Darren Barnet's Mixed Heritage Didn't Hold Him Back — It Set Him Free
The Never Have I Ever star opened up about representing a character with Asian heritage.
Since Darren Barnet first captured the internet’s collective heart by playing Paxton Hall-Yoshida in the Netflix teen drama series Never Have I Ever, the breakout star has been drawing from his own identity to really bring Sherman Oaks High School’s heartthrob to life. Not only did Barnet’s own Asian American ancestry influence Hall-Yoshida’s part-Japanese background in the series, but the actor’s identity has also influenced the show’s storyline and brought up important conversations. Amid Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month (from May 1 through May 31), the actor sat down for an exclusive interview with Elite Daily, and Darren Barnet’s quotes about his heritage for AAPI Heritage Month get real about his “ambiguous” experience being mixed race — and why he loves it.
Barnet — whose mom is of Swedish and Japanese ancestry, while his dad has German and Cherokee roots — says starring on the show brought a greater focus to his Asian roots on a personal level, effectively “[putting] it on blast.” Not only did creator Mindy Kaling ask for permission to make Darren’s heritage a part of Paxton Hall-Yoshida’s identity after she heard the actor practicing Japanese with an assistant director, but Hall-Yoshida can also be seen exploring his heritage within the show. Case in point, when an extra credit project revealed that Paxton’s grandfather had been one of over 120,000 individuals with Japanese ancestry imprisoned at an internment camp in the United States.
Barnet, who says the show’s open discussion of Japanese internment camps was met with an outpouring of support from fans, tells Elite Daily that it’s been gratifying representing his Japanese heritage on screen, especially as someone with a mixed background.
I didn’t really fit into any box, which I personally enjoyed.
“I've always been very proud of my Japanese heritage . . .” he says. “I’m not always the guy you look at and go, ‘Oh, this is an Asian American person.’ But being a part of Never Have I Ever has really put it on blast for me where I’m being a part of the show and having them really dive into my culture. It’s something that I’m really proud of.”
Barnet hopes that representing a character with Asian heritage will make others with similar backgrounds feeling empowered and inspired. “We live in a very diverse world, and I think it's important for every young or old person to be able to watch something and see themselves [in a character] and see the possibilities,” he says.
While Barnet has previously opened up about struggling with his mixed identity and not feeling “white” enough or “Asian” enough, depending on if he was hanging out with his white and Asian friends, he says this ambiguity is something he really enjoys now.
“While growing up and having white friends, me being Japanese was not a deterrent or anything, but it was always very much a topic, which I was proud of,” he says. “I was always happy when people were talking about my Japanese culture and whatnot, but then I would have Japanese friends and [other] Asian friends, and it was almost like my white or Cherokee Indian side was more of a topic.”
Barnet says this ambiguity in ethnicity and culture wasn’t something that held him back, but rather led to him feeling more freedom in terms of expressing himself and finding a place as an individual with mixed heritage.
“I didn't really fit in any box, which I personally enjoyed,” he says.
While fans will have to wait until summer 2022 to see Paxton Hall-Yoshida return for Never Have I Ever Season 3, the 30-year-old actor is currently breaking boundaries as PINK’s first male celebrity ambassador for the retailer’s first gender-free collection, which you can shop at VictoriasSecret.com.