LOS ANGELES — Maitreyi Ramakrishnan’s childhood devotion to My Little Pony turned out to be homework for her latest TV project.
Ramakrishnan stars in the voice cast of Netflix’s new animated children’s series “My Little Pony: Make Your Mark,” a sharp contrast to her breakout role in the acclaimed coming-of-age comedy “Never Have I Ever.”
The Canadian actor, 20, recalls growing up with the fourth iteration of the toy line that included what she wryly calls “the O.G.’s of Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash, my personal favorite.”
Playing the next-gen character of Pegasus pony Zipp, short for Princess Zephyrina Storm, was a chance to fulfill “those childhood kind of dreams,” Ramakrishnan said. “If I told my younger, child-self, ‘Hey, you’re going to be a Little Pony,'” the obvious answer would be “‘No way.'”
Zipp stands out among her equine pals — and not only because of her bold, two-tone hair style. Ramakrishnan describes her as smart, curious and determined to be herself. A bonus: The actor calls it “very cool” that she got to sing on the companion album for the series, which debuted this week on Netflix.
Ramakrishnan, whose Tamil parents emigrated from Sri Lanka, spoke to The Associated Press about what her new series offers children; her take on the Team Paxton-Team Ben debate on “Never Have I Ever,” which wrapped filming on its fourth and final season (the release date yet to be announced), and the ongoing struggle for inclusivity in Hollywood. Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: You’ve described Zipp in positive terms. Is there something else compelling about the series, something you believe children may get from watching it?
RAMAKRISHNAN: It’s really great because it’s showing kids that there’s a place for everyone. All of the main characters are very different and unique personalities, and have different interests and likes. I hope kids just take away that they can be themselves and people will love them for that.
AP: You’ve talked before about growing up without seeing a TV or film character who looks like you ethnically and who you could relate to.
RAMAKRISHNAN: I think I only got to unpack this once I started ‘Never Have I Ever,’ and was asked in many interviews, ‘Who was your representation (on screen)?’ I didn’t really have that. And I realized maybe this is why I always had such an affinity to animation as a child. You’re able to relate to a cartoon totally, more than you’re able to relate to teenagers who are your beauty expectation of how you’re supposed to grow up.
AP: Your role as teenager Devi on the Mindy Kaling-co-created ‘Never Have I Ever’ is a rarity, a lead Southeast Asian character. How have viewers responded?
RAMAKRISHNAN: Positive reaction to seeing my character, or mixed emotions in the sense of people feeling so uncomfortable with how much they see themselves in the characters. Devi is a hot mess. But it’s not just from the young brown girls that see Devi and think, ‘Yeah, I can relate.’ There’s the brown guys. Or any girl who’s experiencing life struggles, or just any guy who’s experienced that feeling of wanting to be a part of something. That’s representation to me, when you’re writing those characters that have a diverse face but are written so well and so realistically that it’s not tokenism. It’s so important, and I’m honestly not satisfied with how much representation there is.
AP: Studies have shown that TV and movies are recognizing the value of hiring people of color as actors and creators. You’re just starting your career, but do you see a role for yourself in fostering more diversity?
RAMAKRISHNAN: With the ‘Never Have I Ever’ and the ‘Squid Games’ of the world, it’s like, ‘Oh, we made a step in the right direction.’ And then very quickly, those steps can be forgotten because we tend to not give them enough credit, and it’s really hard to keep that momentum going. But you have to do the work. It gets frustrating at times, because you can wonder if you’re on top of the world and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I made it. I’m being respected. But hang on, I’m still being treated like I’m just this little tokenized brown girl.’ And that sucks. But because I love acting so much, I’m not going to give it up. And I know that if I continue to pave this way, as Mindy Kaling did for girls like me, I’ll make it a little bit easier for the next, and then it will keep going.
AP: Some ‘Never Have I Ever’ fans divide themselves into Team Paxton or Team Ben on the question of which partner Devi should end up with. You’ve said your pick is Team Devi. Why is that?
RAMAKRISHNAN: I get concerned sometimes when an interviewer is shocked that I say Team Devi. I’m like, ‘You looked at me, heard everything I preached about self-love and seeing yourself and respecting yourself, embracing who you are. And you thought I was going to say anything but Team Devi?’ Devi is growing, she doesn’t know who she is yet, and the guys don’t know who they are yet. Also giving credit to them too — it’s not like they’re just choices. They also have their own lives, they have to live and grow and figure out what they want. And Devi has to do that too.”