Actor and writer Melissa Navia is one to watch with her captivating performances portraying complex characters and penchant for telling stories that challenge audiences. She can currently be seen starring in Paramount+’s series ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’, which premiered its second season on 15th June. The series has also already been renewed for third season.
Melissa, you star in Paramount+’s series ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’, which serves as a spinoff from ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ and a prequel to ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’. How has it been becoming a part of the ‘Star Trek’ family?
Always wonderful and at times overwhelming, so in a way exactly like family. ‘Star Trek’ is the most extraordinary, far-reaching franchise, with the most devoted fandom and even though I’ve really only just arrived, it also feels like I have somehow always been here, like this was always in the cards.
‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ follows Captain Christopher Pike and the crew of the USS Enterprise as they explore new worlds around the galaxy. What can we expect from the second season?
More of everything that audiences fell in love with during Season 1 and plenty more that will push past anything we have seen from ‘Star Trek’ before. Also, more Ortegas, my character, which was a really sweet and resounding request from fans after Season 1.
In the series, you star as Lieutenant Erica Ortegas, the charismatic helmsman of the USS Enterprise. What do you love the most about her and her character?
I aspire to be more like Erica. Being able to remain calm under extreme pressure and always sporting a fresh haircut. She’s a dream role and just a ridiculously cool person whose day job is piloting an iconic starship through perilous adventures on a weekly basis, all while flanked by crewmates who are legends in the making. What’s not to love.
What is your favorite part about acting? What challenges you the most about it?
I enjoy telling stories in front of captive audiences. Always have, since I was very small. One of my favorite memories from my supremely early theatre days is my mom cutting holes out of a striped pillowcase to turn me into a shepherd. I was a pillowcase-sized shepherd with big dreams. Put me on a stage and I’m home. Or these days, the bridge of a starship. Also now home. What challenges me the most is the business itself. Compared to the logistics of actually getting the job, the acting part is easy. Not giving up when so much of your life as a working actor is rejection and uncertainty, that’s the hard part.
What intrigues you the most about being able to portray different characters for each project on screen?
Endless possibilities and unexpected collaborations. That makes me happy, never knowing what story you will tell next and who you’re going to get to work alongside to make it happen. And knowing that whatever I do, whenever I do it, there’s nobody else who will be able to do it like I will.
What would you describe as the most defining moment of your career so far?
Ask me in a few years. Right now it feels like every moment is just another step. That I’m still forging ahead in a business that is so hard to break into and even harder to stick with as a lifelong career is already pretty momentous for me. Even when I was cast on ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’, when I found out I booked the role of Erica Ortegas, I remember mainly thinking alright, let’s get to work. Lots to do and little time in which to do it.
You have Colombian heritage. How would you say it impacts and complements your personality?
It’s woven into the fabric of everything I do. My family, my ancestors, my memories, my talents, my dreams, my everything. So much of my strength and determination and unflinching belief in myself comes from my parents and also my sisters and our collective stories that are rooted in our heritage and our traditions. I am also a New Yorker. I was born on Long Island, I live in the city and I’m a headstrong actor who always said that I could and would get my big TV break living and auditioning in NY, not LA. And here we are. So I’m a Colombian-American actor, born and bred in New York. Don’t second-guess me. And don’t mess with me.
We’ve heard that you play banjo. What made you decide to learn to play particularly banjo?
There’s just something about the twang of a banjo that hits my soul in a way nothing else does. “Banjo makes everything better” is a thing I say because it’s true. Even a song about death and decrepitness, when played on a banjo, can make you want to dance. The history of the instrument itself is also a remarkable study of the human experience. With roots in West Africa, its story is one of survival, migration and adaptation that spans continents. In fact, you know what ‘Star Trek’ needs more of? Banjo.
You are also the creator of the forthcoming essay collection and stand-up show ‘Girl With Short Hair’. Tell us more about those two projects. Have you always been passionate about stand-up?
‘Girl With Short Hair’ is an ever-evolving project drawn from a lifetime spent thwarting categorization, challenging society’s fixation on boxing people in and rocking short hair. But the last few years have changed its trajectory quite a bit. My world has been rocked by death and grief and fame and the vastness of space. What it’s becoming is not at all what I first envisioned, but that’s life. And it’s the beauty of art. We don’t really know what we’re making until it’s finished. Follow me on social media and GirlWithShortHair.com for more when the time is right.
As for stand-up, it combines all of my favorite things. Writing, sharing stories, performing in front of a live audience and making people laugh. My late partner, Brian, thought I was very good and he was pretty discerning when it came to stand-up. So knowing that I, a person he spent every day with, could get up on a stage and still surprise him and make him laugh was all the validation I needed that I’m doing something right and should keep doing it.
Melissa, after the second season of ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’, what acting projects are coming up next for you?
I am a part of a project at the moment that I can’t announce yet, but I can say that it’s different from anything I’ve worked on before and is the kind of show I would have loved watching as a kid with a big imagination. And of course look out for plenty more Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’.
Photography: David Noles
This interview was done for Numéro Netherlands by Jana Letonja.