Three seasons with the fourth being its final and breakout star Jaren Lewison who portrays the lovable Ben Gross on Netflix’s hit series Never Have I Ever is still as grateful as ever for booking the series. Ahead of the season 4 release, EUPHORIA. caught up with the actor on Zoom to discuss the series, self-love, his career beginnings, and much more.
The Dallas, TX native found his love for acting when he was little. There wasn’t even a time that he could remember when he didn’t want to pursue acting as a career. Every time he was asked in his younger years in school, he’d say he wanted to be an actor. He revealed that from birth he was screaming for attention.
“I love the indescribable feeling when you’re on set and the A.D. says roll sound and the director calls action. It’s something that I chased every single day. It’s something that makes me feel so alive. I feel like I’m on top of the world. That’s what makes me feel more connected to people than anything else in the entire world. It’s being in a scene and helping someone’s vision come to life. There’s nothing like it. Playing pretend as a little kid maybe that’s what first started that interest and when an improv group came to my after-care program. I was like five years old which sort of facilitated my path into TV and film which led me to Barney and Friends and some other credits and an acting studio where I got all my training. Maybe it’s that love for playing pretend that I never lost but whatever it was I’m profoundly grateful for it. Nothing makes me feel better than when I’m on set and I got my lines ready to go and I’m ready to crush a scene.”
When Stranger Things made its debut on the streamer in July 2016 he reminisces, “I remember watching that and being like, I’m gonna do a Netflix show one day. I don’t know if that was even like child-like nativity or belief but maybe I manifested it.”
“I believe that your words are powerful and you can definitely draw opportunities into you and I made the most of an incredible opportunity and I got lucky. I was watching a hockey game the other day and the announcer said, ‘You have to be lucky to be good and good to be lucky‘ and that really resonated with me because I think I worked really really hard to be good and to be great and to perfect and hone my craft. I’m still doing that and I’m still learning every single day…from the amazing crew members, the amazing cast members, people in class, everybody who is willing to give me a piece of wisdom and their time. I’m learning from all of them and I get a little bit lucky but in order to be lucky you have to be in a position where talent can be recognized and people can take a chance on you and it’s a dream come true! It was a childhood dream. I say that it profoundly changed my life which it absolutely did do and I’m forever grateful to Mindy and Lang, Netflix, and Universal. Everybody who had a hand again in allowing me to be a part of this show. It was a dream show. It was my big break. It was for lack of a better word perfect. There’s nothing I think that could’ve been better or could’ve beaten this series. It was the best environment with the best people, writing, and characters.”
After a big moment in episode one of season four of the series between characters Devi and Ben, Gross finds himself in the gym getting advice from NBA star Dwight Howard.
“He’s like the coolest dude! The crazy thing is I’m not a very tall guy, standing next to him I was like ‘Oh my god, I feel like a little boy again looking up at my dad.’ He’s the nicest, most gentle. He was asking everybody how they were doing and was sharing some really cool stories about a project he had just worked on. He was just such a gentle giant, really great guy. I’d love to work with him again and a talented dude too! He’s a great basketball player but working with him was really fun, ” Lewison raves about working with Howard.
A lot of the easiest moments of filming were the scenes that the actor didn’t speak.
“The crew loves those. Every time that I don’t talk or it will say in the script, Ben clocks this or overhears that. It’s a joke by the way! They really do enjoy my performances for the most part. The hardest scene… there’s one very special scene in the finale but I’m very excited! I think the second that scene shows up people are going to know exactly what I was talking about which is probably my favorite scene of the series. I think that was a big scene and without saying too much! I’m very excited to hear everyone’s reactions and read everyone’s comments.”
When it comes to self-care rituals for the actor, he said working out is the biggest thing for him. It’s something that keeps him grounded while getting his energy out. “I was a powerlifter in high school and then when I got to college I got into lifting even more. I think because I was getting a little bit more conscious about what I was eating so instead of shoving junk down my throat. I was like ‘Okay if I eat well I’ll perform better and I’ll get stronger.’ Going to the gym is something I do six days a week and then I play tennis usually Saturdays, which is usually a day off for me. It allows me to keep my focus. It gives me some really great alone time and even if I would work a 12 or 14-hour day, I’d do about an hour workout. I’m a strong believer that if you feel good then mentally you’re going to be in a really good position as well.”
He also has a big sweet tooth. “My body doesn’t love that but everything in moderation. I think if I’m ever down, a quick piece of chocolate or cookie is something that I gravitate towards to,” he admitted.
With antisemitism unfortunately present in today’s society, having Ben Gross representing the Jewish culture in a hit series as well as Lewison being Jewish himself is so meaningful. The actor said he loves being Jewish and loves all the holidays that come along with it. He went to a Jewish school growing up so growing up in the religion has always been super important to him and his family.
“I read Ben Gross and when he was talking about his bar mitzvah, I’d think about my own bar mitzvah. What I really love about the show it’s like casually mentioned. Ben is a lot of different things and his intersectionality also includes that he’s Jewish. It’s really cool to talk about my culture in casual ways and just reference that and have it not be a sole focus. I’m very proud of that,” he said.
An out-of-character moment for Gross was when he got high with Trent this season and it was such a laughable moment in the best way! “I thought it was one of the funniest scenes I ever read and I was so excited to do it! The funny thing is back in season one I was talking to Maitreyi and was like ‘When is there going to a be a scene where Ben gets super freaking sloshed or really high…’ and of course, I said it as a joke and I kept saying it and I don’t think Mindy or any of the writers ever heard me or maybe they did? I’ve been saying that and I finally read it.
