“Never Have I Ever”‘s Lee Rodriguez Says Playing Fabiola Let Her Embrace Her “Awkward Side”
Image Source: Isaac Sterling
In our Q&A series Last Call, we get down to the bottom of every last thing with some of our favorite celebs – from the last time they were starstruck to the last song they listened to. This week, “Never Have I Ever” star Lee Rodriguez takes our call.
“Never Have I Ever” fans still can’t believe this is the end of the road for the Netflix show after four seasons – and neither can series star Lee Rodriguez. The 23-year-old – who stars as the offbeat Fabiola, one of Devi’s (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) best friends – says it feels “absolutely surreal” to be bidding her show farewell, especially since she started her journey with the teen dramedy as an 18-year-old teenager herself.
“Growing with these characters, getting to know them and everyone else in the cast, it is surreal,” she tells POPSUGAR. Despite the somber occasion, Rodriguez is pretty pleased with the fourth and final season’s happily-ever-after ending. “I am so happy with the way that the show ended, and I’m so grateful that we got to have an ending that everyone will be happy with,” she says. “I’ve been able to go on for four seasons and really be able to see these characters grow. We were really lucky in that instance.”
“I’ve grown a lot in my character. I’ve gotten to make really cool friends out of this.”
Every “Never Have I Ever” character had their own whirlwind journey, with Fabiola’s biggest dilemmas revolving around openly embracing her queer identity and deciding where her educational pursuits will take her next (spoiler alert: she’s headed to Howard University), and Rodriguez is proud of every part of it.
“It changed my life a lot,” she shares of her “Never Have I Ever” role. “I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown a lot as an actor. I’ve grown a lot in my character. I’ve gotten to make really cool friends out of this. So yeah, a lot has changed in my life being on the show.” But more than that, Rodriguez, who started out modeling when she was young, says her role gave her a chance to embrace parts of her own personality. She sees a lot of herself in Fabiola (apart from her character’s taste in fashion).
Image Source: Netflix
“Appearance-wise and what our passions are, those are the only things that are really different between me and Fabiola, and I loved it,” she says. “I love it because I get to be a dork. Personality-wise, I’m very dorky but I don’t want to be because I feel like I was a model first, and I didn’t really want to get typecast as that, I don’t know, sexy character.”
Don’t get it twisted, though; Rodriguez says that’s a role she still “would love to play” one day. But in “Never Have I Ever,” she says, she wanted “people to see me as a person and not sexualize me,” the actor explains. “I feel like Fabiola really allows me to be a dork, and I love that. I definitely get to bring out more of my quirky, awkward side with [her].”
One of the best parts about playing Fabiola, Rodriguez says, has a lot to do with the “special moments” her character has in the show, like “coming out and getting in new relationships.” She says, “It was really exciting for me as an actor to be able to play in those special moments and for people to see those and feel seen and like they can relate. That was really exciting for me because I felt like I had a character that people would care about, and that made me feel really good.”
“Everybody welcomed me with open arms as Fabiola, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience being on the show.”
Rodriguez recalls when her Netflix series debuted in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, when she was still “living at home in my hometown in Hesperia, [CA],” though she “didn’t know what to expect” from it. To her surprise, “Never Have I Ever” spawned a massive fan base who enjoyed watching a first-generation Indian American teenage girl like Devi stumble through life’s highs and lows – including grief, boy trouble, and academic perfection. It’s a beautifully universal yet incredibly unique story that’s touched the hearts of the show’s cast. And yet, Rodriguez didn’t feel the “full effect” of her and her castmates’ work until their first in-person premiere – for season three. “Just how many people were there and how many people were excited to watch the first two episodes with us. It was really awesome to see fans in person,” she recalls of the buzzy Los Angeles premiere in August 2022.
Getting close with her castmates – who include Ramona Young (Eleanor), Darren Barnet (Paxton), Jaren Lewison (Ben), Richa Moorjani (Kamala), and Poorna Jagannathan (Nalini) – for the past four seasons was also a major plus for Rodriguez. She says she’s definitely going to miss being around them on set, plus “the crew members, writers, creators, everybody, honestly.” Of her time on “Never Have I Ever,” she says, “Everybody welcomed me with open arms as Fabiola, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience being on the show.”
Looking ahead, though, Rodriguez has some exciting pursuits on her plate: namely, her budding music career. The singer, who’s going by her family-inspired moniker LaRhonza, released her first-ever single, “Afterthought,” on June 1 (out now on all streaming platforms) and calls the rest of 2023 for her “the year of music.” “Of course, I love acting and I’m going to continue to do that, but I really want people to also know me as a music artist,” she reveals. “So I’m going to be putting a lot of my focus on that. I have so much more music that I’m planning on putting out, and I have a couple other endeavors and passions that I’m going to be pursuing as well this year.”
Of course, Rodriguez’s “Never Have I Ever” castmates were some of the first to hear her music. She confirms she sent her single to them before it dropped “to get their opinions on it.” And yes, “thankfully, they all love it.” “They support me and my music and have been always asking me, ‘Oh, when are you going to do music? You’ve got to do music,’ since season one because I’m always singing on set,” the actor/singer says. Armed with their support, Rodriguez proclaims she’s finally ready to take the music world by storm next.
Ahead, read more about her final season filming “Never Have I Ever.”
What was the last day of filming “Never Have I Ever” like?
Oh, it was a mix of emotions because we knew that the day was coming where we had to all say goodbye to playing our characters and to each other. Trying not to cry and trying not to get too emotional. There were definitely some tears shed, and it was just a bittersweet moment.
What’s the last “Never Have I Ever” souvenir you remember taking home?
I actually took a trophy that was like a Fabiola first-place trophy for a science fair or something. I had to swipe that. I had to.
What’s the last thing you remember about high school?
Graduating, wanting to be done with high school. I remember performing a lot in high school because I went to a performing-arts school, so I remember being in plays and musicals. My high school was pretty cool.
Who’s the last “Never Have I Ever” costar you texted?
Honestly, our “Never Have I Ever” family group chat.
When was the last time you were starstruck?
I went to the Gold Gala this month, and, oh my God, I saw so many celebrities, but I saw Brie Larson there, and I was so psyched. I love [her]. Also, Lola Tung, the lead actress in “The Summer I Turned Pretty.” I had just recently finished the first season and was raving about her a lot. I hope she didn’t think I was weird, but I couldn’t not tell her how awesome she was in that show.
What was the last TV show you binge-watched?
“The Summer I Turned Pretty.”
What’s the last song you listened to?
Well, it would be “Afterthought,” but I’m not going to say that. It would have to be probably something by Sabrina Carpenter, because I’m a really big fan.
What’s the last thing you did for self-care?
I took myself on this really nice retreat. It was like a little getaway, and I was in the mountains and it was snowing. It was so beautiful and so peaceful and calming.
What’s the last thing you bought online?
Probably something off Amazon, honestly. I got little cameras because I just got a kitten and I wanted to monitor him when I leave, so I got a little kitty cam.
What was the last gift you received?
I actually received a gift today in the mail. It was a T-shirt that says, “I stand with immigrants.” It’s a really cool shirt.
What is the last piece of advice you received that changed your life?
I always see something on Twitter where I’m like, “That is solid.” No matter where you are in life, how successful you are or whatever you deem as successful, to always treat people with kindness; to always treat people equal and never think that you’re above anyone.