When Darren Barnet first auditioned for his role on Netflix’s YA series “Never Have I Ever,” the name of his character was just “Paxton Hall.”
But when creators Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher found out that he had Japanese heritage, they asked the actor if he’d be interested in incorporating that into his character. And so, Paxton Hall-Yoshida was born — the good-looking jock with a heart of gold who becomes the object of protagonist Devi Vishwakumar’s (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) affection in the first season of the coming-of-age comedy.
When wardrobe designer Salvador Pérez Jr. heard Barnet speaking Japanese to assistant director Yuko Ogata, Fisher approached him to see if he’d be down to incorporating his heritage into the character. “I was like ‘Let’s do it!'” Barnet told TheWrap in a video-chat interview. “And the next thing I knew, I had a hyphenated Yoshida at the end.”
The actor, who’s had roles on shows like “SWAT” and “Criminal Minds,” said this is the first time he’s explored his heritage on screen.
“The first role I ever did in L.A., I was playing a Chicano East L.A. gangster. I’ve always been ambiguous where I’ve been cast, and called in for roles that are Middle Eastern (or) part Native American, and I love doing that,” said Barnet, who even played young Jack in a 2017 episode of “This Is Us.”
“But I’ve never had the opportunity to bring my Japanese into it,” he said, noting that he spoke the language with his grandmother growing up and studied it for two years in school. “It’s something I’m super proud of… I’m really happy that they included it.”
Oh, and Barnet wants to make one more thing clear. Although his character is clearly meant to be a heartthrob, the actor believes Paxton deserves to be seen as more than just a pretty face.
“That was my biggest fear. I didn’t want to just be abs and a thirst trap, you know?” he said. “It was also diving into something I dealt with in high school. I’m not gonna say I was a teen heartthrob at my high school — I was actually shy,” he said. “I didn’t go to parties ever, I wasn’t at the cool functions. I was a kid very much judged by his cover, I feel. I don’t know how many times I was told, ‘Hey, before I met you I thought you were a real jerk, but now I realize you’re nice.'”
“Never Have I Ever” is now streaming on Netflix.
Watch the video interview above.