Navia Robinson takes on the mantle of Robin in the CW’s Gotham Knights, bringing her flare to the iconic character.
Growing up with the likes of Dr. Fate, Zatanna Zatara, Wonder Woman, Artemis, and a whole plethora of heroes from the DC universe, Navia couldn’t have possibly known the trajectory her life would take. From the wholesome home of Raven Baxter to the grimy criminal underbelly of Gotham City, landing the role of Carrie Kelley aka Robin in the CW’s Gotham Knights was a full-circle moment. She was now a part of the universe that had informed much of her childhood. The role of Carrie Kelley was meant for her. Navia had never done anything akin to Gotham Knights before. And, despite the nerves that accompany any new role, she set to work. It isn’t every day you get to play a superhero, and she took that to heart.
The flip from Raven’s Home to Gotham Knights was night and day (pun intended). Reading through the different iterations of Robin, Navia wanted to leave her mark on the character. It was important to make Carrie unique, and more importantly, her own. She diligently dug, pouring through Frank Miller’s comics. Finding facets of the character to pull from, while also breathing new life into her. And the results speak for themselves, giving us a version of Robin through her eyes.
Having begun her career at a young age, Navia recalls that this role was the first she felt she had full autonomy over. She’s acutely aware of growing up in front of the camera and all the lessons that come along with it. And as she continues to evolve on and off the screen, Navia takes pride in recognizing what she’s looking for in a role and what she isn’t. With all those things in mind, she looks to have a very bright future waiting in the wings.
In conversation with 1883’s Dana Reboe, Navia talks about Gotham Knights, the next genre she’d like to explore on screen, what she does with her free time and so much more!
Let’s start with when you got the role in Gotham Knights. What were your first thoughts?
I was nervous initially. I think I always am when it comes to taking on a new role. I was excited. I felt a karmic fulfillment if that makes any sense. DC comics, games, and animated shows were a big part of my upbringing. It was the kind of thing I consumed with my brothers. There was this full circle feeling alongside the nervousness for sure.
So, circling back to growing up on DC for a moment… did you have a favourite comic or superhero?
I can think of quite a few characters that I love. First of all, Young Justice was a big deal to me and my brothers. There was a character depicted on the show named Artemis. And I thought she was cool. I wanted to get into archery because of her [both laugh]. Which still has yet to happen. Number two, I love Doctor Fate, and I love Zatanna. The more bizarre characters were the ones I always gravitated towards. Or the ones whose capabilities kind of transcended the norm.
Completely agreed. I love the fact that we were able to explore the more obscure characters in Justice League: Unlimited like Zatanna. Have you gotten the chance to watch any of Justice League Dark?
My brother showed that to me. They’re all older than me so they might have been ready to watch it, but I certainly wasn’t [laughter]. It’s brutal. I was like ‘Oh my god!’
That’s the appropriate response! Since you’re familiar with the DC universe, did you use your previous knowledge of the comics to help you prepare for the role? How did you make Carrie Kelley your own?
It was really important to me to try to see through the different iterations of Robin. All of them are so drastically different, not just in gender or ethnicity, which are two differences present in my version of Carrie Kelley. It’s the behavioural thing as well. Is it the commitment to good? Is it naivete in combination with the wisdom they get being mentored by Batman? That stuff was important to me. I wanted to study Carrie Kelley and the depictions of her in Frank Miller’s comics. I loved how witty and specific she was and how she was both deeply concerned with the world around her but also light-hearted and playful. I wanted those elements to be a part of my interpretation of Carrie for sure.
From your time on the Disney Channel to the CW, how do you feel you’ve evolved as an actor?
That’s a good question. I mean, Raven’s Home and Gotham Knights are such drastically different shows. The approach was very different. When doing a sitcom – or my experience doing a sitcom – what was most important to me was trying to have fun. It was difficult sometimes because such environments are also stressful. It’s a cast of young people, but you’re ultimately working with adults around you. It was hard to completely embrace the playfulness that you want to show up on the screen when you’re also trying to be very professional and respect your adult coworkers. It was a very good experience. How have I evolved? As a person, I fell deeper in love with movies and acting. I’ve always loved it but with the pandemic hit it allowed me to have some solitude and reflection. I remembered how much I love performing. Coming into Gotham Knights was exciting because it allowed me more range and opportunities to play, discover, and rediscover myself.
You’ve done a sitcom, and now a superhero show. Is there a genre you’d like to explore that you haven’t yet?
Horror is the first thing that comes to mind! I also just love films that are genre-less. I think of films like Lady Bird, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, or even Moonlight that are settled into themselves, they’re almost genre-less, but they might be broadly categorized as dramas or comedies. They’re so much more than that. I love genre-bending and blending films, but horror sticks out as something that I’d like to explore. There’s just something so visceral about it, and it seems like it lends itself to just kind of raw emotion.
With that said: what’s your favourite horror movie?
My most recent favourite is X. It’s such a wild ride. It’s insane. It’s hilarious. It’s great. I just love that movie.
I mean, Mia Goth. Need I say more?
