EXCLUSIVE | Never Have I Ever’s Hanna Stein reveals Kylie Jenner was inspiration for popular mean girl Shira
"Lang Fisher, the co-creator, took me aside and said, 'this is what I envisioned for Shira'. They took some inspiration from Kylie Jenner. They wanted me to watch Kylie Jenner Instagram videos," she told MEAWW
When Hanna Stein walked in to audition for the role of Shira, the resident "popular mean girl" on 'Never Have I Ever', she never thought she would get the part. In an exclusive interview with MEA WorldWide (MEAWW), Stein talked playing the 16-year-old, Instagram-crazy, Jewish princess who dates Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison) for his money. "I walked in [to audition] and everyone looks like me. But I'm 25 and everyone was probably five to seven years younger. And so I'm just sitting there and I'm like, 'Oh my God, I'm too old for this'. Then, when I ended up booking it, I was really taken back. But it's awesome that I can still play 16. That's the thing about creating a character, right?"
Talking about Shira, her character, she reveals that she had a particular celeb in mind when she crafted the character. "Lang Fisher, the co-creator [and showrunner], took me aside and said, 'this is what I envisioned for Shira'. They [the creators] took some inspiration from Kylie Jenner. They wanted me to watch Kylie Jenner Instagram videos. If you look at those videos, a lot of times she's looking at herself and admiring herself. That's what they wanted. Shira is this girl that's always taking selfies and she's like, 'Oh, I'm fabulous'. And it's not her being cocky, it's her being like, 'this is me'. You know? They didn't want her to be ditzy. They didn't want all the stereotypes. So, she was such a fun character to play!"
To embody Shira, Stein channeled the Influencer millennial culture of wanting everything, but not necessarily wanting to work hard for it. "She is this cute young girl who has a rich boyfriend. But she's not like your stereotypical popular girl. There is a whole other dimension when you are someone like that in this day and age with the obsession with social media and I love that they put that layer to it. She's brutal, but she's honest about who she is. People also find her funny because she is, but the thing about her is she's so confident in who she is -- like she doesn't care what people have to say about her. That's one element I think a lot of people can take away. It's interesting when I see these young girls reach out to me because they love Shira and they find her funny. And the one thing I always say to them is 'be yourself'."
Oddly enough, Stein was the exact opposite of Shira when she was in high school. "It's ironic because I was very much the outcast when I was growing up in Michigan. It's sad to look back because I really just wanted to fit in and I would look at girls who were similar to Shira -- well, we didn't have Instagram, but they had their friends around them all the time and everyone wanted to talk to them. As a young person who's on the outside, that becomes what you think you want."
Stein went back to "feeling, remembering my personal feelings" and trying to imagine how she would have felt on the other side of that. "It was looking back and remembering these people that I thought I wanted to be friends with. So it was a really interesting experience to create this character because it also was a huge reflection period for me. About the bullying that I personally went through in high school. So it was therapy for me in a weird way. And it's funny because a lot of people message me, saying, 'Oh my God, you must have been like this in high school'. And I'm like, 'no, I was completely the opposite'."
It was a long three-year wait before Stein scored the 'Never Have I Ever' gig and working on a script developed by Mindy Kaling was a dream come true. "I'm such a huge fan of Mindy's. I was mind blown that I got this opportunity -- that I could be part of something that she created and to bring one of her characters to life. Mindy is one of the most incredible people. I love how she has such a unique voice and perspective and the way she breaks down a story. I just want to learn from her truly. The thing I love about the show is each character is so diverse."
With a cast of young newcomers, Stein was not alone in feeling lucky. "Everyone was just so excited and filled with energy. We filmed on the Universal lot on Wisteria Lane where 'Desperate Housewives' was filmed. So to be filming in Susan's house was such a surreal feeling because my Mom and I used to always watch 'Desperate Housewives'."
She remembers Jaren Lewison who plays her boyfriend Ben Gross on the show telling her that two years ago he did a tour of the Universal lot and told himself that he would be filming there one day and there he was, filming there. "That just really sums up how everyone felt about being given such an amazing opportunity to work on such a well written, beautiful show that sends so many different messages to young people." According to her, that energy really showed because the young and ambitious cast "brought it every single day".
Taking a page out of her actor-writer Mindy Kaling's playbook, Stein is also working towards getting her script 'None is Too Many' turned into a TV anthology series, currently under development. "Acting is always my number one. But I'm also a writer because I believe you need to create your own content, especially if you want to be successful in this business." Diversifying into writing, while acting is career advice that came from Mindy Kaling herself. And Stein is determined to follow in her footsteps.