Since its premiere on May 5, Paramount+’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds‘ inaugural season has successfully delivered on the promise made by Star Trek: Discovery Season 2‘s introduction of a pre-Kirk USS Enterprise.
Of the crew led by Anson Mount’s Captain Christopher Pike, helmsman Lieutenant Erica Ortegas has quickly become a fan favorite with her comedic quips and effortless skill as a pilot.
By portraying a wholly original character — with none of the canonical baggage of legacy roles like Spock, Chapel, and Uhura — actress Melissa Navia has had her own adventure fleshing out the supremely confident, loyal, and determined Ortegas.
Speaking with TV Fanatic virtually from Toronto, Canada, where she and the cast are in the final stages of filming Season 2, Navia speaks candidly about how remarkable it has been to become a part of the Star Trek family.
On the most recent episode, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 8, entitled “The Elysian Kingdom,” the entire crew undergoes transformations into characters from a fairy tale.
Not one to be left out, Ortegas becomes the valiant Sir Adya, the most loyal and noble knight-defender of the good King Ridley.
The production’s costuming and accessories are sumptuously over the top and spectacular in detail, so the question begs to be asked, did Navia get to keep Adya’s sword?
“No, I didn’t. I didn’t get to keep any of it. But they had my knight’s outfit on display in Chicago, and then they had it at the Paley Center in New York.
“That made me so happy because I wasn’t in Chicago, but I feel like I was because I’m so attached to that costume. I don’t even like calling it a costume because it feels like an outfit that I would wear.
Last wknd to see “The Visionary Universe of @StarTrek: Strange New Worlds” at the @paleycenter in #NYC. The cast stopped there on our way to the premiere last month. Our uniforms & my spiffy knight’s garb will be there: https://t.co/Se9Id6sjGt #StarTrek #StrangeNewWorlds pic.twitter.com/sIHZtYwWx2
— Melissa Navia (@melissaCnavia) May 28, 2022
While Ortegas has been present on every episode this season and integral to many missions, the show has yet to explore her backstory. What has Navia learned and discovered about her character?
“I knew from the get-go that she was the helmsmen, obviously, and a combat veteran. The fact that she’s so fantastic at her job was written into the lines.
“What I’ve been seeing from fans is everyone wants more of Ortegas, and everybody’s like, ‘Well, when are we going to hear more? When are we going to get more backstory?’
“I have to go with what I’m given in the script, and the writing has been incredible across the board. But everyone is getting these story arcs, and [fans are] like, ‘What about Ortegas?’
“What I kinda say is it’s all there, right? Like any human being, everything that we are informs everything we do, so even though you’re not getting these emotional arcs like for others, I’m like, ‘She’s flying the ship. She’s busy. She doesn’t have time to be in these Is-it-a-relationship/Is-it-NOT-a-relationship? [situations].’
“In every episode, I feel that you really see another layer of Ortegas. I joke that everyone has these longer story arcs, and I end up creating a lot of my own backstory, and I tell nobody.
“It’s in my head, and so you get all these micro beats [where] I’m like, ‘No one’s ever gonna know this is what I’m thinking,’ but it does somehow inform what I’m doing.
“People’s reaction to how much she loves being a helmsman [is great]. The way that happened was that I took so much time to figure out what I was doing at the helm as Melissa, as the actor, because I felt like if Ortegas is really this fantastic a pilot, I can’t just be making up what my hands are doing as I go.
“I need to have a lot of forethought put into this. I do everything with intention so that it comes off as if it’s not with intention, just happens to be. That’s what we do as actors.
“But you’re going to find out – even after Episode 8; we only have two more episodes – there are additional layers that you’re going to see. And also other sides. I’ll just leave it at that. I don’t want to give anything away.
“But even talking about Sir Adya in [Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 8], it’s this absolute fantasy character of Ortegas, and even though it’s a character from a book, it is an extension of her that was created by Dr. M’Benga’s daughter.
“I love [that] because she basically created a story out of the story that her father’s been telling her, and that’s what the best books, the best stories do.
“Every episode, we see another side of Ortegas, and there will be more backstory to her history as a soldier and also how she came to be on the Enterprise a little bit further down. Don’t want to give away too much.
Just as Sir Adya fiercely protects King Ridley, Ortegas’s unwavering devotion to Captain Pike is evident. Is Pike the first captain that Ortegas has served under?
“Yes, as far as I know about the character. I believe he is. That could change in the writing. She’s obviously served with other members of Starfleet. She went to the Academy, where she learned how to be who she is.
“In terms of Captain Pike, she trusts him so much, and she adores her whole crew. It’s not [just] that she adores and trusts them, but she respects them as they respect her.
“When people talk about how she can be… not flippant but kind of off-the-cuff on the bridge. Sometimes people are like, ‘Is it too informal?’ My argument is always, ‘No, it’s not.’
“If you speak to people in the military, to people who are in life or death situations all the time, it’s just like, ‘No, if you were constantly faced with potential doom in space, you have to be able to joke or else you would just not make it through the day.’
“She’s able to joke, and she’s able to have this wonderful camaraderie specifically with Captain Pike, who she looks up to. She also can get shy around [him] because she does really look up to him so much.
“But she’s able to do all that and then be a fantastic pilot. She can joke and still knows when to get down to business, and it’s thanks to the writers that that’s worked into it. All I have to do is do what I do, but great writing is the cornerstone of everything.
“We’re very, very fortunate on this show – which you guys have seen – that the writing and the stories are just [big sigh] excellent.”
