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Mindy Kaling on casting Reese Witherspoon’s son in ‘Never Have I Ever’

The co-creator, writer and executive producer spoke about Deacon Phillippe, the 18-year-old son of Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe, making his acting debut in the third season.
Los Angeles Premiere of "Never Have I Ever" Season 3 - Arrivals
Mindy Kaling at the Los Angeles premiere of "Never Have I Ever" on Aug. 11, 2022.Gilbert Flores / Variety via Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

In two seasons, “Never Have I Ever” has tackled emotional subjects such as the death of a parent, isolation and sexuality. With its third season, which hits Netflix on Aug. 12, co-creators Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher looked to address another heavy topic — mental health.

At the Season Three premiere for the teen dramedy in Westwood, California, the writers and executive producers spoke to TODAY about “destigmatizing” conversations around mental health and celebrating self love. 

Kaling told TODAY on the red carpet Thursday night that “destigmatizing (and) seeking help for mental health” have become big parts of the show and are overarching themes in the new season.

“We have this 16-year-old girl (Devi, played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) whose father died and (she) is dealing with that grief with Niecy Nash’s character Dr. Ryan,” Kaling explained. “(It) is such an important part of her life. She has friends. She has a mom who loves her.  But being able to go to see and use her therapist as a resource is huge.” 

Los Angeles Premiere Of Netflix's "Never Have I Ever" Season 3
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, seen at the premiere of "Never Have I Ever," stars as Devi.Tommaso Boddi / Getty Images for Netflix

In the Season Three premiere, Devi visits Dr. Ryan after feeling insecure about her new relationship with Paxton, played by Darren Barnet. During their session, Nash’s character asks, “Did we discover that being in a relationship doesn’t solve all of our problems?” 

Devi grapples with her question throughout the season as she struggles to feel confident in her relationship.

Fisher said plenty of adolescents, particularly young women, can relate to Devi’s insecurities.

“W​​e’re really trying to talk about self confidence and self love,” Fisher said. “And by the end of this season, we want her to realize what she has already is her amazing friends and her relationships and her love and family…She’s already there. She already has everything she could need.”

Ramakrishnan described Devi as “sort of the antihero” in the last two seasons. 

“And this season is gonna be the one where she realizes she needs to get out of the way for herself, because she can’t get what she wants and still self sabotage,” she said. 

Barnet applauded the show for how it handles real-world problems and said that the honest writing separates “Never Have I Ever” from other current teen series.   

“I feel like sometimes when we’re touching on real issues — whether it be race, gender, sexuality, whatever — it’s not something that defines the character that we’re talking about,” he said. “That’s just one facet of them and I think that just reflects real life a little bit more. People can relate to that.” 

As Devi makes revelations about herself and confronts her self-doubt in Season Three, she also meets a few new characters.

Los Angeles Premiere Of Netflix's "Never Have I Ever" Season 3 - Arrivals
Darren Barnet plays Paxton on the hit Netflix series.Araya Doheny / WireImage

One addition to the cast is Anirudh Pisharody, who plays a handsome family friend named Des. He seems to turn Devi’s love triangle with Paxton and Ben (portrayed by Jaren Lewison) into a square. 

More love interests bring drama and entertainment, but Kaling said casting Pisharody on the show was especially significant to her.

The multihyphenate said, “It feels natural in high school for a girl to have crushes on lots of different guys and it was an opportunity for us to showcase a good looking Indian guy on the show, which was important to me.” 

She continued, “It was kind of needed in our community to have a rich, dreamy South Asian guy who was the object of our lead’s emotions.” 

Deacon Phillippe is introduced as Parker on the series.
Deacon Phillippe is introduced as Parker on the series.Lara Solanki / NETFLIX

Fans will also meet another new student named Parker, played by Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe’s 18-year-old son Deacon Phillippe. The role marks the musician’s acting debut

Kaling said Witherspoon, a close friend, had previously shared that her son was interested in acting. He also happened to be the perfect age to portray a high school character, which made him a great fit for the show. 

The co-creator praised Deacon Phillippe for being funny and talented.

She said, “He’s obviously very handsome and the cast just loved working with him. So we felt really excited to have him on the show.”