Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' Melissa Navia on Erica Ortegas Finally Getting the Spotlight (Exclusive)

When I spoke to Melissa Navia during the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 press junket, she told me about how excited she was to begin peeling back the layers of the awesome onion that is her character, ship's helmsman Erica Ortegas. That process finally began in this week's episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. SPOILERS follow for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2, Episode 4, "Among the Lotus Eaters." The latest Star Trek episode begins with Ortegas excited to be part of an away team mission for a change and enthusiastically dressing for the part (thanks to Bernadette Croft's stellar costume work). However, plans change and, for the ship's safety, Captain Pike (Anson Mount) has to order Ortegas back to the helm for the duration of the mission. The story that follows involves nearly everyone aboard the ship and on the away team losing their memory and Ortegas falling back in love with being a pilot.

That's how  Navia put it when I spoke to her during a more recent chat over video call. During our conversation, we discussed Ortegas' first spotlight episode, the character past a soldier, and what her future might hold. Here's how that went:

Among the Lotus Eaters
(Photo:

Melissa Navia as Ortegas appearing in episode 204 "Among The Lotus Eaters" of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

- Michael Gibson/Paramount+)

Jamie Lovett, ComicBook.com: How disappointed were you that you did not have more scenes with the hat?

Melissa Navia: I know. The whole outfit! That whole outfit took multiple people to put on me. The tension and the stress going into that scene where she's getting dressed and she's checking herself out in the mirror, the funny thing is, behind the scenes, it was like four people were putting different pieces on me. It was a whole thing. And then I'm like, after this, I don't even get to wear it into battle, which is so sad, but who knows? Many stories to come, right?

Did they take the hat back? Did they let you take it as a souvenir?

No. I'm so good when it comes to wardrobe where I'm always like something can be used later on, so I didn't even ask for it. But I got a whole lot of selfies in the trailer in everything, so I will definitely post some. But the whole outfit was very cool.

I look forward to the cosplays in Las Vegas and elsewhere this year.

Yes!

There was a lot of talk about how Ortegas didn't get a spotlight episode last season, and this is her first. What was your initial impression when you read this script and saw what this whole episode was going to be about, that it tied into "The Cage," and all that?

Fans last year were phenomenal and there's nothing better for an actor to hear that a character that they play, that fans want more of that character. They want more backstory. They can tell already that there's so much more story to be told and they want to see it. I'll say that the showrunners and the writers, that was always their intention, but we have this ensemble cast that's really unlike any other, I feel, on TV where everyone's just got an extraordinary backstory and the actors are doing a fantastic job. There's only so much screen time in 10 mini-movie episodes that can be told.

So when I saw that Erica was going to get this spotlight in this episode, and it focused on her job, I thought it was so perfect because, last season, so much of what we learned about Erica was about her job, that she is the pilot of the Enterprise. Nothing really happens without her, and I think that's also why fans really took to her, because she's the helmsman and she's someone who Pike trusts, and you can see that camaraderie with all of her crewmates, which is such a special part of Star Trek and what fans really love to see.

So when I saw that it had to do with her getting stuck on the ship, first of all, and you get to see that wall of "everything's cool and I'm confident and I can take care of it and everything's great," you see her get grumpy and you see her kind of be like, "ah, I'm doing this again," which is a thing that she loves, but when you do that thing that you love all the time, sometimes you forget why it was that you fell in love with it in the first place.

And you get to see her have to remember who she is. And for me personally, I was very open with fans about the personal grief that I was going through last year. I was going through all of that as we were filming Season 2. And so, to have this highly emotional episode where Ortegas is falling apart and has to remember that she is capable of doing all these things that she has suddenly forgotten how to do, that aligned very closely to what was happening in my own life.

Grief knocks you down, and you suddenly don't know who you are anymore, and you feel like you can't be the person that you were and you can't do the things that you did. Here I am having to play it as a character while also having to be a professional on set and not fall apart, so there were a lot of layers that went into everything, especially the scene in her quarters, which I was so happy that she got quarters. It looked exactly like the room I envisioned for her. That was a team effort and I was very happy with how it turned out, but you really see her having to go through the emotions of remembering who you are and then telling yourself that you are up to the task.

In the end, Ortegas' ability to pilot the ship is so ingrained in her that she can do it even with the effects of this memory loss. Were there things you drew on there as an actor? Are there things you feel like in your life that are that deeply ingrained in you that you could draw a parallel?

It's a part of you, and without it, you're not whole, right? So what I was channeling at the time was what was happening in my life, where you feel like something that has separated from you or something that you cannot feel and it's not tangible, but you know it's there. And you have to dig deep, but then when you dig deep, it's there, right? It's that thing that, like you said, it's in your bones, right?

So I was also thinking "family" because that's where I would go. And so, there was even when we did all these takes of "I'm Erica Ortegas," I fly the ship, there was even takes where I went full on [with more of an accent], "I'm Erica Ortegas," and I was digging deep into my Columbian background and my family. I'm like if I suddenly forgot everything, what would be the first thing that comes up inside me? And I'm like, it would be my sisters. It would be my parents. It would be those things that make me who I am.

And so, that Latina side to her, and that rage and that fury of "I am the only one who can fly the ship." That's what I pulled on, or rather, I touched on, was what is it that makes you you and that you couldn't find yourself ever being separated from. And for me, really, storytelling and acting is that, right? I don't think I'd be able to do what I do if storytelling wasn't in my bones.

