Darren Barnet Is More Than Just a Thirst Trap
May 12, 2020
Darren Barnet and I are discussing lunch options over Zoom when he says he’s craving a burger, fries, and a vanilla milkshake. Quarantining by himself since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown, all he’s looking for is some comfort food, which is surprising given his apparent dedication to shirtless Instagram posts.
Barnet currently stars in the Mindy Kaling-created comedy, Never Have I Ever, and is probably best known for his washboard abs. Since the show dropped on Netflix, fans have swooned over Barnet’s portrayal of Paxton Hall-Yoshida, the resident jock and object of protagonist Devi’s affections. And it’s no wonder, given that five minutes into the pilot, Barnet steps out of the pool dripping wet, abs visible, and with Robyn’s Dancing On My Own playing in the background.
“I think [the producers] were scared I was too muscular,” he says with a laugh when I ask him about his audition. “I remember them saying, ‘his guns are a little much.’”
Staying in shape comes second nature to Barnet; he’s played sports since his childhood. And in between the years of lacrosse, basketball, boxing, and martial arts, he tried to follow his dreams of becoming an actor. After guest-starring on hit shows like This Is Us and Criminal Minds, the actor was determined to get into shape for his first series regular role.
Once Barnet realized how much—or rather how little—clothing he would be wearing in scenes, he began training five times a week in the gym for two hours a day, with Hugh Jackman and Chris Evans as his gym idols. Unlike other celebs who used trainers to prepare for roles, Barnet chose to strike out on his own, developing a routine that combined various calisthenics exercises, boxing, and weighted rounds of pushups, pullups, and dips to failure.
In a typical week, Barnet broke down his workouts by muscle group: Mondays were for triceps and abs, Wednesdays he trained biceps, back, and abs, Thursdays focused on shoulders, and Fridays were spent strictly on boxing drills. Barnet also took the time to adjust his diet throughout the process, eating the right proteins and vegetables (along with a homemade wellness tea) in order to build and maintain muscle, something he admittedly struggles with.
“I’m fortunate to have good genetics,” he says. “I’m naturally very lean, but to put on muscle and keep it on is very hard for me. But the transformation itself was pretty quick, especially since I hadn’t worked out that hard in so many years. My main goal was to try and put on size while also keeping tone and eating healthy proteins to try and keep the weight on.”
It wasn’t just the gym that saw Barnet’s intense fitness routine. On set, he could regularly be found exercising between takes. “Someone would turn the corner and say, “Here he goes again! He’s doing pushups!’” he says. “They all made fun of me and I said, ‘You just wait! This will all be rewarded!’”
Now, it appears he’s reaping at least some of those benefits on social media in the form of attention, though it’s not always wanted. “People get real shameless in the DMs,” he says with a laugh. “I try my best to answer and be there for the ones looking for acting advice, but then there are the ones who say, ‘Get naked!’ and I’m like, ‘no.’”
And while Barnet doesn’t mind being considered a thirst trap, naturally, he’d rather you look past the vanity and notice his character’s nuances. “When you first read Paxton, you think he’s the dumb jock with abs and a pretty face,” Barnet says. “But he’s more than that. He has a heart of gold. He’s a book who’s judged by his cover. Paxton has this development throughout, where you see that he has a lot more underneath and that he has layers.”
Indeed he does, as fans learn that Paxton is very protective of his sister with Down Syndrome, later apologizing to Devi for believing that she would bully a member of his family. It’s a tender moment between two classmates where you realize that there’s a very sensitive soul hidden beneath the abs.
Amid quarantine, Barnet admits that he’s been working out less (“I have a really bad knot in my back and I’m taking it easy to not do any damage”), but maintaining some variation of the routine he developed for the show. During his downtime, he’s focusing on his creative side, painting, writing screenplays, and composing music. He also meditates on his roof.
“I spend at least twenty minutes in the morning, waking up and saying thank you for my eyes, ears, nose, fingers, toes, the fact I can walk and breathe,” he says. “By starting my day off with something very small and realizing that not everyone has that, it makes the rest of the day easier to tackle.”
As for what will happen post-lockdown, Barnet has a full plate. Fans will have a chance to see him in American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules later this year, and he’s still waiting to hear if Never Have I Ever will be picked up by Netflix for another season.