Photography: Jayme Thornton @jaymethornton
Hair: Andreas Schonagel @andreasschonagel
Makeup: Artist Management @artistmanagementmiami
Melissa Navia is an actor and writer to watch for her engaging performances as a multifaceted characters and her penchant for presenting stories that push audiences. Navia is now starring in the highly anticipated Paramount+ series "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds." The series follows Captain Christopher Pike and the crew of the USS Enterprise as they explore new worlds around the galaxy as a spinoff from "Star Trek: Discovery" and a precursor to "Star Trek: The Original Series."
Navia plays 'Lieutenant Erica Ortegas,' the USS Enterprise's charming captain. The second season premiered on June 15 and has already been renewed for a third season.
Navia's most recent television credits include recurring roles on CBS's "Bull" and the AMC show "Dietland." She has also appeared as a guest star on NBC's "New Amsterdam" as well as Showtime's "Billions" and "Homeland." Navia has appeared in a number of indie films and shorts on the big screen. She received Best Actress at the Wild Rose Independent Film Festival in 2013 for her major role as 'Dawn' in "The Paragon Cortex." Navia has also appeared in films such as "Sleeping with the Fishes," "Bel Canto," "The Chosen," "Hymns," and "What It Was," to name a few.
She made her Off-Broadway debut in the world premiere of J. Julian Christopher's critically acclaimed "Bundle of Sticks" at INTAR Theatre in March 2020. Navia is of Colombian and American descent. Finally she sings and plays the banjo and is the creator of Girl With Short Hair, an upcoming essay collection and stand-up show.
IRK: You have done an incredible variety of performances from Off-Broadway to a standupm show to several indie films. Do you like to challenge yourself as an actor?
Melissa: Absolutely. Every new role is a challenge. I started in theatre at a very young age, and have spent more than a decade auditioning and creating for myself a well-rounded career in film and TV, but my love for performing in front of a live audience has never left me. In fact, the musical theatre kid in me has big Broadway dreams, but all in good time.
IRK :What challenges are you hoping to take on next?
Melissa: Right now I’m focused on Strange New Worlds. We’re in the middle of promoting Season 2 and getting ready to go back to filming Season 3. Originating a role like Erica Ortegas, helmsman of the USS Enterprise, on a show that had such a phenomenal first season, in a franchise as iconic as Star Trek, is no small feat. It’s a dream role come true and also a lot of hard work. You can’t have one without the other.
IRK: What was the last book you read and do you consider yourself a storyteller?
Melissa: I recently re-read two books that I highly enjoyed the first time through. One is “Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook” by Christina Henry and the other is “Magpie Murders” by Anthony Horowitz. The former makes you seriously reconsider the story and character of Peter Pan, which was one of my first leading roles. I never thought I’d grow up one day to want to play Hook, or that I’d find myself relating to him far more than Peter Pan, but that’s what this book does. And the latter is a murder mystery in a quaint British village, but it’s set in both the past and the present and is also a clever treatise on the genre of murder mystery writing as a whole. Each book takes a story, or type of story, that we think we know, turns it on its head, and shows us there is more to glean. What’s old becomes new again, which is a theme I appreciate as a storyteller always looking for new ways to entertain audiences and also as an actor currently on a show that’s a prequel to the original Star Trek. There’s more story to tell.
IRK: The new Star Trek series is a big success and is already signed for a 3rd season. How are the bonds you are making on a series like this different from the films you have made?
Melissa: The bonds on this show are lifelong. I’ve already spent more time on Strange New Worlds than I have on any other production, and everyone on the cast is as cool and personable in real life as they are on the show. I don’t like hanging out with a lot of people, but I’d hang out with any member of our crew any day.
IRK: Do you enjoy science fiction as a genre?
Melissa: I do, but the more hopeful, less dystopian kind. I love fantasy and historical fiction and adventure stories where I can imagine myself in that world. Star Trek feels like a perfect blend of all of that.
IRK: When you got the role in Star Trek had you already seen the original series?
Melissa: The Star Trek of my youth was The Next Generation, so that’s the show and the characters I was most familiar with when I booked Strange New Worlds. But the fact that I knew Kirk and Uhura and Spock and was familiar with so many catchphrases and visuals from The Original Series is a testament to the cultural phenomenon that is Star Trek. It’s everywhere. I remember, when I was waiting to find out if I’d booked the role of Ortegas, trying to watch shows from other decades and other countries so that I could avoid any mention of this franchise that may or may not change my life. But it was impossible. Anything I watched, a Star Trek reference in the dialogue would be waiting.
IRK: What is your favorite role so far?
Melissa: I have enjoyed them all, and can’t wait for what’s to come, but Lieutenant Erica Ortegas is everything I could have wanted in my first series regular role. So Ortegas, for sure.
IRK: What made you become an actress? Was there anything else you wanted to do?
Melissa: I’ve always wanted to act and write. I’ve always wanted to tell stories. I started acting in church and school productions as shepherds and angels. My first leading role was Jesus at the age of 10, and then the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz (who was changed to the Tin- ager), and then Peter Pan. I also wanted to be an archaeologist, because of Indiana Jones, and a philosopher, because of my father, who’s also an author and the reason I started writing. And there was a short stint where I wanted to be a virologist because of a character Jeﬀrey Dean Morgan played early on in his career. I hope to get the chance to pay homage to all of those ambitions one day through my acting eﬀorts.
IRK: Do you have any goals?
