Darren Barnet

Darren Barnet Is More Than a High School Hot Boy (for One Thing, He Is 31)

He may be best known as Paxton Hall-Yoshida on Netflix’s Never Have I Ever — but he's just a guy with intense dreams and an even more intense skincare routine.

As I wait for Darren Barnet to pick up the phone, I feel incredibly nervous. We're talking sweaty palms, stomachache, full-body shivers — I'm back in high school, about to awkwardly approach the most popular guy in my grade. Unfortunately for my anxiety, that scenario isn't too far off.

Barnet famously plays Paxton Hall-Yoshida on Netflix's Never Have I Ever, the show co-created by Mindy Kaling that's now in its third season. His character is essentially the "hot guy" — someone the main character, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan's Devi Vishwakumar, has had a crush on for … ever. As the series continues, though, we realize that Paxton is more than just his good looks and cool-boy persona. He's layered and kinder than you might expect. And by the end of season 2, he officially becomes Devi's boyfriend (much to the disappointment of her other love interest, Ben Gross, but I digress).

Darren Barnet
Kourtney Kyung Smith

Barnet is more than his handsome features, too, and he definitely isn't the character he plays on TV. For starters, he's a full-grown, 31-year-old man, not a teenage boy (slightly shocking, I know). And, when we finally do begin chatting, I learn that while he's just as charming and funny as his on-screen alter-ego, he wasn't exactly Paxton Hall-Yoshida during his high school years. Instead, Barnet labels himself "the kid from across town" and says that he was way too booked and busy to have much of a social life.

"The local high school wasn't the best and my mom wanted me to go to a better school. So, I had to take a test to go to a school across town," he tells me. "My life was school and sports. I never went to a party. I wouldn't say I was popular — I was well-liked and people knew me, but I really had two close friends that I kept around. High school was a very stressful, busy time for me, to be honest. So no, I was definitely not Paxton."

Unlike the rest of us, Barnet sort of gets a second chance at the experience (or third or fourth — he's played a high schooler multiple times and says most of his auditions were geared toward that age range). In season 3 of Never Have I Ever, which premieres on August 12, his character is in the thick of it, prepping for that sad-meets-panicked part of high school where you start to say good bye.

"It's more about where everyone is intending to go with their lives," he hints. "Obviously, we're now in the upper grades, so figuring out the rest of life is becoming very real."

There's also that whole love triangle between Paxton, Devi, and Ben, which I tell him has me feeling very conflicted. Both guys are great in their own ways and every episode, it feels as if I'm rooting for someone else. Barnet says this won't change in this next season.

"That's a [testament] to the writers; they always keep you on your toes," Barnet says. "At the end of season 2, you can see that Devi and I become official, so that relationship is definitely going to be explored. I can't say where it's going or what's going to be happening, but the love triangle is still alive, and it's, again, going to become a whole new shape."

If you're still stuck on the fact that Barnet is 31, well, same. I can't help but bring up that high school in 2022 is a lot different than it was in the early 2000s. For instance, remember when it was all about AOL Instant Messenger, rather than TikTok?

"Yeah, I do remember that," Barnet tells me. "I won't even disclose my screen name because it was that stupid," (Later, he reveals it was motoxninja, saying, "I was riding dirt bikes at the time and I was obsessed with ninjas.")

Though he's well past his ninjas-and-dirt-bikes phase, Barnet says playing a decade-plus younger is fun: "[It's] nice to be in your thirties and still be able to play high school." The youthful appearance that makes it possible? He shouts out his mom for passing down good genes and teaching him the importance of skin care. These days, the actor has become so passionate about what he puts on his face that he's an ambassador for the brand Sunday Riley — and his daily routine includes a variety of their cult-beloved (and splurge-worthy) products.

Darren Barnet
Kourtney Kyung Smith

"They let me try all their stuff for about a month, and as soon as I knew it was good, I decided to work with them," he tells me about the partnership. "Every day, I wash my face. I put on their lactic acid treatment, followed by a moisturizer, followed by a vitamin C skin oil." (Ed. note: That Lactic Acid Treatment is called Good Genes — like the things he thanked his mom for — and it's beloved by everyone from Oprah to Bridgerton's Phoebe Dynevor, another brand ambassador.) But back to Barnet's routine. "I always make sure my skin is not dry. Not even for vanity; I just hate having dry skin. It's the worst feeling in the world, so I am always moisturizing."

Of course, the fact that Barnet has such a strict regimen isn't really breaking news. After all, he's an actor, and his face, along with his (bajillion) abs, are constantly on display. His over-2 million Instagram followers certainly appreciate that extra effort (top comments include things like "manifesting our relationship" or a series of fire emoji). And when InStyle suggested a pool for this photo shoot (Hey, he plays a swimmer!), he was totally game. He isn't exactly sulking about his heartthrob status.

"I'm not going to sit here and be like, 'Oh, poor me, people are sexualizing me,' because I guess it could be worse," he laughs. But it's clear he's ready to outgrow the high school hot boy genre. "I'm confident with things I have in the works that there's going to be a whole other side of me seen as an artist. So, I'm OK with it right now, being sexualized, per se. It's fun. I mean, I knew what I was signing up for, but artistically, that's obviously not why I got into acting. So, I'm excited to show my range."

