NEVER HAVE WE EVER GOTTEN TO KNOW ACTOR JAREN LEWISON QUITE LIKE THIS!
PHOTOGRAPHY: IRVIN RIVERA
WARDROBE: ANDREW PHILIP NGUYEN
GROOMING: ANNY KIM AT EXCLUSIVE ARTISTS
POST PRODUCTION: 1026 MEDIA
BY: COREY GUEVARRA, EDITOR IN CHIEF
Back in 2020 when we are all tucked away in quarantine, our streaming subscriptions helped quell the then wild new way of life! To our delight a slew of new shows flashed across our devices helping provide moments of escapism from the seemingly never ending news cycles as COVID-19 ravaged our planet. Among the ocean of entertainment a new, quirky, coming-of-age comedy following Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), a South Asian-American teen experiencing what seemed like well, everything, ALL at once! Instantly we were hooked, the brainchild of the incomparable Mindy Kaling & Lang Fisher gifted us our new favorite binge-worthy pastime, “Never Have I Ever”! While the story line swirled around it’s wonderfully multi-cultural cast, one character in particular left us in an effective state of indifference, constantly wondering if we should or shouldn’t like him? Was he vapid or multi-layered? A friend or a foe? Dare we even think him as a potential beau? Jaren Lewison poured all of these contrasting characteristics into his character Ben Gross in a way so masterful, viewers didn’t even notice they were being lulled into liking him!
An interview with the ever-present actor revealed that we are in fact observing a deeply critical thinker on our screens. Jaren is the epitome of all the attributes you’d want in a friend. Focused, constructive, dedicated, driven. Unbelievably social, smart and thoughtful. Perhaps the greatest attribute we witnessed during our chat with the gleeful actor however was his optimism! -You can literally feel it fueling his life experience in a way many adults forget to once we’ve “grown up”. From booking a huge show, to completing college simultaneously, we were beyond eager to get a glimpse of how he did it all. It was our pleasure to be able to say that never have we ever experienced a light quite like Jaren Lewison.
JAREN FIRST OFF, CONGRATULATIONS ON GRADUATING THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA IN JUST THREE YEARS & SOMEHOW DOING SO WHILE FILMING “NEVER HAVE I EVER”!
Oh man, Thank you very much!!!
HOW DOES IT FEEL ACHIEVING THAT GOAL IN THIS VERY UNIQUE WAY?
You know truthfully, I don’t think that it’s fully hit me yet! Because I started shooting [funny enough] during my finals for my senior year & then I graduated literally the first week of us shooting season 4, I graduated on that Friday and started shooting on that Monday and I’ve kind of just been go go going! I think when NHIE wraps, THEN it’ll all hit me like a train! I’ll probably sob some happy/sad tears in my car [laughs] & finally be able to grasp it all! It’s an incredible accomplishment, I’ve always been a lifelong learner & I knew that school was something that I really wanted to try to achieve. So getting that college degree, I really just owe so much to my support system for being able to uplift me in the some of the more difficult moments! My roommates especially, they’ve been there for me through everything & have just been my rocks. Everything from encouragement to saving dinner for me after a 14 hour day on set. Thoughtfulness like that and from my family, team and everyone at the show is what kept me afloat. There were times when I would have a tougher professor who wouldn’t let me reschedule an exam or something & the team at NHIE really worked with me, so compassionately! It was such a dream to be able to do both at the same time! I'm just so grateful to everyone who helped me along the way!
YOU KNOW I PUT MYSELF IN YOUR SHOES AND I DON’T KNOW IF I WOULD’VE HAD THE WHEREWITHAL TO PUSH THROUGH THE WAY YOU DID! KUDOS TO YOU FOR HAVING THE DISCIPLINE AND THE DRIVE TO SEE ALL OF THIS THROUGH, IT'S HONESTLY INCREDIBLE JAREN!
Thank You :)
WE’D READ THAT YOU MAJORED IN PSYCHOLOGY WITH MINORS IN FORENSICS AND CRIMINALITY IS THAT CORRECT?
Yes, so it’s actually just 1 minor “Forensics and Criminality” it’s a singular minor, but it has 2 focuses. As you might imagine they’re very interdisciplinary & they intertwine really well -so yes that as a minor and the major in psychology!
WHAT A LOADED MIXTURE! 1ST, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY DREW YOU TO THESE SPECIFIC FIELDS OF STUDY? AND IN YOUR LIFE PLANNING DO THESE FIELDS HAVE A POTENTIAL TO INTERTWINE WITH YOUR ACTING?