The most recent one I’ve watched was Ready or Not on Disney +. Have you seen it?
That’s the one with Samara Weaving, right? No, I haven’t seen it!
I’m not going to spoil anything, but it takes some unexpected twists and turns! I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s not your stereotypical horror film.
I’ll keep that in mind when I watch it. I promise I won’t hold anything against you if I’m completely disturbed by it [laughter].
Bringing it back to Gotham Knights. The show is pretty action heavy. Do you have a favourite stunt you’ve done?
The stunt work is so collaborative. And so much of what you’re seeing on screen is my stunt double and actress Chelsea Goldsmith who’s amazing. We would have to train together a lot. I would have to memorize it, learn it, so they could film both of us and then cut our performance together. One that comes to mind is in the third episode. It’s the opening scene if I remember correctly. I’m fighting the mutant gang leader. It was a really lovely man who happens to be above seven feet tall. Mind you, I’m five-three. So just picture that. We had to fight each other, and it was probably midnight when we were filming. They were wetting down the concrete because they wanted it to look cinematic. It was just a lot of trust that had to be implemented between me and the other actor. It’s exciting because it becomes sort of a dance. It was an intricate sequence. At one point my stunt double had to jump on his back, it was a lot of fun to rehearse and perform.
Was that the first-time doing stunt work?
Yes! In the pilot of Gotham Knights, there’s that sequence where I come in with a batarang and save everyone. That was my first time doing something so technical. The only other stunt things I’ve done were kind of comedic or gaggy for Raven’s Home. So, a lot less heroic.
Is stunt work something you’d like to continue to do in the future?
It’s super fun. It helps you become in line with your character. It’s like a switch you have to flip and it helps you distinguish that character. The stunt work is studying the character’s physicality and so in that way, it just helps you create a more well-rounded character. So, for that reason, I could see stunt work as a part of my future. And it’s also nice to truly feel like you’re doing something. So much of being on set is stationary, just sitting in your chair and waiting to say the lines again. That can sometimes get stale… this was a very long way to say yes [laughter].
Switching things up, what inspires you daily?
Oh, I like this question. What inspires me? My family inspires me, activists inspire me. I’ve always been involved with social justice, but I’ve never considered myself a real activist. And the older I get, the more I want to commit to a certain line of activism. Even food inspires. The things that we share. Food, films and languages inspire me. Just the things that kind of bridge us together.
I love that so much. Do you have any hobbies? What does your ideal day off look like?
I love watching movies. Which sounds like work, but it isn’t. I love writing. Just journaling or writing fictional things. Usually in the form of dialogue or outlines basically. And then I love cooking, and that’s become a real decompressor for me, these days.
Yes! It’s super therapeutic. I’ll walk into my local bookstore, and they’ll have those three-for-ten cookbooks and I’ll grab a bunch.
I’ve started to do the same thing, which is ridiculous because every time I’m looking for something I am guilty of just googling. And I’ve got these lovely cookbooks that are sitting there unused. Staring at me.
I like to think they’ll get used eventually. Whether it’s next week or next year [both laugh]. Is there a book, movie, or album, you’d like to experience again for the first time and why?
There are so many movies I’d like to experience again for the first time. Maybe Everything Everywhere All at Once?
I still need to see that.
It’s phenomenal. That, or Kill Bill. That was a seminal movie for me. Both of those I’ll never forget. An album that I’d like to hear again? Titanic Rising by Weyes Blood. It came out in 2019. And it’s super atmospheric and transcendent and it felt very of the time.
I’m writing that down to check out after this [Navia laughs]. What is your hope for Robin?
My hope for Robin is that she becomes aware of what she’s capable of and what she contributes. I hope she is more willing to vocalize that and be honest about her strengths, and feel less timidity around these older, more erratic, heroes. There’s still some lingering intimidation. And I hope she steps out of that and realizes that she is utterly capable.
She is a badass.
I mean, come on, what other 15-year-olds are fighting a seven-foot-tall man? [laughter]
Looking back throughout your acting career, is there a piece of advice you’d give to yourself?
Yes. When I was a younger actor, I had no idea whether I accepted any role that I did in the past other than Gotham Knights, which sounds crazy. You just book it and it’s like, ‘Oh, my God. I’m going to go do this thing now.’ And there’s no real decision made. I would say make decisions. Understand why you do or don’t want to do something. Learn the vocabulary that helps you stand up for yourself, especially of course, particularly when you’re a young actor, you get dismissed very easily. And I think that could have been counteracted if I knew the vocabulary to prospectively, respectfully and to represent my interest better.
And lastly, what’s next for you?
I’ve been doing a lot of writing. When I think of the people I admire most in entertainment, it’s always filmmakers. I like the idea of developing myself as somebody who might be a filmmaker. I would love to do a movie. I’ve never done a film before. The time commitment of a film versus a series makes way for more one-on-one time with that character. So, hopefully, a movie in the future.
Interview Dana Reboe
Photography Jonny Marlow
Styling Amanda Lim
Hair Miles Jeffries
Makeup Shannon Pezzetta