Before Becoming a Netflix Heartthrob, Darren Barnet Worked at SoulCycle
When Darren Barnet moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting, it was a homecoming of sorts. The native Angeleno went to high school in Orlando, Florida, before relocating to Georgia for college, but returned to L.A. in an attempt to realize the dream he’s had since he was a kid. After a series of odd jobs that helped pay the rent, the 29-year-old actor began to build a resume with a series of small roles on network shows such as This Is Us and Criminal Minds. That’s when Mindy Kaling cast him as the high school heartthrob Paxton Hall-Yoshida in her hit coming-of-age comedy Never Have I Ever, the second season of which debuts on Netflix this summer. “When I worked at SoulCycle, I’d walk to work on Sunset Boulevard, where I’d be surrounded by billboards,” he says. “And I would just think, ‘Man, how cool would it be, not even to see myself up there, but to just be a part of a show that they were advertising?’ Fast-forward a couple of years, I’m walking down the Strip, and there I am. It’s my face on there.”
ERNESTO MACIAS: You left Los Angeles around 12 and relocated to Orlando. What was it like leaving L.A. at that age and moving to a new place?
DAREN BARNET: It was difficult. My father had just been diagnosed with cancer and it was a crazy shift because I felt like I was leaving a lot behind. It was quite a learning experience going there, but it definitely made me understand what it’s like to lose people or be distanced from people in life. I learned that very young.
MACIAS: Do you live in Florida now or California?
BARNET: I’m back in California now.
MACIAS: What was it like coming back to L.A. after leaving?
BARNET: Well, I was coming back with a college degree but not wanting to do anything with it. I studied International Relations and Visual Communication—broadcast journalism. My mom wanted me to be a journalist and a news anchor. It was an interest of mine, but I knew I wanted to act. When people found out I had a college degree, they’d be like, “Why are you doing these odd jobs?” I had to have that great conversation of, “Oh, well I want to be an actor;” And have everyone roll their eyes and laugh at me.
MACIAS: What were the first auditions or roles you got?
BARNET: I’ve wanted to do it since I was five, so I’ve always been putting on characters, but I started doing theater at Berry College, where I went to school and fell deeply in love with it. When I came to L.A., I was trying to become an extra and this agency saw me in the elevator and pulled me out, and asked me what I was doing there. I said I was trying to be an extra and they were like, “No, you should try and do this for real.” I auditioned for them and then they signed me on the spot. I played Young Jack on This Is Us, I played a character on Criminal Minds and SWAT and it was all just kind of stepping stones and building blocks. Finally, I got my recurring role in Marvel Agents of Shield and as a series regular in Never Have I Ever. I never really understood how much I took for granted the way I got my first agency because that is the biggest struggle for most actors in L.A.—finding someone that will fight for them.
MACIAS: What different odd jobs did you take before acting and what did you learn from them?
BARNET: At SoulCycle, I was a bike attendant. I would walk to work every day on Sunset Boulevard and I would be surrounded by all of these billboards. I would think man, how cool would it be to not even see myself there, but to be part of a show and they were advertising on this billboard? Flash forward a couple of years, I’m walking down the street and there I am. Common used to be a customer at SoulCycle and I’ve always been a huge fan of him as an actor, as a rapper, as a creator in general. I’d always see him in Soul Cycle. I’d say, “What’s up?” to him and I would just think about how cool it would be to just be somewhere near his world. Like in a movie with him or anything. And now Common is in the second season of Never Have I Ever.
MACIAS: When you took on the role of Paxton Hall-Yoshida on Never Have I Ever, did you expect the character, and by proxy, you, to develop such a big following?
BARNET: I did not at all. They really allowed me to sink my teeth into the character. He was supposed to be more of a superficial character. I think letting me do what I wanted with it to an extent, made him more appealing. But I never thought he would gain such a following. During the first season, I didn’t see him as the character, but the fans took to him and I love them for it.
MACIAS: How did you adjust to that?
BARNET: It was weird that it happened in the middle of a pandemic. The social media attention is crazy and I want to be as interactive with fans as I can, but to be honest, Instagram makes me crazy sometimes. I do like my privacy. But it’s cool sometimes. On the street, fans will recognize me and ask for pictures or say they love the show. I love that because they’re the reason that the show is successful.
MACIAS: With your character on Never Have I Ever and your role in American Pie: Girls Rule, you play these thirst trap characters, for the Netflix generation. How does that make you feel?
BARNET: I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to kind of fill those shoes for a minute. But that being said, I do want to dive into different, compelling roles. One that I’m very excited about is the first movie that I’m producing and acting in. It’s a suspense thriller, if you can imagine The Shining meets Shutter Island. The title is Apophenia and I’m playing a complete maniac.
MACIAS: So you’re trying to go against type?
BARNET: I would love to do shows like Never Have I Ever and movies where the character’s in that realm of charming and whatever, but then randomly have a movie come out where people are like, “Wait, is that Darren Barnett?” I want to transform.
MACIAS: What has been the biggest difference between shooting the first and second season of Never Have I Ever?
BARNET: I think it’s just character development. Everyone has come into their own. Even the fashion, the way people are carrying themselves. I think the second season is going to hit even harder than the first.
MACIAS: Do you have a favorite memory or moment that stands out to you from shooting the show?
BARNET: The cast went to Halloween Horror Nights last year before everything shut down. At the end of the night, we were walking through the Universal lot and passing all the stages and places we’d shot and not knowing if we had season two yet. We were taking a video, being all nostalgic, and saying “Hopefully we’ll see you for season two.” At that moment, we had no idea what was going to come, if the show was even going to do well.
MACIAS: What’s been the craziest thing a fan has ever done?
BARNET: Well, two things. When I was in New York, two older women chased me down the street and asked me for a photo. They were like, “Don’t worry. We’re not being creepy. Our husbands are right there. We asked them if it was okay.” When I was in Canada shooting Love Hard, fans would wait for hours in the lobby of the place that I was staying. Sometimes they were 12 years old with their moms waiting for me to come out to take a picture or sign an autograph. I still don’t really consider myself “famous.” I did not realize that I had fans like that. It was really cool.
MACIAS: Do you have a strict workout regimen or do you have classes you like to do?
BARNET: It’s different for me every day. I work out until it hurts, whatever it is. I love pull-ups, pushups, mainly military workouts. But whatever I do, I try and do it until I’m completely exhausted. That gives me a little mental clarity.
MACIAS: What’s next for you?
BARNET: I have Love Hard with me, Nina Dobrev, and Jimmy O. Yang coming out. I don’t know when, but we completed shooting that. I’m currently doing three different animations with Netflix, which I’m really excited about.
MACIAS: Children or adult animations?
BARNET: Both, actually. I’m doing one that is more geared towards children, but the writing is so catchy and fun that I’m excited to see it. It’s set in the samurai world. Then there’s one I’m doing with Michael Green, who wrote Blade Runner 2049 and Logan. It’s called The Blue-Eyed Samurai. I’m doing that with George Takei, Brenda Song, Maya Erskine, and Randall Park. That’s going to be very much more adult-oriented.
Grooming: Sarah Huggins