So I’ve always just been really interested in the way that people think. Even as a young kid I was always a keen observer of people’s behavior & was always fascinated by the reasons people did what they did & said what they said. So when I was applying to college, I just really wanted to do something outside of acting because I think it really helped me balance my life. It’s like as long as I have other things and other hobbies outside of acting, it helps make some of the more difficult parts of the business a little easier. I also thought that it would be really complimentary for acting because as an actor my process is very neurological. I like to think of the objective and motivations behind my character’s actions. The way I’m able to understand their childhood and their motivations is honestly through psychology! I’ve taken a lot of classes @ USC, from social psychology, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, even broad psychology to be able to understand numerous principles behind my character’s behaviors. Every time I have an audition, I put my psychology degree to work and I’m able to dive deep as required. There’s that debate of nature v.s nurture and both ‘nature/nurture’ and ‘genetics’ all play such an interesting role in the development of a person. There’s a really interesting model called the 'Biopsychosocial' model where we study the interconnection of a genetic component, a psychological component and a social component that really sort of molds us into the people that we are. I think I’ll always tap into my education and use it as my process because it's been so helpful for understanding a variety of characters. Whether it’s in an audition, whether it’s playing Ben Gross or whether it's 10 years from now and hopefully I’m playing Barry Allen as “The Flash”. I’ll be able to understand the trauma that Barry Allen is going through growing up without a parent for example. So I’m grateful that in this way and many others, the education will always be put to work!
Re: the Forensics and Criminality minor; I LOVE playing darker characters! I think that it’s fascinating being able to understand those types of people. It’s very difficult sometimes to relate to some abhorrent actions, but if we look deep enough, we can always find SOMETHING about a person that we can relate to. From that lens we may be able to understand their passion or obsession or drive to perform certain menacing acts. To be able to play a convincing villain, you can’t judge them! That was something that one of my classes taught me very well. An actual Federal forensic physiologist was our professor & we would talk about a lot of really difficult topics, from psychopathy to sociopathy to different types of violent crimes etc., -But it was all without judgement. In fact it was actually fascinating being able to see the professor talk while also being able to objectively understand these people. When I think of chilling portrayals of villains, whether it’s Anthony Hopkins [in The Silence of the Lambs] or Heath Ledger’s Joker, they come across bone chillingly deviant because they just WERE those people. They portrayed them without judgment and that’s how they were likely able to deliver those OUTSTANDING performances. When you place yourself into a mental space to be able to find relation and understanding beyond yourself, as an actor, the the portrayal then becomes really special and important.
YOU KNOW IT’S FUNNY, I THINK BECAUSE OF BEN AND OTHER PALPABLE ROLES WE’VE SEEN YOU IN, THE AVERAGE PERSON MIGHT GUESS YOU’D WANT TO DO SOMETHING A LITTLE MORE LITERAL WITH YOUR MAJOR & MINOR LIKE: A RE-ADAPTATION OF SHERLOCK HOLMES? BUT YOU UNEXPECTEDLY VEER WAY PAST THAT, INTO DEEP DARK WATERS, I THINK IT WILL BE REALLY COOL TO SEE YOU RELEASE THAT ONE DAY!
Yes that’s hopefully what I’m trending towards; being able to showcase that part of me as an actor!
SO I GOTTA ASK, YOU CHATTED ABOUT YOUR COLLEGE ROOMMATE EXPERIENCE ALREADY BUT, WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE LIKE BEING ON CAMPUS, AMONG YOUR PEERS & CLASSMATES WHILE ALSO BEING A LEGIT “BLUE CHECK MARK-VERIFIED” TV STAR?!
You know crazy enough I have a really, really easy time being on campus, and any “fan” interaction I’ve had is usually really respectful. Even if someone is in my classes. Like during [the height of] COVID especially, during zoom classes when I’d have my camera on and be participating, every now and then I’d get a DM like “hey I think you’re Ben on ‘Never Have I Ever’ & if you are, I really love your show! LOL -I'd always confirm with much appreciation. Even the interactions in person, whether I’m @ the USC gym or on campus going to a club meeting or performance (I honestly don’t get recognized a ton) but if I do, it’s overwhelmingly positive and really sweet and kind and I think that USC does a really good job being inclusive of the Trojan family and making everyone feel like a part of a community. For me, my community is so strong and so special, as mentioned, my roommates are my best friends in the world, they inspire me to be better and they keep me grounded. Our friendship & conversations would be the exact same if I didn’t act and my day job was something like geology lol. The friends I have, the people I meet are always really really great, it's just been really awesome.
