• Interviews

Lexi and Maitreyi: Fresh Teens of the Small Screen

It feels hopeful and exciting, in these sad days of a worldwide pandemic that has taken so many lives, to interview – even virtually – two confident and articulate teenage girls each of whom has a starring role in a television series. Lexi Underwood plays Pearl, Kerry Washington’s daughter in Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu), based on the 2017 novel by Celeste Ng. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan plays Devi in Never Have I Ever (Netflix), created by Mindy Kaling.  


Kerry Washington as Mia Warren and Lexi Underwood as Pearl Warren in Little Fires Everywhere



Lexi was born and raised in Washington, D.C., where her parents have government jobs. She has loved the performing arts since childhood – she sings and dances, and plays the piano, the guitar, and the flute. She has been living in Los Angeles, for the last five years. The actresses she admires are Viola Davis, Cicely Tyson, Eartha Kitt, Meryl Streep, and Nicole Kidman. On the music side, “I definitely look up to Etta James, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and I absolutely love the Beatles.”

Little Fires Everywhere is set in the model upscale community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, during the 1990s. Lexi explains, “We’re touching on many important topics that need to be talked about today. Like motherhood: what makes you a good mother? Also, racism in America, the LGBTQ community, and abortion rights.”

While Pearl is always fighting with her mother Mia (Kerry Washington), resenting the fact that they are constantly moving, and wishing to become part of the white and wealthy family of Elena (Reese Witherspoon), in real life Lexi considers her Mom to be her best friend, “We have an incredible bond, and ever since I was little she’s always been the person that’s understood me the most.”

Lexi’s grandmother on her father’s side is Italian: she lives in Castiglioncello, Tuscany, but often visits her son and granddaughter in the US. Lexi has spent a summer with her grandparents in Italy, where she learned to cook local specialties. She identifies as Black and Italian and is proud of both heritages. This is her message to fans during the current health crisis, “I want to use my platform to impact society positively, especially during this time right now, where people are in quarantine. If anybody needs some entertainment to put a smile on their face, I want to be the person that other people see as encouragement and as a source of light. Even in the midst of all this chaos, we can still find some happiness and some hope.”


Lee Rodriguez as Fabiola Torres, Ramona Young as Eleanor Wong, and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi Vishwakumar in Never Have I Ever

Lara Solank/Netflix


Maitreyi was born in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, to Tamil parents who had fled Sri Lanka as children during the civil war. From them, she learned to appreciate the ancient Tamil culture, its rituals, and beliefs. “I’m so proud to be a Tamil.” She also credits her grandmother. “I’ve been to both India and Sri Lanka, and it’s interesting to see the fusions of foods collide together. Luckily for me, I am blessed to be living with my grandma, who happily cooks authentic aloo curry near every day.”

Having sent an audition tape, Maitreyi was chosen from among 15,000 applicants to play the lead part of Devi in Never Have I Ever, set in present-day Los Angeles. Devi’s family is from India: her father died suddenly, and she has a hard time getting along with her strict mother. A high achiever in high school, she comes up with a plan to improve her social life and that of her best friends, Afro-Latina Fabiola, and Eleanor, who is Asian. They all decide to get boyfriends, which causes some amusing complications. The story is loosely based on Mindy Kaling’s own youthful experiences, and she became a mentor for the young actress on her first job.

Maitreyi says about Devi, “I have had my own issues with self-confidence, and that’s one thing I love about Devi, how confident she is in the weirdest of times.  It’s really refreshing to see that. But Devi isn’t confident when it comes to her looks, and teenagers from every culture can relate to that awkward feeling.” She says that in real life, she grew up in “a politically active family, so I’ve always been in that environment, where I’ve been expected to formulate my own opinions. When it comes to cuts to public education and human rights, those are issues that are really important to me and I would not shy away from speaking out on them, especially now when I have a prominent platform to do so.”

Mindy Kaling sums up the importance of presenting people of color on television and tell their stories, “Toni Morrison said that White means American, while everyone else has to hyphenate – you are African-American, Asian-American, Indian-American, Mexican-American, etc. The history of Blacks and Latinos, Asians and Indians in this country is so different, but these three girls bond because they are not White.’