Melissa: Plenty, but I don’t generally share them. I try to take the same approach to each of my goals as I do when I book an acting job. People will know about it when they see the finished product.
IRK: Please share a few lines about what you do and any/all organizations you are championing or a part of.
Melissa: Three organizations I interact with and look forward to doing more work with in the future are the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a global research-based organization that works together with the entertainment industry to create gender balance, foster inclusion, and reduce negative stereotyping; Outright International, an organization that works to document, amplify, and fight human rights violations against the LGBTIQ community worldwide; and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a leading conservation organization based in Kenya that works for the conservation, preservation, and protection of all wildlife and specifically elephants.
IRK: Tell us your "Why" - This can be what inspired you to get started, why you keep going and the spirit that drives you.
Melissa: I hope to leave this world a slightly better place than it was when I arrived. That’s all. Why do I keep going? Because I expect a lot of myself and know that tomorrow is not promised. The spirit that drives me is my family. And also my late partner, Brian, who was my best friend and the light of my life. He died fighting an absurdly aggressive and acute form of leukemia. But he was with me all throughout filming Season 1 of Strange New Worlds—he moved to Toronto with me for 6 months—and really is the reason I was able to book the role of Ortegas and why the character came through in those first 10 episodes like she did. So I’m doing all this now because we worked so hard to get here, and to build what we did together, and he doesn’t want me giving up now.
IRK: What are you most passionate about with respect to taking care of people and planet?
Melissa: Right now I’m most passionate about shining a light through storytelling. The world and its problems can feel terribly overwhelming, but we all have the same 24 hours in a day and most of us are trying our best. So rather than feeling like there is so little that can be done in the face of so much that needs to be fixed, I am focused on doing what I can do, with the time I have, and trying to tell stories that people can turn to for enjoyment, escape, guidance, and clarity.
IRK: What are some conscious actions you implement in your daily life? (For Example: Are you committing to reducing plastic, second hand, volunteering or only using public transport?)
Melissa: Empathy. That’s the first step to solving so many problems. Everything stems from that. I try to put myself in other people’s shoes whenever possible, and to listen to other points of view, and that leads me to make decisions and take actions on a daily basis that are sustainable, productive, urgently needed, and helpful in the long run.
IRK: What’s your hope for the future of the planet?
Melissa: Star Trek. My hope is a future where we have realized that what we have in common far outweighs our diﬀerences and that our best chance at overcoming global adversity is to work together toward shared goals. It’s not impossible. We just need smarter, kinder, stronger, and more empathetic people from all corners of the world leading the way.
IRK: What Sustainable Development Goal do you align with the most? We've partnered with the UN for awareness on these goals! https://sdgs.un.org/goals
Melissa: Oh dear. I have to pick just one? All 17 goals are impressive, necessary, and possible, but if I have to pick just one, I’d say Gender Equality and the continued empowerment of women and girls worldwide. I can help with that through my platform as an actor, through the roles I take on, and through the stories that I choose to spotlight.
Photographer Questions: Jayme Thornton:
Jayme: In the SNW S1E2 Children of the Comet, as Helmsman of the Enterprise you initiated the evasive pattern Ortegas Gamma One, rolling and turning the ship straight at the enemy vessel thereby helping the Enterprise escape danger. How many flight maneuvers do you think you have stored in the Enterprise helm and do you spend a lot of your spare time making new moves?
Melissa: I think fans really took to Ortegas in Season 1 because they saw not only how good she is at piloting the Enterprise, but also how much she genuinely loves her job. So yes, she definitely comes up with new moves in her spare time and she has a lot more flight maneuvers stored in the helm than Captain Pike or anyone realizes. Me as Melissa, on the other hand, I take every episode as it comes and work with our crew to figure out what I’m doing and how we’re gonna pull it off. Hearing from fans that it actually looks like Ortegas is flying the Enterprise has been validation that I’m doing things right, so I’m gonna keep at it.
Jayme: In the SNW episode The Elysian Kingdom, the crew are forced by a sentient alien energy to live out a child's fairy tale. In that episode you and Captain Pike were pretty funny together with you playing a super aggressive swordsman and the Captain playing a cowardly opportunistic member of the royal court. You guys were so funny together there's been talk you two should hit the galactic road with your own comedy show. If you and Captain Pike found yourselves leaving Starfleet for a life of comedy, what do you think you would call your comedy team?
Melissa: Oh, “Pike & Ortegas” for sure. Straightforward name recognition. Anson has also told me that he has done stand-up in the past, so a Mount & Navia show in the future is not necessarily out of the question.
Jayme: Lieutenant Ortegas's haircut in the show is awesome. Do you think you could be a trendsetter on the Enterprise and influence whole sections of the crew to choose to get the 'Ortegas' to be cool?
Melissa: A whole crew of Ortegas haircuts would be fascinating, as Spock would say, but not likely. I don’t think anyone on the Enterprise can pull it oﬀ quite like she does. But that’s not to say it can’t be replicated. To every fan out there who has gotten the Ortegas cut, I salute you.
Jayme: What does she think her nicknames might have been at the academy?
Melissa: Brows or Big Eyes. Brows because of her very full, expressive, Vulcan arch-inclined eyebrows. Big Eyes because her eyes are big and full of wonderment and that only increases tenfold when she’s flying.
Jayme: And, how far did she get in Enterprise Bingo?
Melissa: She completed every task and laments to this day that the list is still too tame.
Thornton, is a NYC based fashion photographer with editorial and advertising clients worldwide.