Melissa Navia, a Colombian in the universe of ‘Star Trek’

Melissa Navia characterized in the series ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’.James Dimmock (CBS)

In star trek, the most successful series of science fiction on television, the helmsman was Hikaru Sulu, played by actor George Takei, put there, with his oriental features, by Gene Roddenberry as part of the spirit of diversity of the creator of the franchise. A lots of spinoff They have been born since the late sixties. Today, Strange New Worlds keeps that message alive, recounting the adventures aboard the Enterprise, commanded by Captain Christopher Pike (played by actor Anson Mount), in the missions prior to the arrival of Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner).

In the first chapter of the series, the one in charge of taking out the spaceport and piloting the Entreprise is Lieutenant Erica Ortegas. Her last name (written with an extra “s”) is a tribute to the fact that in Roddenberry’s drafts it was once thought that, instead of Sulu, a Latino with that last name would drive the ship. Almost sixty years later, justice is done with the original idea, bringing Ortegas to life through the Colombian-American actress Melissa Navia. Caracol Radio and EL PAÍS spoke with her about the challenge that she assumes from her, now that they are shooting the second season, and how proud she feels of Colombia.

Ask. What is the earliest memory you have of star trek?

Response. One of the most amazing things about star trek it just feels like it’s always existed. It has been part of television since the sixties and became an international phenomenon. So, in a way, it has always been a part of my life. the series of star trek What I remember most seeing in my childhood is The Next Generation, with Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. At this moment we are recording the second season of Strange New Worlds and Jonathan Frakes, who played Major William Riker in that series, is directing one of the episodes. If I had been told as a child that when I grew up I was going to work with him, I would not have believed it.

P. How do you see the conquest of space that women have achieved in series and franchises, now with leading roles like yours?

R. Television and cinema must reflect the real world. That means having strong, smart, complicated and funny female characters and protagonists. Growing up, I never realized that women didn’t have as many dynamic roles as men. Part of it was because, if I saw a role that I identified with, it didn’t matter if it was a man or a woman, I could imagine myself one day being that lead. I wanted to be as funny as El Gordo y El Flaco (Laurel and Hardy), which I used to watch with my dad when I was a kid, and I wanted to have adventures like Indiana Jones. Being a girl, a woman, would not have stopped me, because I always believed that I could be anything I wanted. My parents never told me what I couldn’t do; they just showed me through their actions, and the movies and shows I watched with them, what it could be, what it was I set out to do. Now that I’m older, and especially having this platform as an actress and a public figure, I realize how important it is, not just for young girls, but for people everywhere, to see women on screen, in roles that they fill in the real life. I am incredibly grateful that Strange New Worlds has given me the opportunity to take on a role like this, a woman who is a soldier, a pilot, who is fun, who has many skills; that she too is imperfect, as real people are, and that she is an essential member of the crew of the Enterprise.

P. How did you get into the series?

R. They found me. They auditioned for the role of Lieutenant Erica Ortegas, describing her as a pilot and war veteran, who could make jokes as easily as she could handle a gun, and that she was Latina. She being Colombian-American and having played many roles as a soldier, pilot and also an astronaut (in the series billions, from Showtime), and knowing martial arts and cinematic combat, I thought this was a role made for me. At the end of 2020 I recorded my audition and sent it. Within a few weeks they contacted me and the rest is history.

P. Story that hasn’t happened yet, because Strange New Worlds takes place two centuries from now. In recent series of the franchise there are Latinos with key roles, such as the Chilean Santiago Cabrera (Captain Cristóbal Ríos in Picard). Will there be things from Latin America that will emerge in your character?

R. You have to watch the series. For me it is very important that Erica is Latina, as she is also for the producers and writers. She will definitely be part of history, just as being Colombian is part of everything I do.

P. Diversity and understanding were an obsession of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the series. It was not easy in the sixties, with the specter of the cold war, to have Orientals, Russians, aliens and African-Americans in key roles.

R. Absolutely. I think we need, now more than ever, TV shows like Strange New Worlds. Adventures that reflect the best of humanity, working as a team in the face of adversity. People from all over our world exploring the far reaches of space, on a mission to learn about our universe, meet new civilizations, and create a better future, thanks to our efforts. What Roddenberry imagined and created is timeless. If we don’t embrace that spirit of diversity, exploration and learning in our lives and in our work, in my case as an actress and writer, what is the point of it really?

P. Latinos are increasingly relevant in series from the United States. Before we played thieves, gang members, criminals and that changed. Are we doing well in the transition from the negative to the positive?

R. We are taking great steps. I personally have no desire to take on a role that promotes or glorifies such negative stereotypes. I remember as a child she was talking to a classmate who knew nothing about Colombia, but made ignorant assumptions based on what she had seen on television. I never forgot about that. He bothered me that the Colombia he thought he knew was nothing like the Colombia of my family, of our stories, of our memories, of our future. I want to tell stories that make my family proud.

P. How is your relationship with Colombia?

R. Very good. I visited when I was younger, but it’s a trip firmly ingrained in my mind. Colombia is with me every day. It is in my habits, in my conversations with my parents and sisters; It’s in my memories. Colombia is with me when I speak Spanish and it is with me when I think of my grandparents. It occupies a very special and magical space, but also very real in my mind. I also strive to learn as much as possible about Colombia, so that I can talk about it in the most intelligent way. It is important for me, as a Colombian-American, to know the country in which my parents were born and it is a responsibility that I take seriously.

P. Since the sixties there has been a curious coincidence: the specialties of the crews of the ships of the United Federation of Planets correspond to the colors of the flag: yellow, blue and red. Are you comfortable in uniform?

R. I really hadn’t thought about it. From now on I’m going to tell everyone on set that we’re representing Colombia.

P. Theater or television?

R. I love theater, because that’s where I started my career as a child, in church and school plays. I love acting and seeing people’s reaction, be it tears or laughter, and hearing their opinions at the end of a performance. But film and television allow me to reach more people and cross borders. Due to the pandemic I had to stop these two years, but I also do stand up comedyI have a show called ‘Girl With Short Hair’, with stories from my childhood and the experiences I had having hair like that, and how that made me grow confident in myself.

R. He recently went through very hard times, with the death of someone he loved very much. How much do these painful episodes touch?

R. Thank you for asking me about Brian, his name is Brian Bannon, the love of my life, the most handsome man, the most intelligent and the reason why today I have the role of Erica Ortegas. He was my support in every aspect of my life. Suddenly this past December, my life came crashing down when Brian was diagnosed with a very aggressive and rare leukemia. In a matter of days he was gone. A month later, I had to travel to Toronto to start filming the second season, which I’m still working on now. It has been very hard for me. He was my best friend, my fiancé, my future husband. How does one go on in life when that emptiness remains! Being actors, we are very empathetic by nature, and there are emotions that, although we feel them, we must act. There are days, on set, when I cry, but I “hear” Brian asking me not to cry and he even makes me laugh, and reminds me that I worked very hard to be where I am, that I am strong and that I am going to get out of this moment strengthened.

P. What advice do you give to other women of Colombian origin who want to seek a space on television and cinema in the United States?

R. If that is your dream, don’t give up, but it won’t be an easy road. In this industry you have to know how much you are worth and believe it. It helps a lot to be surrounded by people who believe in you. I have been very lucky to have them. Brian and my family never questioned me when I told them I wanted to act and have unconventional roles.

P. We hope to have her in Colombia soon. May Captain Pike take good care of her and, please, don’t let her be “killed” in the series, because we want to see her in many more seasons.

R. I promise I won’t let myself be “killed”.

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Melissa Navia, a Colombian in the universe of ‘Star Trek’