Darren Barnet
Kourtney Kyung Smith

And Barnet does have range. Earlier this year, he flexed his modeling skills, promoting PINK's Gender Free collection and serving as the brand's first-ever male celebrity ambassador. While he may be known for all the cute comfort watches on his résumé, like Never Have I Ever and the holiday rom-com Love Hard, Barnet's about to branch out into spookier roles — and maybe even play the villain instead of the resident hottie. He says his new film, Apophenia, which is currently in post-production, is going to be "a wild ride into insanity."

Just like Paxton, Barnet has layers. But he isn't really in a rush to shed them all at once and move on with his career. Rather, he tells me he's trying to take in the whole experience and really enjoy the ride. That's especially the case now, as Never Have I Ever films its fourth and final season.

"What's easy, as an artist, is to just always be thinking about the next thing — what you're going to do next and what comes after — but I'm really trying to relish the moment," he says. "Tomorrow will come, but right now, I'm on a hit show, we're doing the fourth season, and it's been life-changing. So, I'm really trying to sit there and just express gratitude and enjoy it, because I know I'm going to miss it a lot more than I expect."

Read on for the story of Barnet's first kiss, his favorite Hollywood Chris, and one very wild dream in which he did "space drugs" with Willem Dafoe.

Darren Barnet
Kourtney Kyung Smith

Last time you cried?

We just recently had our final table read for episode 410 for Never Have I Ever and I definitely found myself holding back tears. It was quite a wild thing to think about — how it was the last time we'd all be doing a table read for the show. It's a really amazing script, which I know will not be even a part of a discussion until many, many months down the road. But, yeah, it was emotional.

Describe a memorable dream.

I was a PA on a commercial where Willem Dafoe was the principal and he was being directed by someone I won't name, because he's not very popular at the moment. Willem Dafoe was telling me to tell the director how to do his job, and I was like, "I don't really know him like that."

He was like, "Come. Follow me." He took me into a room and was like, "These are space drugs. We're going to do them." And I was like, "I don't know what that means." He's like, "They're drugs from space." And I was like, "I don't want to do that." He was like, "But I'm Willem Dafoe." And I was like, "That's a good point."

So, we did space drugs, and then I had to drive him from New York to Atlanta. I truly can't even begin to — I don't even want to dissect that, but that's it. I've never met him, just in my dreams, but I'll surely tell him that when I do meet him.

Darren Barnet Polaroids
Polaroid Photo: Darren Barnet

Favorite cheesy pickup line?

There's always that classic Joey in Friends, "How you doing?" It's the only thing I can come up with right now.

Is there an outfit you regret wearing?

[In high school] I used to wear like, oversized white T-shirts, and Air Force Ones, really baggy jeans, a chain, and big-ass basket ball jerseys. Then, all of a sudden I went to a new school and all the kids were dressing preppy. So, I dabbled with Hollister, but I would still get an XXL in the T-shirts. It took me a while to get to like, Ashton Kutcher preppy. But I got there about my senior year.

First album you ever owned?

I got three at the same time. It was Get Rich or Die Trying by 50 Cent, Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water by Limp Bizkit, and then Turn the Radio Off by Reel Big Fish.

Favorite villain?

Heath Ledger's Joker is just ... I think that's bar none. He is wildly brilliant and just amazing. Also, Jack Nicholson in The Departed was so sick.

Darren Barnet Polaroids
Polaroid Photo: Darren Barnet

Favorite bagel?

An everything bagel. I like salmon lox on an everything bagel. It's pretty good.

Favorite Hollywood Chris?

Chris ... Chris ... Christopher Walken. Because he looks like a real-life vampire and he's a brilliant actor, and I feel like he's the same in person.

What's the last thing you do before you fall asleep?

My skin routine. And I try to do whatever this whole manifesting fad is, whatever that entails. I imagine what I want and call out to it — pray, if you will. I try to [journal], but once every couple months, and every time I get back to the journal, the first line is, "Well, it's been a while, but here I am."

Who is your celebrity crush?

Oh, god [laughs]. Dang it. Kate Beckinsale.

Darren Barnet Polaroids
Polaroid Photo: Darren Barnet

If you were required to spend $1,000 today, what would you buy and why?

Maybe a nice vacation for my mom. Take her to Japan, because we have family there we've never met. So yeah, a trip to Japan with my mom.

Describe your first kiss.

I didn't like it. The love of my life at the time, in seventh grade, was leaving for Central America, where she was from, for the summer. And I wrote her a note. I was like, "Hey, I want to kiss you before you leave." And she was like, "Me, too." And then I wrote back, "OK, I'm going to go out to the hallway."

So, we both went out to the hallway in the middle of class and kissed. It was the first time I kissed with tongue and I was caught very off-guard. A teacher caught us, and I ran into the bathroom to rinse my mouth out because I was grossed out. I don't think I was ready.

Photographs: Kourtney Kyung Smith, assisted by Zachary Gray. Grooming: Myo Lai. Makeup: Margaux Lancaster. Polaroids by Darren Barnet. Special thanks to Polaroid. Creative Director: Jenna Brillhart. Senior Visuals Editor: Kelly Chiello. Associate Photo Editor: Amanda Lauro. Video Director: Justine Manocherian. Video Producer: Sahara Pagan. Director of Photography: Liam Le Guillou. Executive Producer: Bree Green. Booking: Talent Connect.

For more stories like this, check out EveryBODY In, our celebration — and send-up — of summer bodies, available for digital download now.

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