Hanna Stein Talks 'Never Have I Ever,' Social Media, and Her Inspiring Anthology Series Under Development
- Hanna Stein is an up-and-coming actress whose role in Netflix's Never Have I Ever is catching tons of attention.
- Hanna plays Shira, Ben's popular girlfriend who, although is believed to only be in the relationship for the money, definitely puts a millennial twist on the typical "mean girl" trope.
Never Have I Ever is the latest teen comedy series to hit Netflix, and this one is certainly worth watching. From creators Mindy Kaling (The Office, The Mindy Project) and Lang Fisher (The Mindy Project, 30 Rock), the show follows Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan)'s high school experience as a first generation Indian American, highlighting the difficulties of dating, social media, and just wanting to be considered a cool kid. She quickly sets her sights set on the popular guy Paxton (Darren Barnet), but comes to realize that maybe someone else was there all along—Ben (Jaren Lewison), who is already in a relationship with Shira (Hanna Stein).
Floor8 spoke exclusively with Hanna all about Shira, what could go down in a possible second season, and an exciting series she has in the works called None is Too Many.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Floor8: Shira is such a great character because even though she’s not in every scene, she’s so memorable and funny and original. I thought you did a great job bringing such a standout role to life. Would you say you and Shira have any similarities?
Hanna: Well the thing about Shira is that the producers and creators didn’t want to make a typical mean girl [with her]. You don't see her poking at Devi. They wanted to create this millennial version—like nowadays, high school is all about social media and wanting to be an influencer—and that’s what really they wanted Shira to focus on. And the thing that I took inspiration from, honestly, was Kylie Jenner, because if you look at Kylie Jenner, she’s very monotone and you see these videos of her taking selfies, and she’s not being cocky—she just knows she’s fabulous. She’s like, I know I’m hot. And that's how I took [inspiration] for Shira. I was an outcast in high school, so being Shira was kind of a weird therapy for me, because I always wanted to be one of those girls but I was always on the other side of the tracks. So it was an interesting experience developing this popular mean girl. I will say I definitely take selfies, but I don’t treat my boyfriend that way!
Floor8: Do you think deep down somewhere Shira does love Ben, or is it really like he says and she’s just into him for his money? I mean he has such sweet and vulnerable moments—does she see any of that?
Hanna: I think so, I hope so. I hope maybe we get to see some of that in Season 2 if there is a Season 2—maybe there will be a backstory to who she is. In Season 1, she actually was only supposed to be in one episode, but then they made Ben’s episode and you got to see [more of her], but she’s kind of a sub-story to Ben’s arc. There’s moments of them, like the french fry thing—you obviously see her being her sassy self but there’s also the sense of, let’s be cute together. Maybe there is a moment there, like, here’s me and my cute boyfriend. And maybe most of it is for her Instagram, but maybe there is a part of her that’s like, I kind of like you. But you don’t get to see that. You only get one perspective of her, so hopefully in Season 2 you would get to see more of like, if she really cares, and if [Ben] goes with Devi, what her reaction is.
Floor8: Social media is obviously a big part of this show, just like it is in real life, and especially for your character. What do you think are the positives to dating in a time where people are updating their every move on Instagram, and what are the negatives?
Hanna: I think social media has its pros and cons. Obviously I think dating in general is very difficult. I don’t know if there’s really any pros to dating on social media. [Laughs]. I don't know, I think you can connect to more people. I personally travel quite a bit and meet people all around the world, so Instagram is a great platform. One of my friends who I met in France like, two years ago, reached out to me and was like, “Hey, I just started watching this show and I saw your face, oh my god!” So I think a pro is that it connects people. I think you just have to be really careful though, because social media can fill people’s heads, and you get to a point where you compare yourself to others. So it can be very toxic at times. But I think if you have a positive perspective, like for me, I'm getting young fans following me, and I don't want them to emulate Shira in terms of being a mean girl, but I think one thing you can take away from her is that she is confident in herself. So I would tell anyone [on social media] to be confident in themselves. There’s nothing interesting about being ordinary, and that’s what I would tell any fan that reached out to me to ask for advice. I’m trying to use my platform to spread positivity, and I’m obsessed with inspirational quotes [laughs], so I share those all the time.
Floor8: Of course we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a second season, and you touched upon this before, but if there are more episodes to come, what do you want to happen for Shira?