How do you think Ortegas is changed by this experience? I assume we'll see more as the season progresses, but do you think there's a significant change here where she realizes, "This is who I am? So what if I didn't get to go on the away mission?" Not that she's ever lacked confidence before, but might she be more confident, more secure, in her place on the bridge?

Yeah, I think the cool thing about what happens in this episode is that it's like these moments in life, of epiphany, where you're just like, this thing that you've always done, you have to be reminded of why you fell in love with it in the first place. So what I took from it and put into it moving forward is that she almost falls in love again with being a pilot and being the pilot that Pike trusts at the helm of the enterprise.

Like you said, is it possible for her to be even more confident? I feel like fans love that confidence, and then I think there are also certain people that, seeing a woman in this place as the cocky pilot when we've seen it in so many movies and so many TV shows, and it's never a problem, but here we have a female at the helm who's wise-cracking and makes jokes and is able to pull off crazy maneuvers while also being super cocky about it. I'm so happy that we have a character now that we can look to as an example of that.

So you're going to continue to see that. I think she falls in love again with being a pilot, and I think she stops being like, "They never send me on an away mission." Without giving too much away, what does that end up looking like and what happens when you forget that you wanted something so badly? Isn't that when it then happens?

What can you say about what the rest of the season holds for her? I've noticed in this season there's still that spotlight being shared around from character to character, but some of the episodes are more two-handers or group-focused, Is she in the mix for one of those other episodes or might we have to wait for the next season for that?

Yes. So definitely, definitely you're going to get more Ortegas for sure. We're going to see some of her backstory as a soldier, which I feel like in Season 1, I always knew about that backstory and the showrunners knew about it and the writers did, but we didn't get to touch on it too much. And so, we're going to see more of that. We're going to see her camaraderie with her fellow castmates and we're going to see her with Chapel and with M'Benga and Uhura.

What else can I say? You're just going to see other sides of Erica. I'll say that because that covers all the bases. And then, we haven't picked up for season three, and I can't say anything about anything, but just patience is a virtue and there's a lot more story to tell. I'll say that.

You mentioned that background as a soldier. Something distinctive about Strange New Worlds is that many of the crew are veterans of this war that just happened. It isn't entirely unique in Star Trek -- Deep Space Nine had an extended, ongoing war and the Discovery crew went through the same Klingon War that you all did, though that show deals with its aftermath differently -- but Strange New Worlds is often fun and light, and I think it's easy to forget what some of these characters lived through recently, and that's a shared experience that's come up a couple of times this season already. Do you think that sets your crew apart from the rest of the franchise?

Yes. I love that question. Absolutely. And that was something that I was aware of and that I thought about and I worked on as we were going through episodes in season one, was that they have been to war. Captain Pike has seen his future and his future is not necessarily what he would have wanted, and he becomes a changed man. And how do you go through life knowing what's going to happen in 10 years and it's not necessarily positive? And for Ortegas, I knew that she'd been to war, and so, when we have that scene in Season 1 with Hemmer's service, his funeral, and she speaks, she understands grief. She understands what it's like to lose people. She has lost friends. She has lost family.

We touch on that in an alternate universe way in the season finale of Season 1, where some fans were concerned that, well, why does Erica feel this way toward the Romulans? But the backstory there was that it's an alternate side of an Erica that you don't necessarily like at first, but somebody who has developed this grudge against the Romulans because she has lost family and friends to them over and over again. And we see, by the end, that she sees that there are Romulans that are not completely bent on destroying her and her friends.

In the regular timeline, she's been through grief. She's been through death. So have her friends. We see it with M'Benga and Chapel in Episode 1 of Season 2, and I think that that's a great thread that runs throughout our show and our crew, that we have the lightheartedness, the camaraderie, that joyfulness, the hope that I think is what has made Star Trek such an endearing cultural phenomenon. It's the hope that this is a future that we want. But at the same time, everyone has, like you said, this darkness. But that's life, right? It's Episode 2, like literally, we're getting to the stars through hardship, and I think that's something that we can all relate to in different ways.

I know, last thing I'll say, is fans that have reached out to me from Season 1 to Season 2, and telling me that they've lost people. They've lost people who they were watching Season 1 with. They've lost people who they were excited to watch Strange New Worlds with. They're going through grief. They're going through death. They're going through loss. They're going through darkness. And so, you're getting to see these characters that are doing the same thing, and we get to do it an adventure at a time with a serialized piece that runs through the whole thing.

How to watch Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds stars Anson Mount as Christopher Pike, Rebecca Romijn as Una Chin-Riley, Ethan Peck as Spock, Jess Bush as Christine Chapel, Christina Chong as La'An Noonien-Singh, Celia Rose Gooding as Nyota Uhura, Melissa Navia as Erica Ortegas and Babs Olusanmokun as Joseph M'Benga. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 also brings back special guest star Paul Wesley as James T. Kirk and adds Carol Kane in the recurring role of Pelia.

CBS Studios, Secret Hideout, and Roddenberry Entertainment produced Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2. Akiva Goldsman and Henry Alonso Myers are co-showrunners. Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman, Jenny Lumet, Henry Alonso Myers, Aaron Baiers, Heather Kadin, Frank Siracusa, John Weber, Rod Roddenberry, and Trevor Roth serve as executive producers.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 debuts new episodes on Thursdays on Paramount+ in the United States, the U.K., Australia, Latin America, Brazil, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. The second season will stream on Paramount+ in South Korea, with a premiere date still to be announced. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds airs on Bell Media's CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada and SkyShowtime in the Nordics, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and Central and Eastern Europe.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 is also streaming on Paramount+. It is also available as home media on Blu-ray, DVD, and 4k UHD.