John McEnroe talks narrating Never Have I Ever, failing to learn teen lingo
John McEnroe is no stranger to Hollywood. The tennis legend did his first film cameo in 1979. It was a movie called Players, and the experience left a mark. "I watched the movie at the premiere and I was like, 'Oh my god, this is the worst thing I've ever seen,'" John McEnroe tells EW. "I'm like, 'I am never acting again,' and I didn't do anything for 20 years."
Eventually, Adam Sandler would call McEnroe to be in 2002's Mr. Deeds, and thankfully, that was a better experience. Now, McEnroe has a number of cameos under his belt, though 2020 brought a new credit to his IMDB page: He narrated an entire season of a Netflix show about a teenage girl. JOHN MCENROE HAS SAID "LEWK!"
In Never Have I Ever's first season, McEnroe tells the story of Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), a high schooler who recently lost her father and is doing her best to be considered one of the "cool kids" at school. (She also has a bit of a temper, which he surely can relate to.) The show has blown up since premiering on April 27. As McEnroe puts it, "It's one of those ones where it feels like it worked. It's nice."
EW spoke with McEnroe about how he got involved in the project and what he learned about teens.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this all come about for you?
JOHN MCENROE: It was a definite surprise. I did think that over the course of time, through certain incidents that took place, that my voice was a little different than normal and that perhaps I'd have an opportunity. I'd done a couple things but really very little and it was sort of an, "I guess this isn't going to happen" type of thing. Then total coincidence, ran into [co-creator] Mindy [Kaling] at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party and she's like, "I have this idea for this show I'm doing where you're going to be the narrator," and I'm like, "What?" I didn't even really know what that meant or how much it entailed, and so I guess the rest is history, as they say. The next thing you know I'm doing these voiceovers for the whole series and narrating it. The fun part is it's not just reading some lines, I felt more a part of the show in a way, which wasn't what I was expecting either.
What was the actual process of narrating like?
I was watching the scene and going through each one and feeling it out and knowing how much time you have to slot [the voiceover]. I had done my second book, I voiced over the entire book in case people ever wanted to listen in a car or whatever and it took so much more time than I thought. It's a little bit the same. Obviously this is a lot less in terms of the amount of lines I was throwing out, but it was in a way a little harder because you had to fit in a couple-second slot and hopefully have the right emotion at the time. This also took longer than I would've anticipated but it was worth it, because, eventually, you start to get a better feel for what they're looking for.
Mindy told you she had a show, but when you actually saw what the show was, what made you want to be a part of it?
I think it was more Mindy really, how good a writer she is and has been and the idea of a left-field shot like, "What? He's doing that?!" That was interesting, and then just her story. The good part about tennis is that we've been traveling the world for many years and in certain countries that you wouldn't think, it's pretty popular. I hear things at times where someone will come up to me and Mindy was sort of the same way: "My parents were big tennis fans and they watched you." You don't know to what extent that's true or if she's just saying it to be nice. I haven't watched the entire show. My wife and kids have seen it. I can't bear to watch myself or even listen to myself but I've started to see bits and pieces so I get it.
Did you learn anything about teen lingo today?
No, I can't say that I learned a whole lot about it other than being like, "What does this mean?" I guess I was pretty naive to it all but Mindy's hip to it and definitely made me realize that there's a whole language that I didn't know existed. [Laughs]
Was the cameo in the finale another idea Mindy brought to you?
Yeah, I didn't expect it. She's like, "We'd love you to do a cameo." I was like, "Oh okay, that'd be cool. Does that make sense?" It was a "it will make sense, you'll see" type of thing. I have a home in Malibu and they're like, "We're going to film this on the beach in Malibu." Perfect. That all worked out from that standpoint. I used to do some bodysurfing, not real surfing, but I definitely wish I had another take or two with carrying that surfboard around.
Hypothetically, would you be interested in returning for a second season?
Yeah, that'd be great. From what I'm seeing it's gotten some really positive feedback. I know Mindy's proud of it and people are responding. I'm getting people I haven't heard from for years saying, "I heard you on Never Have I Ever," which has been nice. Also, people of different ages. Some of that has to do with us all being stuck in our houses but from all different walks of life, younger people and kids up to old farts like myself. It's been a nice combination, so to me it does seem like Mindy and [co-creator] Lang [Fisher] were thinking about the possibility of doing it another year.
I'd hope so, it's quite the cliffhanger.
Exactly. But that's out of my control.
Has anyone reach out to you that's surprised you?
It's just been a potpourri of different individuals, people that used to work at the talk show I did to people I wouldn't have anticipated. I haven't gotten a call from Michael Jordan saying it's better than the documentary on ESPN, but all things considered I'm getting some pretty good feedback. My whole life, in a way, I've been doing something for the most part where I was on my own, I'm out there by myself, so I sort of enjoy as time has gone on to be part of a team thing. I did like to play other sports as a kid and I liked to play doubles and represent my country and be part of a team, so this feels like that, which I like. Because at times, I don't get this acting thing. It's not like sports where you get that immediate gratification — you win, you lose. There's so many other people involved and you don't know exactly how it's all going to play out. So when it does actually work, it feels good. It makes you want to do it again.
That brings me to the most important question that I have which is: Team Ben or Team Paxton?
[Laughs] I'm not going to answer that. The narrator has to stay neutral in order to possibly get a job next year.
Never Have I Ever