Megan Suri on what it is like to re-experience high school
Amanda Lim/The Only Agency
Drama. Lies. Family Troubles. And… Boys? They say high school is a scary place and luckily for Megan Suri, she gets to experience it all as Sherman Oaks’ newest transfer student Aneesa Qureshi in season 2 of Never Have I Ever. Being the “new Indian girl” isn’t easy but add in the fact that Aneesa immediately takes away Devi Vishwakumar’s love interest, things get even more complicated. It isn’t an easy role to take on, but Megan has it down.
While Megan is only 22, more than half of her life has been as an actor. Starting small in commercials to guest starring alongside some of her favorite actors in shows and movies like Atypical, Fresh Off the Boat, Valentine’s Day to now starring in one of the most monumental shows for South Asian representation, the door is wide open for what Megan is going to achieve.
With another season already on the way, Never Have I Ever has truly outdone itself. Not only does the show give a glimpse into what it is like to be an Indian-American in America, it also touches on many relatable issues of growing up, family, and more simply: life. To tackle all these issues is quite a feat, but Megan’s life journey has prepared her for it. To understand the full story, you just have to watch Never Have I Ever and find out, but first, here is a small snippet into the life of Megan Suri.
You have guest-starred in so many fan-favorites such as Atypical, 13 Reasons Why, How to Get Away with Murder, and Fresh Off the Boat. Is there a particular gig that you would consider your “kickstart” moment into on-screen acting?
I don’t know if I could classify a particular role as my “kickstart moment” into this industry, but when I booked Valentine’s Day and was working amongst all of these actors I had watched in movies and admired, I knew at that moment, this was something I definitely wanted to get used to. Also, being introduced to craft-services was a huge game-changer!
You’ve also been in the industry for almost 14 years now, AND you are only 22! Did your younger self ever expect to be where you are today?
No. I’ve always had big aspirations, but never in a million years did I fathom David Arquette would play a father figure to me, or have the opportunities to work with actors I grew up watching in both Hollywood and Bollywood. Most significantly, I never imagined I would be a part of a show centered around an Indian-American family that has been able to garner so much global success. I feel this show has shattered the tired notion that people of color don’t have an audience within mainstream media. To witness the trajectory of diversity shift over the past decade has been beautiful. There’s still a lot more work to do, but the steps being taken now hold a lot of promising weight and make me hopeful that there will be many more moments for which my present-day self cannot yet imagine.
Speaking of the past, your first Instagram post is a diary entry from when you were eight and had just booked your first gig in a Honda commercial. If you could travel back in time and say anything to your eight-year-old self, what would you want to tell her?
Oh boy, SO many things. Enjoy the journey, everything has a way of cosmically aligning regardless of your current ability to perceive “the why.” Be kinder to yourself. And, listen to dad more often, he’s usually always right.
Before landing the role of Aneesa in Never Have I Ever, you also starred as Bindu in The Miseducation of Bindu. What is unique about these two pieces are that they tackle the ideas of race and what it is like to be an Indian-American in high school. Do you think your past role as Bindu helped prepare you for how to tackle Aneesa?
Well, aside from being the new kid, Aneesa and Bindu couldn’t be more different from each other personality-wise, but I do think playing the lead character of a film ultimately armored me
with the confidence to tackle and embody the essence of Aneesa both as the character, but also as an actor coming on board to a widely successful show with an-already well established family in the midst of a global pandemic.
“I feel this show has shattered the tired notion that people of color don’t have an audience within mainstream media. To witness the trajectory of diversity shift over the past decade has been beautiful.”
Talk me through what was happening when you heard you landed the role of Aneesa?
I never got the official call that I had landed the role of Aneesa; The first call I received was a week and a half after my audition was submitted and it was that I had been approved by producers for the role of Aneesa, but it wasn’t exactly official yet. I immediately screamed and jumped up and down a few times, but was mostly filled with gratitude because I genuinely worked hard on the audition and gave it everything I had, so to be approved straight away was shocking but equally gratifying.
Did you go into the audition knowing what type of character Aneesa was going to be like?
I only knew the surface level breakdown of Aneesa, which was that she was an effortlessly cool and confident transfer student who plays soccer and is Muslim. I came to learn a bit of her backstory and struggle with an eating disorder during my first fitting. It immediately set a tone for the responsibility of taking on this role.
Are there any characteristics or qualities that you share with Aneesa?
We’re both athletic (I was anyway,) and despite Aneesa’s forgiving nature, I also respect the fact that when push comes to shove, she stands up for herself. I think in those ways, we are very much alike.
What were you like in high school? Were you more like Devi and her friends who stick with what they are comfortable with or Aneesa who is very sociable and open to everyone, or perhaps a mix of both?
Definitely a hybrid of both characters. I think I could best describe it as I had the academic ambition and desperation of attention from boys as Devi but then, combined with the sporty, sociable nature of Aneesa. So in short, not the most self-dignifying time of my life.
Aneesa is immediately liked by everyone (apart from Devi haha) but we later learn she just wants to fit in somewhere. Do you think this accurately describes what it feels like to transfer to a new school?
I think I’d take it even a step further and say that’s what it feels like to be a person navigating life in general. No matter the environment, I think we all just initially want to make our mark and hope we can find connection with other people, whether it’s through authenticity or sometimes, overcompensation. No one wants to feel like an outsider, especially in high school, so the idea of assimilation as a teenager sounds way more appealing than isolation. It just so happens that Aneesa has an easier time doing so.
As Aneesa was introduced in season 2, what was your first day on set like?
