Darren Barnet Loves Hard
December 10, 2021
The Netflix star talks his roles in ‘Love Hard’ and ‘Never Have I Ever’ and gets candid about his dating life.
If you have a subscription to Netflix, you know Darren Barnet. If you don’t—get one, because you’re missing out on the it-boy heartthrob of the moment.
The 30-year-old Californian actor has lived a multiplicity of lives just this year: in July, season two of Mindy Kaling’s hit Netflix rom-com series, Never Have I Ever, was released, with Barnet as the unattainable leading man you hate to love (or even love to hate), Paxton Hall-Yoshida, a high school student-slash-athlete-slash-wonderboy-of-SoCal. As Barnet is phasing into shooting for season three, he’s also promoting the release of his new Netflix film Love Hard, a holiday flick co-starring Nina Dobrev cataloging the trials—and, perhaps, triumphs—of dating apps.
Barnet has “never really dabbled in dating apps” himself (though for a charismatic actor with true talent and intense passion for his craft, the digital version of Barnet might just convey a fraction of his tangible self). It’s no surprise why: dating apps just don’t suit his love language. “I love words of affirmation, but if I’m going to be honest, touch is my love language,” says Barnet. “If I love someone I’m constantly giving them hugs, I’m holding their hand and trying to comfort them, rubbing their back…I really enjoy physical touch.”
On television, Barnet is the guy the audience is rooting for. He’s the guy who gets the girl, the guy with a soft side, the guy Internet teens make fancam after fancam of. He’s Paxton, the most popular boy in school. He’s Tag, the charming face on the other side of the dating app, the guy you spontaneously fly across the country to meet. In reality, though? Well—perhaps the greatest feat of Barnet’s acting is that he so convincingly plays these popular, romantic, heartthrob male leads that it’s difficult to imagine the actor behind the role as having ever been anything else.
“I don’t think I relate to either [Paxton or Tag] on too great of a level,” he says, adding that though he was a well-liked athlete, he was by no means “popular”—and, in fact, was a little bit shy. “Tag…I don’t know what’s up with that dude. They say he’s Tom Cruise. I’m not that outdoors-y. But I think anybody can learn from Paxton,” says Barnet, “and how playing the field long enough may take its toll and it can make it hard to really find someone you love. In terms of Tag, I think you can learn from the whole movie in general. It’s about being yourself. I think you need to find love in yourself first, and then you can combine it with someone else’s love, and that’s a relationship.”
He’s also soon to be Peter, a “tortured” war veteran with severe PTSD in Apophenia, an upcoming psycho-thriller project Barnet stars in and produced—but perhaps it’s for the best that there are no underlying similarities there. “He’s on the brink of dealing with schizophrenia and he has a lot of issues going on that, thankfully, I at least don’t think I have.” But all this isn’t to say that Barnet can’t do it all—because he can. A writer before an actor, and now a producer as well, Barnet has proven himself over and over on the screen. And if he doesn’t relate to his roles as Paxton or Tag—well, that might be because he’s got the romantic type down even better than they do, grand gestures and all.
“[The most romantic thing I’ve ever done for someone was] in fourth grade,” he says. “I need to step up my game now, but this is a story I really enjoy. There was a girl that I’d liked since first grade, so every day I’d walk to school and pick a flower for her off the grass, but I was always really mad because the flower never smelled good. So, I started picking flowers on the way home from school and spraying them with my mom’s perfume, and then the next morning I would bring them and they would smell nice.” It worked, too, so to all the writers’ rooms out there: write this down. But sweet as Barnet can be, romantic as his characters are, the roads forward for him present…well, anything. He envisions himself in a dream role adjacent to the Pitts and Depps of the world, a Tyler Durden-esque type.
Something for the audience to really sink their teeth into; a character that portrays just as much complexity and nuance as Barnet himself.