Hanna: I would love for her to interact with Devi. I would love for there to be a scene where they have, not really a confrontation, but maybe they have this experience where you see a different shade of Shira in the sense that she is empathetic. Maybe something happens—nothing has been written yet—but if I could choose something, maybe they would have a moment, and then Shira would go back and be like, “Well no one is going to believe that I was nice, so whatever.” Something like that, and I don’t know, someone actually said online, what if Paxton and Shira get together? That would be an interesting twist. But I think there's so many possibilities and I know Mindy and Lang will do a great job at creating a happy medium. I don’t think it's going to be an easy, like, Devi chooses one situation, because that’s too easy. The audience wants to see the journey, so I hope they add more twists and turns, and we get to see more of Shira.
I genuinely was not expecting the response to Shira after the show came out. Even though she was a mean girl, she’s funny, and I remember I got this one message from Hungary, and the fan said, “Watching this show and your character was the first thing that made me laugh since the pandemic started.” As an artist, hearing something like that is at the highest level of achievement, because I’m not a doctor or an essential worker, but entertainment is an escape for a lot of people in this situation. So knowing I can play a part in helping people is such a fulfilling feeling.
Floor8: What was the audition process like? Did you go for the role of Shira from the start?
Hanna: I did. So I’m 25, and the age range with the cast varies, like Darren is 28. But when I walked into the audition room, everyone looked a lot younger, so I was like, oh man, I’m too old! [Laughs]. So I had one audition, had a callback, and then I got the part. And I was so over the moon excited—I had a dance party in my room for probably a half an hour. This is probably my biggest role I've gotten since moving to Los Angeles, so it was exciting from that perspective, but also I was like, oh my god, I thought I was too old! I can still play a high schooler? This is awesome. [Laughs]. It was a pretty quick process. It was probably like, two weeks.
Floor8: Do you have any favorite memories from set that stand out? I know I would’ve been completely fan-girling over Mindy Kaling.
Hanna: Mindy is amazing. I think one of my favorite moments was the last episode I did, which was the pool scene in Episode 8. It was so fun because it was the entire cast together, so you got to interact with everybody. It was a night shoot and we just had so much fun. I was supposed to be drunk and whatnot, so I had to do a couple of takes, and it was fun playing around with that.
Floor8: So you’ve done horror with the movie The Cheerleader Murders and of course you have experience with comedy. What is your personal favorite genre, and is there one you’re hungry to tackle next?
Hanna: I’m obsessed with that show Money Heist—it’s phenomenal and I would love to play an action role like that. I would love to play multiple roles, and I want to be a multi-hyphenate, like write, direct, and produce. But acting is my number one, and I would love to take an action role like that.
Floor8: Apart from acting you also have a screenplay that’s under development right now called None is Too Many. So I know it’s a story all about immigration and the culture that families bring from one place to another. Can you tell me more about it?
Hanna: So it’s inspired by my Papa. He escaped Poland and got into Canada, which was really difficult, in the early 1930s. So I wrote a screenplay when I was 19, and then I co-wrote another one that made it to the Nicholl Fellowship, but the latter one was more of a fictional story, and no one was interested in the fictional version. So I on my own went back to my Papa’s memoir that he wrote, and had confidential documents from the immigration board, so from that I created an anthology series, giving voices to immigrants. I can't tell you too much, but basically the first season of the series would focus on my Papa’s escape from Poland, and him fighting against the immigration board.
It’s been a very interesting experience because I’ve been fighting for this story [to be made] for six years, and my Papa is still alive—he’s 91—and I have, like, hours of tapes of him reading me his memoir. It was obviously a very heart-wrenching experience, as well as beautiful, because I had never seen my Papa cry until he read this story. He escaped Poland, but the family that raised him all perished in Auschwitz. So it was incredibly hard for him because he got into Canada and saw his father again, but then he never saw the rest of his family again. So watching him read me this and cry was very difficult. This is really a tribute to him and to everyone who has lost someone. If I can play my part to give a voice to these people, then I feel like I'm using my talent for good.
Floor8: Besides Never Have I Ever of course, what shows would you recommend to people quarantining and in desperate need of something to watch?
Hanna: It’s funny you ask that because I need more shows to watch! Money Heist is number one, and then The Sopranos, The Stranger, and Unorthodox. I know some people are like, I don’t want to watch a super religious show, but it’s not, and it takes a different perspective. I’m a reformed Jew, and being orthodox is its own different version of Judaism almost. So it was interesting for me to watch the show because it's all under Judaism, but it's something so foreign to me. So I think people would be pleasantly surprised [with Unorthodox].
Follow Hanna on Instagram here and check out her IMDb page here!