If there is one word to summarize “Never Have I Ever,” Season 3, that word would be Trent.
The jock character played by Benjamin Norris and used in early seasons as comic relief becomes a major player in Season 3, dating Eleanor (Ramona Young), standing by best friend Paxton (Darren Barnet), and continuing to bring the laughs wherever he goes.
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It’s not the only time Norris has played a lovable weirdo. After debuting Trent in “Never Have I Ever” Season 1, he had an arc in the final season of “Superstore” as Sandra’s (Kaliko Kauahi) adult adoptee and proud shark owner, Tony.
“I love those characters that people are gonna kind of glance twice at and laugh and be like, ‘Man, what an interesting guy,'” Norris told IndieWire in a phone interview. “These are kind of the roles that are right in my wheelhouse.”
Norris played Tony close to what was asked for in auditions and on the page, but he brought that offbeat charm in spades to “Never Have I Ever,” where Trent became a runaway fan favorite.
“When I went in for Trent, the character description was was a bit more along the lines of jock/frat boy type,” he recalled. “I brought a little bit of that himbo stoner energy in there, and I think it just took flight after that.”
As characters go, Trent starts out peripheral, friends with Paxton as Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) pursues Paxton romantically. But when he seemingly out of the blue asked Devi’s dramatic friend Eleanor to dance in the Season 2 finale, fans went wild.
“I’m obsessed with the character of Trent. Ben Norris was so funny playing him that we just started to write him into things,” co-creator Lang Fisher told IndieWire. “We got such a huge response from fans about that just one little moment that we were like, ‘All right, let’s go for it.'”
Season 3 finds Trent and Eleanor embarking on a serious relationship that works oddly well considering their disparate interests, personalities, and communication styles. Norris says the pairing worked because Trent “loves to love,” and channels the same loyalty he had for Paxton into this new relationships.
“It was literally a dream come true,” Norris said of his expanded Season 3 role. “I’m so grateful to Mindy and Lang and all the writers. He’s an onion and I feel like they’re showing every layer to him, which is very cool — and it’s not only cool to the fans and the audience, but it’s also cool to me because I’m bringing this character to life, and every new little nugget of information they give me I love to run with. They just kept going deeper and deeper, and he’s fully a very three-dimensional — if I may say so myself — wonderful character.”
The “Never Have I Ever” writers are often on-set, which means that Norris and his costars and directors can go directly to the source for script questions. Developing Trent — as with any other character — was a dialogue between performer and scribe, but Norris also felt that his instincts were valued after inhabiting Trent for years. He regularly improvises lines, including one in Episode 4, when Trent enters the scene telling a story about his grandmother.
“And I’m like, ‘Grandma, stop trying to eat your toothbrush. It’s not a hot dog,'” Trent says. Norris recalled hearing the writer, director, and producers laugh out loud on set. It’s an Easter egg for diehard fans, who might remember Trent talking about his grandmother back in Season 1 (“She may or may not have a little dementia,” said Norris) — and also a tribute to Norris’s own grandmother, who passed away ahead of filming and loved hot dogs.
“I put a little little bit of my grandmother into that line,” Norris said. “I think Trent loves his grandmother and I wanted to keep that that little piece of information about the character alive.”
Trent might not be involved in the central “Never Have I Ever” love triangle between Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), Ben (Jaren Lewison), and Paxton, but that doesn’t mean Norris hasn’t given his character’s position a lot of thought.
“In the last few seasons, he has gotten to know Devi, and if he’s friends with someone, he cares about that person,” Norris said. “He wants Paxton to be happy first and foremost, so if that’s with Devi then so be it. I think he’s charmed by Devi, by how she’s unapologetically herself and Trent is unapologetically himself. He can see a little Devi in him. At the end of the day, he’s rooting for her to make the right decisions.”
Paxton may have graduated at the end of Season 3 — though Fisher says we haven’t seen the last of him — but “Never Have I Ever” fans can delight in knowing that Trent failed twelfth grade and has to repeat it, giving Eleanor, her friends, and the audience precious extra time with Trent. Season 4 hasn’t begun shooting, but Norris is more ready than ever to dive in and keep peeling at the Trent onion.
“No matter what the writers put down on paper, I just have to make sure that Trent believes what he’s saying,” Norris said. “It’s not ridiculous to him, it’s the truth to him. As actors we just want to tell the truth. That’s gonna help audiences accept whatever’s happening on the screen, and that has been one of the coolest parts about Trent: You never know what is going to be in the next script, and whatever it is, you’re gonna have to make sure Trent believes in this 150 percent.”
“Never Have I Ever” Seasons 1-3 are streaming now on Netflix.
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