THAT'S REALLY JAREN! LUCKILY ALSO IT’S LA, SO ‘FAME CULTURE’ IS A LITTLE DIFFERENT HERE V.S SAY IF YOU’D GONE TO SCHOOL SOMEWHERE IN TEXAS. HERE YOU ALMOST EXPECT TO SEE SOMEONE FAMOUS FROM TIME TO TIME, SO I’M SURE THE CULTURE AND MENTALITY HERE PROBABLY HELPED SOMEWHERE ALONG THE WAY.
SPEAKING OF TEXAS, YOU GREW UP IN DALLAS CORRECT? WE KNOW THAT YOU’VE WANTED TO BE AN ACTOR SINCE AGE 5 & FAST-FORWARDING, YOU CHOOSING USC (IN LA) WAS LIKELY DELIBERATE FOR VERY GOOD REASONS. SO WE HAVE ANOTHER 2-PARTER FOR YA: FIRST, HOW DOW DOES FEEL TO HAVE “MADE IT” ALL THE WAY FROM DALLAS TO HOLLYWOOD? & SECOND: IF YOU WEREN’T ACTING OR BEING A FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST…. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’D BE?
So… I grew up in Dallas -correct and yes to all of the other above (acting age, choosing USC etc., lol)
To answer part one: Honestly, I still feel like I haven’t necessarily “made it”? I still feel like there’s always a part of me that wants to do more and that I’m never satisfied. Although I’m so appreciative and thankful of the position that I’m in, I can’t sit back and tell myself I’ve “made it” just yet because I don't want to get complacent. I think that I’m still striving and trying to grind and hustle like every other actor. Now especially, having graduated it’ll be kind of an interesting challenge as I’ll no longer have being a student as a part of my identity. I love being busy, so now that I’ll be moving into acting full time, it’s going to be a transition for sure. I think that the more jobs I do, maybe the more i’ll inch toward telling myself that Ive ‘made it’. I definitely don’t discredit anything in my present, but maybe when I’m like 85 or 100 then i’ll look back and say “Aright…I did it”! :)
-Regarding: who else would I be? ...I think I’d like to be a teacher! Idk if I’m allowed to say that, but I’d actually like to be an acting coach! I coached a little bit growing up when I was 15 & started working at an acting studio called Cathryn Sullivan’s acting for film in Lewisville. I coached kids from age 5 to adults and I just loved it! I love being able to just kind of nurture and help actors grow and help them unlock things that they didn’t know that they could do and see their excitement with their progress! The owner of that studio Catherine Sullivan, was my acting coach and is still one of my mentors, she’s the one who kind of passed on that love of coaching to me. So if not an actor or Psychologist…. Definitely an acting coach!
TOTALLY DIDN'T EXPECT THAT HA! AMAZING JAREN!
OK SO, WE’RE ALL OBSESSED WITH THE CHAOS OF ‘NEVER HAVE I EVER’. WE’VE HEARD THAT EPISODE 6 IS PRETTY BIG FOR YOU. WHAT IF ANYTHING, CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE SEASON, E6 AND BEN’S CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT?
You know… I can tell you that Ben’s character development like every season is rich and full of complexity and quite a bumpy ride as always! [LOL]. I can neither confirm nor deny [wink] that episode 6 is a special episode, but if I were you, I would maybe be excited about that number [laughs]. S1.E6 was a pretty good episode for Ben, S3.E6 very well could be lol. -6 may in fact be a lucky number, I [don’t] know ha! In terms of the season as whole, it’s honestly incredible. Every time I talk about S1 or S2 & can’t imagine it getting any better, somehow it does! Every time! It gets more witty, more complex, we tackle such in-depth themes, but we do it with such care and attentiveness. Mindy [Kaling] & Lang [Fisher] and the rest of the writers do such an unbelievable job! And my fellow cast mates, the crew, they all put so much love and affection and effort into making this show. It means so much to so many people that they’re able to see themselves in the cast! To be able to be bring this sort of light in to people during covid, post covid and all that’s currently & constantly going on, it’s really special to be able to be on a show like this and also portray this wild and hopefully relatable ride. I will say that there will definitely be several jaw dropping moments for Ben in season 3 and I’m very [very] excited for the fans to see it and probably even MORE excited for their reactions!! It’s gonna be really special.
OKAY WELL WE CAN’T WAIT, YOU KNOW WHEN THERE’S DIVERSITY IN THE WRITING ROOM, THE STORIES ARE SO RICH, BECAUSE YOU GET DIFFERENT TAPESTRIES AND TEXTURES, ALL THESE DIFFERENT LENSES ARE PRESENT AND HANDLE THE MATERIAL WITH SUCH [PERSONAL] CARE. EVEN YOURSELF AS A JEWISH ACTOR PORTRAYING BEN’S JEWISH CUSTOMS AND CULTURE, WITH SHOWS BACKED LIKE THIS WE GET SO MUCH AUTHENTICITY.
