The CW’s Gotham Knights takes place in a world we might all recognize, but for Navia Robinson it represents a turning point in how the audience can connect with — and visualize — our heroes. As Navia astutely noted in the course of our conversation, the world is changing, and our caped crusaders have a chance to change right along with it, leaving us all the better for it.
We sat down to talk about her journey to Gotham, why she loves the DC lineup, and how challenging our perceptions of what a hero can look like might just lead to a little more empathy.
The Nerds of Color: Your career has been incredibly varied! You starred in Raven’s Home, you’ve been in the Vampire Diaries, Free Rein, and performed as a voice actor. And now you have this lead role in Gotham Knights. What has your experience been like navigating these different sides of Hollywood as a young woman of color?
Navia: I would say it varies from job to job, but overwhelmingly a pretty similar experience. If I listen to the experience of other women of color who are working on feature films, or prestige TV, or sitcoms, there seems to be a general theme of positives and negatives.
What’s best about working on anything is the warm community of people who are watching what you’re performing in, and you have the shared experience with, and who you get to meet when you’re walking around. That’s been the best part of working on all these things. It’s kind of like having a friend in every corner, because you can be out in the grocery store and somebody walks up to you and they know you. Then, you get to meet them, and exchange words with them, and know them.
As far as downsides, I’d say it can be that exact thing. What’s best about it, which is getting to be known and know other people, can also be the worst about it, because I’m also super young. I can get a little squirmy when it comes to any sort of attention.
Were you a fan of the Gotham world and characters before you were cast? What have you found interesting about engaging with the lore?
Yeah, I was a fan. I was completely raised on specifically DC animated things. So, Justice League Unlimited and Young Justice. I was very immersed in DC. Joining something like this is equal parts exciting for somebody like me who was familiar with it and also comes with a feeling of responsibility.
I know how close people can feel to this community, and you want to do it justice. It can be overwhelming, but it’s definitely exciting for me and sort of life-affirming. It’s crazy how your dreams can come true in a way that you don’t expect. I never imagined that I’d be playing Carrie Kelley of all characters.
You are the first woman of color, the first black actress, to play Carrie Kelley, and to play Robin on screen. As you know, Robin is such an iconic character. You said it was very life-affirming, but what else do you feel when you think about carrying this honor?
I feel almost avoidant of it, if I’m being completely honest, because it does make me anxious. I just want to do the character justice. When it comes to performing, the goal is to ignore and forget all of the external stuff so you can get inside of the character. The character’s circumstances aren’t mine, right? The character doesn’t know that she’s the first female Robin or Robin of color. You kind of have to ignore that to actually get inside of the character and inhabit qualities that make her worth watching. When I actually think about it as myself, I feel so honored, and grateful, and hopeful that I am capable of carrying the spirit of Robin and that people can ultimately see it for what it is, which is a new and different portrayal. It’s just the world evolving and the character evolves along with it, and that really excites me.
In playing Carrie, we see in the trailer and the first episode that you’re taking on more of a leadership role. You’re someone who has been doing this. You are more seasoned despite being younger. What’s it like stepping into that kind of leadership role? It’s such a physical role as well. What did that look like for you?
What it looked like for me was getting accustomed to what it’s like for the physicality to be such a significant part of the role. It’s not something I’ve had any experience with before the stunt training. You want to be able to convince yourself that in this fictional world you are able to do these things. So, you work with the stunt team, which is what all of us did, and we had a really amazing one on the show. That was very helpful.
As far as taking on the position of leadership, it’s very helpful that Carrie Kelley is a 15-year-old girl, because it allows me to sort of infuse some of the fear, or nervousness, that I have about stepping into this character within her. She’s super capable as Robin and very strong there, but as Carrie Kelley she’s still this younger teen amongst these older teens who are a little more impulsive. I get to be both strong and also timid, which I like a lot. It’s fun to be the smallest and youngest person in the room, but I’m scary and ultimately the most knowledgeable. It’s a cool juxtaposition.
I always think about the DC costumes, because they’re so iconic. They’re so cool and it’s exciting to see what comes out of each production. So, without getting into spoilers, will there be anything recognizable, or new interpretations?
Something that I am really proud of about the show is that it combines what we’ve seen before with newer concepts, and ideas, and style. There’s a costume transition for me as Carrie, from the first episode to the rest of the series. I adopt a new Robin outfit that I think is a lot more practical and grounded. It reflects Robin’s tactical necessities. I’ve got this burgundy jacket, which is an homage to prior Robins. The red is such an iconic Robin color, but it is still darker to reflect this darker world of Gotham. It’s kind of more tactical than the cape and tights that we’ve seen Robin in before. Carrie -slash-Robin’s overall look is about practicality and kind of no flares down to business.
I think, as a whole, if you’re a fan of comics you’ll love the series. It covers all the big topics that I think comic books do so well in a palatable way, which are death and redemption through the lens of a newer generation. I think, over time, you’ll fall in love with each of the characters and the dynamics that they share, and this larger conversation of what it means to be good, or bad, and how a lot of times the area in between is where we’ll find solutions.
Bruce Wayne is murdered and his adopted son forges an alliance with the children of Batman’s enemies. As the city becomes more dangerous, these mismatched fugitives will become its next generation of saviors, known as the Gotham Knights.
Gotham Knights airs on Tuesday nights on The CW.