When TV Fanatic spoke with Trek writer Kirsten Beyer about her Star Trek: Picard audio drama, Beyer spoke briefly about her work on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds in an aside. About the cast, she said, “The new cast for Strange New Worlds is going to knock everybody’s socks off. I cannot wait for you guys to meet them.”
Navia concurs wholeheartedly. “Everyone in the cast is as wonderful as you think they are. They’re funny. They’re intelligent. They’ve been with me… I’ve been dealing with all sorts of personal grief, and they’ve been absolutely fantastic.
“In terms of the writers, because of COVID last year, we were in lockdown, and it was difficult to see all the writers throughout the season as we usually do. I think I finally saw all of them in one room in September. It was the coolest thing.
“I felt like I was walking into a room of rock stars, and they felt like they were finally meeting me. We didn’t want to be like, ‘Oh my god! I am so happy to meet you!’ but I love all of our writers. We owe what the show is to their minds.”
Ortegas’ trademark move is to execute every order she is given perfectly, no matter how improbable the success. Is there anything Ortegas doesn’t do well?
“Absolutely, there is. Obviously.
“I’m trying to think of specific things. I think one of the wonderful things about Ortegas is she’s very confident, so even if she can’t do something well, she’s confident, not cocky. [Well,] she’s cocky, but a lovable cocky. She’s not obnoxious, right?
“I would love to be more like Ortegas in regular life because she’s very, very cool. She exudes this confidence [even] when she does tackle something that she doesn’t do well, or when it comes to relationships where she doesn’t try to be too serious about things because she’s trying to figure it out.
“So it’s part of who she is — if that makes sense — that she is so confident that even if she can’t do stuff well, she’s gonna give it a try.
“I don’t know if Ortegas is a great dancer cause I’m not a great dancer. I’m not good at it, but I do love dancing. That’s the kind of thing where it’s like even if she’s not good at something, she will try it.”
Does Navia have a sense of how Ortegas would approach a difficult obstacle?
“I would say she strategizes. I’ve been thinking a lot about this in terms of how she looks up to Captain Pike. One of the things she looks up to him about is that, as a captain, you need to be able to strategize and think about so many different things at once.
“As a pilot, she is able to focus on the task at hand, and she does value every single life that’s on that ship. We see that in [Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 4], where we’re being hunted by the Gorn. Lives are lost, and you see the effect of that in everyone on the bridge.
“She does strategize. She has a whole backstory. She’s been through war. She’s lost friends. She’s lost people. And she uses all those experiences to move forward.
“She’s a real person… in my head. She runs into roadblocks, and you see her as the lone wolf, which fantastic pilots have to be where they’re kind of able just to do what they do and fly the ship and not worry about a million different things.
“As you see what happens in Season 2, you can get a better answer to that question.”
How is production on Season 2 going?
“We’re almost wrapped. We’re just going right toward the end, to the very finish. We’re filming every day.
“We have a couple of weeks more filming, and somehow some of the most incredible scenes are yet to come. I know them from the script, but we still have to film them.
“It doesn’t matter. Every episode is fantastic, and I think Season 2 may be even better than Season 1 if that’s possible.”
Even ace pilots need their downtime. What does Navia have planned for after production concludes on Season 2?
“I’m gonna take a little road trip and then head home. There are projects that I’m thinking about; my reps are working on, but — I speak about it freely because it’s important — I lost my partner of seven years [Brian Bannon] in December.
“A lot of what I’m going to be working on for the next number of months is memorials for him because that happened in December, in the middle of the Omicron Variant.
“Also, there’s a show that I was putting together called Girl with Short Hair. It was put on hold back in the fall, but now I can’t do the show without honoring what’s happened and also honoring Brian in it, who remains and will always be a huge part of me.
“A lot of my time is going to be writing, spending it with family, and spending it on Brian, which makes me super happy. So yeah, there’s a show, Girl with Short Hair, and there’s an essay that’s out there that I forgot is still… I didn’t forget that it’s still out there, but people are reading it. It’s my opening essay for the show.
“[The show will include] my collection of essays that I haven’t yet shown to the world. It’s about me and my life as — for the most part — Melissa with Short Hair and my interactions with the world.
“My stories and my experience with grief and with loss and with life and with Star Trek are going to be a big part of that cause I now have a platform that I didn’t have a year ago, and I have a fandom that I think is the best fandom in the world.
“Brian, family, and writing and working on my show. And, hopefully, a fantastic “other” acting project. If it’s really amazing and is at the level of Erica Ortegas, I will take it.
How will Girl with Short Hair be presented when it’s ready?
“I’m envisioning it as a live thing. I do stand-up comedy too. I haven’t done it on stage in a long time since the pandemic. I envisioned [the show] as –, and it will be — a mixture of stand-up and storytelling.
“I’m a storyteller; as you can tell, I could talk forever. And so it’s definitely going to be live, and it’s going to be in New York. I can’t wait for people to see it. It’ll be about me, but it’ll now also always be about Brian.
“He’s a presence on set. Everybody knows of him, reminds me of him, just everybody. He was a part of Season 1. I would say Ortegas is who she is, who you guys see; Brian is responsible for that. He was with me every single day through the filming of Season 1.
“It’s the same through Season 2, just different, but he’s there all the time. And speaking to the cast and crew, they’ve been phenomenal. I don’t know what people are supposed to be like when this happens, but they have been exceptional—everybody, cast and crew alike.
“I’ve been very fortunate that Life throws crazy things at you, but I have a wonderful family, and I have amazing friends, and I have Strange New Worlds.
“I’m going to do my best to honor [Brian] and to honor all of that going forward in everything I do.”
— Melissa Navia (@melissaCnavia) January 4, 2018
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Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.