Darren Barnet and I are discussing lunch options over Zoom when he says he’s craving a burger, fries, and a vanilla milkshake. Quarantining by himself since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown, all he’s looking for is some comfort food, which is surprising given his apparent dedication to shirtless Instagram posts.
Barnet currently stars in the Mindy Kaling-created comedy, Never Have I Ever, and is probably best known for his washboard abs. Since the show dropped on Netflix, fans have swooned over Barnet’s portrayal of Paxton Hall-Yoshida, the resident jock and object of protagonist Devi’s affections. And it’s no wonder, given that five minutes into the pilot, Barnet steps out of the pool dripping wet, abs visible, and with Robyn’s Dancing On My Own playing in the background.
“I think [the producers] were scared I was too muscular,” he says with a laugh when I ask him about his audition. “I remember them saying, ‘his guns are a little much.’”
Staying in shape comes second nature to Barnet; he’s played sports since his childhood. And in between the years of lacrosse, basketball, boxing, and martial arts, he tried to follow his dreams of becoming an actor. After guest-starring on hit shows like This Is Us and Criminal Minds, the actor was determined to get into shape for his first series regular role.
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Never Have I Ever, the new Netflix original series created by The Office star Mindy Kaling and based loosely on her own high school years, follows teenager Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) as she navigates the normal highs and lows of teenage life in the aftermath of a huge loss. It might sound like grim viewing, but the emotional storytelling is balanced with warmth and humor — not to mention a killer soundtrack.
And what would any self-respecting teenage comedy-drama be without a heartthrob? Enter Paxton Hall-Yoshida.
A particularly memorable scene from the show, which became prominently featured in the trailer for the show, involves a daydream sequence in which heartthrob Paxton visits main character Devi in her bedroom, and removes his T-shirt in a single rapid, fluid motion, revealing a ripped physique.
It’s a knowingly over-the-top moment of pure teenage fantasy, and it has gone semi-viral since the show dropped on Netflix, with guys sharing videos of their own ill-fated attempts to recreate Paxton’s smooth shirt-shedding movement.
“That was like a moment for me,” says Darren Barnet, who plays Paxton. “When I saw how many people are doing it, I had no idea that move was going to such, like, a thing.”
In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, the 29-year-old actor explains the hours of preparation that went into that single scene, and how it nearly ended disastrously.
“They originally told me they wanted me to take it off from behind, with one hand, and I kept choking myself,” he says. “So I was like, it’s not going to work this way, man, it’s going around my neck, so I went how about this way, doing it with the other arm, and they were like yeah, just do it as fast as you can. So I went home, and I was like [whooshing sound]. It became like muscle memory.”