SO NO SECRET THAT EVERYBODY LOVES YOU AS BEN GROSS. WE’RE SUPER CURIOUS TO KNOW HOWEVER, WHAT IS JAREN’S DREAM CHARACTER THAT YOU HOPE TO PLAY ONE DAY?
I sort of dropped a hint about that earlier. I've always wanted to be “The Flash”! -Growing up I had a photo of me as a kid dressed up as The Flash & I think there’s a photo of Tom Holland somewhere dressed up as Spider Man. -I’d love to be able to put that on a talk show one day! [lol] -I think my imagination as young kid running around as him still lives with me. That role as well has a lot of depth to it & the developmental psychology of the Barry Allen character having going through so much trauma at a young age, I think the current casts do such great jobs at portraying all of that so well. [And secretly I’ve just always always wanted to be really fast, like if I could choose a super power that would be it!]
SO I GOTTA TELL YA, YOUR LIFE MOTTO #REMEMBERTHEFEELING IS HUGE, BECAUSE IT’S A FORM OF PRACTICING GRATITUDE ESSENTIALLY. AND IN DOING SO YOU ARE ULTIMATELY ATTRACTING EVEN MORE EXPERIENCES INTO YOUR LIFE TO BE GRATEFUL FOR! IS THERE ANY 1 #REMEMBERTHEFEELING MOMENT FOR YOU THAT YOU’D CONSIDER THE ULTIMATE MEMORY?
I think the moment that changed my life the most was the moment that I got the call telling me that I’d booked ‘Never Have I Ever’. -I’m getting goose bumps right now just thinking about it. For me it was the most unbelievable week I’d ever had in my life. I had just finished orientation at USC, was so excited to start college and I’d met so many amazing people already. I was doing ‘Shakespeare in Love’ which wound up going to nationals @ The International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, NB. We were performing in front of 2 sold out crowds of 3000 people each! Live theater is such a pure form of acting and I was so used to being in front of the camera that it was an exhilarating experience. After one of the shows I was waiting in the hotel room with my friends getting ready to go out and I got this call from my acting coach, saying “hey we have a staff meeting, it’s an emergency, I’m gonna dial you in NOW”. Suddenly my manager, Matt Shelton gets the phone and he says “hey buddy”….I immediately run out to the hallway and Matt gives me the incredible news that I BOOKED IT! I couldn’t believe it! I literally broke down crying, my friends (who all knew about the pending audition) dog-piled on top of me with hugs & cheers!! I was SO happy and I knew that in that moment, my life would never be the same again. It was just such a pivotal moment in terms of my personal and professional growth. Before then I’d been acting for about 13 years and it was so special to know I was about to be on a show that was ALREADY picked up [for 10 Episodes] with Mindy & Lang @ the helm. I mean getting to this level with those powerhouses that I’d been such a fan of my whole life (Lang with ‘Brooklyn 99’ and ’30 Rock’ and Mindy obviously with ‘The Office’ and ‘The Mindy Project)! I was just so excited to know that I was gonna learn from such professionals and such leaders. It was all just such an incredible blur, but I remember telling myself just ‘remember the feeling’. Remember this overwhelming sense of gratitude & love & affection & joy for this moment that changed my life!
WHAT WOULD WE FIND YOU DOING ON YOUR FULL ACTUAL DAYS OFF? WHAT’S A SELF CARE DAY LIKE FOR JAREN?
[Laughs] - Ah man, I’m such a routine oriented person, I still have to be accomplishing things even on my “off days”. For me something I do for self-care is fitness! I was a football player growing up, a competitive power lifter in high school and I also ran track, so for me fitness is still a great way to calm myself down. In that regard I would definitely start out with a morning at the gym for an hour or 45 minutes, then [in an ideal world] I would be going to an audition for Steven Spielberg & maybe getting to go do a director's session with him to learn for some incredible role :) While this would be my ideal, the truth is that every audition makes me excited! To me there’s so much in the opportunity….the opportunity to grow, to learn, sometimes even to fail. There's opportunity in failure to discover what I can find to become an even better actor and person. The day would probably end with a nice dinner, maybe a steak or some chicken fingers :) then some dark chocolate ice cream & a little hangout time with my roommates. That would probably be the ideal “off” day for me!