“Ben Norris is one of my closest friends in real life and being able to do that with him was the funniest experience! Adam County, who directed the episode… just brilliant. He made everything so easy. We were having such a blast and it was so hard to not get the giggles… which is okay but the edibles haven’t hit yet. We weren’t allowed to be super giggly really. Trent is in another stratosphere but Ben is still waiting for everything to go down. It was such a good experience. I think the energy in that scene is really positive and they have a really meaningful conversation which is wonderful.”
Ben’s journey throughout the four seasons has been a fruitful one. Lewison first auditioned for the series in 2019 when it was still an untitled Mindy Kaling project that became Never Have I Ever. The second that he read the script, it was an obvious choice for him to eventually snag the coveted role.
He gushed about how grateful he is for booking the role and everyone involved for making it happen. “Ben will forever be one of the most precious characters that I think I will ever play. This was my big break. Ben is the first one that I feel really connected to that was difficult saying goodbye to and that I was super invested in. I would get scripts and when Ben would mess up I would be like ‘Come on!! Ben, what are you doing?’ I’m really proud of his journey. I’m grateful for the complexity and the depth that the writers bestowed upon him. It made it super fun for me to be able to portray him. I think that when you meet Ben in the first season he’s a character that is outwardly not necessarily the most likable. Then as you go along in episode six of season one…episode six of season three… in the finales. There are so many moments in between as well that draw you to Ben and that you soften to him. You see that he’s such a scared, lonely kid who is trying to find himself and who he is in the world. He is somebody that a lot of people can relate to. ”
The actor admitted to still feeling insecure about himself and the message that he shares with those with similar feelings is that you are not alone.
“I struggle with insecurity and anxiety all the time. I’m in Gen-Z and they tend to put a tremendous amount of pressure on themselves which something the show touches on really well. The idea of striving for perfection and allowing yourself to fail is something that we sort of adopted, and we need to get away from because my parents have always told me your failures are your biggest features, and for whatever reason I have been scared to fail. Ben is terrified of failing…Devi is as well. There are so many characters who are afraid to take the leap of faith and it is scary. That’s really what faith is- it’s belief in yourself. You have to find a way to put those anxious thoughts in the way back of your mind and that key is thrown away because you don’t need them.”
There are so many things that everybody does super well and they don’t give themselves enough credit. I am included in that – sometimes it’s very hard for me to say, ‘Hey I did a really great job.’ I struggle with that, a lot of my friends struggle with that but like Ben I am working on allowing myself to be proud of my accomplishments. I’m allowing myself to say, ‘It’s okay that I have failed,’ it’s gonna teach me a lot of great lessons and I can lean on my friends. I can open up to people which is something Devi has done really well with her relationship with the girls and it’s something that Paxton and Ben did really well in that hospital scene from last season. Opening up to people and talking about your insecurities doesn’t make you weak. Realizing you’re not alone does a lot more than you think it does. Don’t hole yourself up…don’t spiral away, go out, reach out to the people that love you. Sometimes hearing those reasons can be pretty beneficial.”
Of course, it’s not a series wrap-up without taking something from the set! The actor took a slate from the editors which he said was one of his most prized possessions and a copy of the 4×10 series finale script in which he had everyone in the crew sign it and leave a little message if desired. “It made me super emotional. I’ve only read it once because I was sobbing. We’re such a family. You work with people 70-80 hours a week for three or four years, you really create a strong bond. It creates an incredible working environment – a collaborative and creative workspace. I wanted to have something written that would last the test of time.”
The fans are a monumental reason for a show’s success and the most electric experience the budding star has had was at the season three premiere. It was the first in-person premiere for the series since the first two seasons premiered at the height of the COVID pandemic.
“I can’t even speak and put into words how much it meant to be surrounded to dress up in the suit with the red carpet, the Never Have I Ever behind it. It was thousands of fans that came out to support the show for the premiere. I got to sign my first autographs, take pictures, and chat with fans. There was one fan who made me a “Team Ben” bracelet and my sister immediately took it. She’s like the captain of team Ben so she wears it all the time! It’s amazing. It’s just so special to see how many people love the show and people had driven in from super far and every time that I get to talk to them, they tell me what the show has meant to them and why they found the show, and who their favorite characters are. Team Ben and Team Paxton are very fierce competitors but have hopefully a lot of love and respect for each other which is so much fun. There’s so much passion and love behind the show. It warms my heart beyond to no end,” he explained.
Where will see Jaren Lewison next? He revealed that creative production is something that he’s interested in. He adores being able to have a voice in stories. Some careers that he’d love to emulate in a certain way include John Krasinski, Steve Carrell, the late Robin Williams, and Heath Ledger.
“I think those are actors for me were able to be so versatile in their depth and skills that make you cry laughing and then sob your eyes out. A project that they did back to back. They’re all such talented people and have such a naturalistic grounded quality to their work that I try to learn and emulate in my own work as I learn and grow throughout this business. Hopefully, I will find my own path that is similar to theirs because they’re really, truly an inspiration telling some amazing stories and I hope that I get to do that. I hope I get to be part of more people’s visions that make big ripples in the industry and mean a lot to a lot of people.”