I was slightly nervous; It was my first tv-job during the entirety of the 2020 pandemic crisis so I felt a tad bit rusty, but everyone in the cast and crew were very welcoming and made me feel at ease instantaneously. I also worked with Poorna in my first scene, and watching her work is honestly just major artistic inspo.
Going off of that, do you have a favorite memory with the cast?
Due to the strict covid-protocol safety measures set in place on set, there was a lot more social distancing happening rather than social festivities, but on our last day of filming season 2, we had a very small impromptu wrap “kickback” over at Ramona’s place and that was fun. The feeling of making it through a pandemic set and finishing the season in a timely manner, compounded with the wholesomeness of forming genuine connections with my castmates was incredible. There was a lot of karaoke, freestyle rap-roasts, and dancing to Megan Thee Stallion.
Aneesa didn’t exactly have a closure to her story at the end of season 2. If you could write an ending for her after the dance, what would you want to happen?
Personally, I would love for Aneesa to throw that red punch in Ben’s face because WHY are you dating a girl when you know you still have unresolved feelings for your ex, dude! But, that’s probably not in sync with Aneesa’s spirit, so I guess I’ll just leave it to the talented, more mature writers of the show to conjure up some much deserved justice for her. The admirable quality about Aneesa is that no matter what she goes through, she manages to get through, so my girl will be fine either way.
“Enjoy the journey, everything has a way of cosmically aligning regardless of your current ability to perceive ‘the why.'”
Both Ben and Paxton already had their own special episodes narrated by guest stars. If Aneesa had her own episode, who would you want to be her “voice”?
I’ve said Pedro Pascal in the past, because of his undeniable charm, but I also think Billie Eilish would be perfect, especially since I loosely pulled inspiration from her to create and portray Aneesa.
Netflix has already announced a renewal for season 3 of the show. Congratulations! What do you hope is next for Aneesa?
Thanks! If Aneesa is brought back, I would love to see a deeper dive into her life and perhaps even her past. Aneesa is such a well-rounded character with many layers, and I just think there’s a lot of potential to explore.
Just a fun one! Are you team Ben, team Paxton or team Who Needs A Boy?
Team Who Needs A Boy, because teenage boys suck, but if I had to choose, I’d choose season 2 Paxton simply because Ben gives off future “frat-boy” vibes and if there’s anything that sucks more than teenage boys, it’s frat boys.
Among the many issues that Never Have I Ever brings to light, one major one is the fear of not fitting in. Multiple episodes cover this idea that in America, you are considered “too Indian” but in India, you are considered “not Indian enough.” Have you ever felt this way before and do you have any advice for individuals who don’t feel like they belong anywhere?
I definitely have and think every child of immigrants does at some point. Individuality is based on the simple, yet often lost concept of recognizing that you are an individual; This means no one is like you nor could they ever be, so be you and be you unapologetically. It’s far too easy in the climate of social media and inherently placed social conformity principles to lose sight of that. If you have the privilege of certain social, economic, and political factors to embrace authenticity, release yourself from the limiting bounds of associating with a label. Embrace both your culture and your own unique thus special individuality outside of it.
The show itself is considered a milestone for South Asian representation in the media. Do you think the show accurately represents an Indian-American’s experience in America?
I think the show does a great job of highlighting certain stereotypes that are very real in many Indian households, and Asian culture in general, but the reality is, being an Indian-American is not a monolithic experience. That being said, this show is a juggernaut of a needle that is moving representation forward for brown people and it does so in a very palatable way that is suitable for people of any ethnicity to enjoy and find some relation to.
Asian representation in the media is increasing dramatically but there is still quite a lot of room for improvement. What do you think is the future for accurate representation of people of color in the media?
Woah, that’s a lot of pressure, but I understand because there aren’t yet many of us. I can only hope that number increases and we see more authentic stories of us. Time and time again, people of color have proved that it’s not talent which is lacking, it’s equal opportunity. Planet Earth is a very diverse place, and art is supposed to imitate real life, so it’s only logical we start doing just that! But also, I can play a person without needing an in-depth cultural background analysis; At the end of the day, we’re just actors who don’t need to be divided, but rather provided with the space to express our craft.
“No matter the environment, I think we all just initially want to make our mark and hope we can find connection with other people, whether it’s through authenticity or sometimes, overcompensation. No one wants to feel like an outsider, especially in high school.”
Matthew Collins/The Wall Group
Now that Season 2 of Never Have I Ever has wrapped, you are now onto more exciting projects such as your recent announcement that you will be starring in Searching 2! Congratulations! Is there anything you can give readers on what to expect from this film?
Thank you! I don’t believe I’m allowed to reveal anything yet, but expect another gripping and thrilling mystery, coming your way next year. Our cast is incredible and our entire team consists of such passionate filmmakers, so it will be worth your time!
While you were born and raised in California, you did spend some time living in India when you were younger as well. What is something that you miss about living in India?
I mostly miss the nostalgic feel of being a kid during the pre-cellular device/social media era. But, I can only describe celebrating Holi in India as the superlative of pure-enjoyment and unlike any other experience I’ve ever experienced. 10/10 recommend to anyone who hasn’t.
You are quite the busy actor. What is your favorite thing to do when you aren’t filming?
I have quite the mundane life outside of acting, but I’m usually exhausted after filming, so anything spanning between sleeping, watching movies by myself, creating fantastical scenarios in my head, or hanging with my dog takes the cake.
Never Have I Ever Season 2 now streaming on Netflix