WE’VE SEEN SOME BAKING AND OTHER HOBBIES ON YOUR SOCIALS OVER THE YEARS, WHAT’S AN ACTUAL SECRET OR HIDDEN TALENT/PASTIME THAT WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT JAREN?
I think that I am [secretly] pretty good at accents and impressions! That’s something that I haven’t really gotten to showcase yet in a role. Obviously being from Dallas, my southern accent is my most comfortable, but after I’d watched “Normal People” on Hulu I fell in love with the Irish accent and I really want to be able to do that one day! I think accents are just really fun in general and I’m really hoping to showcase that in roles in the future!
DO YOU FIND YOURSELF SLIPPING INTO FUN ACCENTS RANDOMLY WHEN CHATTING WITH FRIENDS?
You know, sometimes! Especially if I’m around someone who is actually foreign and has one. Like I’ve met people who are Australian and I’ve slipped into an Australian accent and I’ve had people record me in disbelief to send to their friends. Like “your not going to believe this -this kid is from Texas”! [LOL] -I’m ready to let all of my accents out!!
SPEAKING OF SECRETS LOL, JAREN YOU’RE SECRETLY RIPPED! WE KNOW YOU PLAYED FOOTBALL IN HIGH SCHOOL, BUT IS THERE A WORKOUT REGIMEN OR ANY OTHER FITNESS GO-TO’S YOU CAN SHARE?
For me I try to maintain a really healthy balance with my workouts, I had a coach in high school that taught me “if you do something for 90 days it’ll become a habit and a strong one at that”! So I think If anyone can find a way to workout 3-4 times a week they can make it a habit. I know sometimes things come up and it can be difficult, but workouts can be super creative, it doesn’t have to be just the gym and weights. Like sometimes I'll just play tennis in lieu of lifting. I always notice no matter the activity, that when I work out, I just feel better! I think a workout “secret” is simply to just get started. I think that a lot people believe that you have to know how to lift or have a regimen first, but honestly it’s really just about starting. Every current body type we now call a “gym body” started somewhere. In my freshman year of high school I could barely lift a bar, but now I can bench press 225 lbs [I WEIGH like 145 lbs] -So just start, find something that's physically fun & go from there!
YOU’RE 21 NOW, WHERE DO YOU HOPE TO BE IN LIFE BY AGE 26?
I think I just hope to be the type of person that people can always enjoy being around. I hope I can help and support people with their dreams and their goals. I just want to make a positive impact, even now I try hard to be that type of brother, that type of friend, that type of son. When I think about any sort of legacy, I want to be like my grandpa or my sister or my mom or dad; people who help elevate the people around them. I think when you look back on your life some things that you do will be amazing but the reason you’ll be remembered will be because of the kind of impact you’ve made on people personally. I’m extroverted and I love meeting & talking to new people, so I hope that at 26 I'm still someone who’s actively meeting and embracing others and that I'm still just as close with the amazing friends I have now.
SO HERE’S OUR FAVORITE QUESTION: JAREN, WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF LUXURY?
I think luxury is something that makes you feel elevated in your life. It can be the smallest thing however. I think that you can find luxury in a delicious 78% bar of Belgium chocolate. I think you can just as equally find luxury in a Caribbean cruise! I’d have to say that my #rememberthefeeling motto definitely inspires me to pay attention to the “smaller” things in life & has assisted in my understanding that those things can also be luxurious. Luxury can be something that calms you down or lifts you up, it can be as simple as getting takeout and watching a movie with friends. Literally anything that makes you feel like YOUR life is amazing and special and warm. Whatever that might be for each specific person, that’s luxury!
& FINALLY JAREN, CAN YOU FILL IN THESE BLANKS FOR US?
MY FAVORITE FOOD IS:
Dark chocolate ice cream.
MY FAVORITE SONG IS:
‘Never Meant To Be’ by Tejon Street Corner Thieves.
MY FAVORITE SINGER IS:
MY FAVORITE ACTOR IS:
MY FAVORITE COLOR IS:
MY FAVORITE MOVIE IS:
“Everything, Everywhere All At Once”
MY FAVORITE TV SHOW IS:
MY FAVORITE (OR DREAM) VACATION DESTINATION IS:
Skiing in the Swiss Alps
IF I COULD HAVE DINNER WITH ANY 2-6 PEOPLE WHO EVER EXISTED THEY WOULD BE:
Robin Williams, General Iroh (Avatar The Last Airbender character), Barack Obama, My dad, Meryl Streep &….. Rafael Nadal!
& OF COURSE WE HAD TO END ON THIS ONE…..
I AM JAREN LEWISON & NEVER HAVE I EVER: