Spoilers for Never Have I Ever season 3 ahead.
Eleanor Wong, one third of the central friend group in Netflix’s Never Have I Ever, has mastered the art of stealing focus. There are the outfits—platform crocs, strangely-shaped statement earrings, and all of the pattern mixing. The accents—this season, she’s preparing to play Keeley in the school’s production of Ted Lasso. And the quips—mentioning to Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) mid-pep-talk that she signs into her friend’s Instagram “when you forget to like my posts.”
According to Ramona Young, who has brought the theatrical character to life for three seasons, one of Eleanor’s best one-liners arrived via her own ad-lib. It’s when Eleanor is describing a drama-club-sponsored charity event: “We’re raising money to help climate refugees learn improv. Yes, and…the ocean’s dying.”
As Eleanor muscles her way toward a career in Hollywood, Never Have I Ever’s recently released third season is a showcase for Young’s broad comedic talents. In one episode, Eleanor appears as a “salty sea wench” for her first professional acting gig, a pirate-themed Captain Joe’s Blinds commercial. Another sees Eleanor reenact a Jennifer Lopez monologue from Hustlers (strip pole included!) to secure a talent agent. “Jennifer Lopez played a character named Ramona in Hustlers, and I’m Ramona playing Ramona from Hustlers,” Young explains with Eleanor-like excitement during a recent Zoom. “It was incredibly meta.”
To nail the two-minute-long scene, Young committed the way her ambitious character might. “Oh, I was thrilled. I was over the moon. I did so much research,” she says. “I went to pole dancing classes, I watched J.Lo’s behavior and physicality and the way she inflected her words. I tried to act like I was from the Bronx, and that take was not used. However, it was fun doing the research. That’s my favorite part.”
Playing Eleanor on the Mindy Kaling– and Lang Fisher–created coming-of-age series has also required the 24-year-old to reflect upon her own high school memories. “I feel like maybe inside my own brain, my high school life was more dramatic and cool,” she says. “But from an exterior perspective, it was probably more nerdy and silly…. Internally: Euphoria. Externally: Never Have I Ever.”
She plays the artsy counterpart to Lee Rodriguez’s robotics-obsessed Fabiola, but in reality, Young says, Rodriguez attended drama school while Young was enrolled in a science-focused school. Young made that decision in part to appease her parents, who had a difficult time accepting their daughter’s decision to pursue acting. “I was always a creative, artistic person,” Young says, “but I was also very shy and hesitant about it. So I just continued doing what my parents really encouraged me to do.”
In time, she was able to carve her own path, booking recurring roles on shows including Santa Clarita Diet and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. “Eventually [I had] to find the courage and just tell my parents, ‘Hey, I want to be an actor,’ and face their reaction, which was so hard because I want my parents to be happy and proud of me,” Young says. “After many, many years, they are so happy for me. And that just warms my heart.”
Eleanor’s most heartwarming development in season three comes courtesy of her love story with a fellow student, the surprisingly sweet stoner Trent. “I’m a second away from bursting into either song or tears at every moment of the day,” Eleanor says of their unlikely attraction early in the season. “Shouldn’t I be with another artist, or at least another Sagittarius?”
But Young insists that the couple’s charm lies in their mismatched nature. “The best part about their relationship is you don’t expect it,” she says. “That’s the best kind of love, when you fall in love and you don’t see it coming. They’re so different from each other, but somehow when you put them together, there’s a lot of chemistry. It’s cute and it works and it’s funny to watch.”
Young has relished getting the opportunity to work closely with Benjamin Norris, who brings Trent’s soulful, if simplistic musings to life. “He is such a kind, giving actor, and he’ll check in on me because we have some pretty romantic scenes together,” Young says. “Every step of the way he was just like, ‘Are you okay? How are you feeling? Was this good for you?’ He was just such a gentleman about it that it made the whole process so fun. We were incredibly proud of what we were making the whole time.”
Never Have I Ever has long destigmatized female sexuality, allowing its characters to explore the physicality of their romantic lives without judgment. That streak continues this season when Trent and Eleanor consummate their relationship—standing up, in the school’s drama room, as a poster of Lin-Manuel Miranda looks on—without a shred of regret. “Eleanor had her standards, and she wasn’t going to have sex unless it was in the right atmosphere. And coincidentally, that happened, so it was great. They were both very much in love with each other,” Young says. “I really appreciated that the writers created an environment that was cohesive, and they both were comfortable with each other.”
The actor is tight-lipped about her show’s upcoming fourth and final season, but can confirm that knowing it was the last “was just such an emotional roller coaster.” Young also remains mum about the inclusion of an Eleanor-centric episode, although she has her pick for a celebrity to narrate such an installment à la Devi’s John McEnroe or Paxton’s Gigi Hadid. That would be none other than Aubrey Plaza. “She’s always been a favorite of mine. She’s witty and creative and quirky and thinks outside the box,” Young says—all traits that fit Eleanor to a tee.
Filming has already wrapped on Never Have I Ever, but Young has ensured that she’ll have a piece of Eleanor with her forever. Instead of holding onto a wrap gift or lifting a favorite prop, she says, “I actually got a tattoo after we wrapped. It was an homage to Eleanor on the show. I got a tattoo of a shooting star. I’ll always look back and remember this time period in my life and just be so incredibly happy that I got to do it.”
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