back to class and later I saw her in my dorm hallway. I looked out the peephole because I thought I heard my friend, I ses it’s her and I go, “Oh my god this is another moment” so I come out of the door and my roommate’s bicycle was right in front of the doorway. I tripped over the bike and landed in the hallway and that’s the second time she saw me.
You like to write as well. What are you currently working on, and where do you generally draw inspiration from?
Something a friend told me awhile ago that really stuck with me was “Great writing is really just great reading.” I try to get the original script of movies I like the most and learn the formula. Every one of them has a formula in terms of the arc and how attention is kept that I try to replicate in a story. Fight Club is my favourite movies of all time. Shutter Island is up there and I love The Departed. I love suspense, I love crime thrillers, I love psycho thrillers, I love scenes that bend your mind, ones that have a twist at the end that you could just never predict was coming.
Something that I’m always chasing is how to twist stories in a way that hasn’t been done before, which is nearly impossible because there are so many greats that came way before me that have already done it. The pursuit in general is what I get a high off of. I’m working on some pilots at the moment, short films and I’m doing a movie at the end of July in Jersey that I’m working on with a group of friends. It’s something I can’t talk about much yet, but if you can imagine Shutter Island meets The Shining meets Raging Bulls, it’s very much in that pocket.
I’ve read that you get plenty of DMs. What’s the best pickup line you’ve received? What’s the best pickup line you have?
A funny one I get all the time is, “If we’re dating, just don’t reply to this DM” and then a week later they go, “I knew it, love you boyfriend” and I think that’s pretty clever, that’s funny.
One that I have, it’s funny, the one time I did use Tinder, the girl’s profile said, “Shoot me your best pickup line and we’ll chat” and so I sent her a pickup line that goes, “Hey is that a mirror in your pocket?” and she went, “Wow how original, because you can see yourself in my pants?” and I said, “No, but I have been reflecting on them thighs.”
A lot of focus has been placed on your current role as Paxton, but what kind of character do you want to play or movie do you want to make next?
I would love to play Tyler Durden from Fight Club.
Complete the sentence: Never have I ever…
Been to Europe. I never really travelled ever in my life because I’ve never really had the financial means to do it so it’s just interesting now that I’ve finally acquired the means to at least travel somewhat, the world shuts down.
Never Have I Ever has been renewed for a second season on Netflix with returning cast members Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Poorna Jagannathan, Richa Moorjani, Jaren Lewison, Darren Barnet, Lee Rodriguez and Ramona Young. Watch season one on Netflix now!
Images: Netflix; Brad Everett Young