Navia Robinson was destined to be part of the Batman universe.
“I've always been very engaged with DC Comics and DC animated series. I grew up consuming all of it,” Robinson tells Los Angeles Confidential ahead of the March 14 premiere of The CW’s Gotham Knights, on which she stars as the unlikely Batman sidekick Carrie Kelley. She describes having a wall of framed comics in which Batman, Robin Wonder Woman and Superman appeared.
But going into the role, Robinson didn’t want to be influenced by other portrayals. She wanted to make Carrie Kelley all her own.
The dive into the infamous superhero realm was also a step into young adult TV. Prior to taking on the world of Gotham, the teen actor conquered Disney and Netflix on Raven’s Home and Free Rein, respectively. The pivot into high action was intentional.
“There's a parallel between Free Reign and Gotham Knights because they both required physical engagement. And Free Reign eventually I, as the character, learned to ride a horse and I had to be engaged with myself as an actress in that way. And I think I missed that from Raven's Home. Raven’s Home was a sitcom and you do it on a soundstage exclusively. And so you just have a more limited environment.”
Robinson hopes audiences are excited for all of the action. Above all, she hopes audiences are open to this new tale from the DC Universe.
“I hope people give it a chance,” she says. “I don't know if this is worth saying, but people's perception of what it is can be misleading. So watch it. I think. What's so great about comic books and about DC as well, is it covers these large topics of redemption and death and politics and youth in a really palatable and electric way.”
Read more from our conversation below.
How would you describe your interpretation of Carrie Kelley?
The environment is Gotham, maybe, at its most hopeless. It's not a word. I think it's Gotham at the peak of losing hope in its restoration after Batman’s death, so it's definitely bleak. And I think it requires Carrie’s notorious optimism to take a few blows as she realizes that good doesn't necessarily always prevail. And that good itself is very convoluted and complicated; things aren't so black and white. Throughout the season, you see Carrie Kelley have to reevaluate her classic optimism and that sunny disposition be grounded in the reality of a harsh Gotham.
She's the most experienced fighter [of the group] and has the most experience with the Gotham underground. She's very knowledgeable. I mean, she was trained by Batman, so her fighting capabilities and her intuition in regard to taking on crime is a lot stronger than the rest. She's certainly skeptical of the team that she inherits and is wary. Ultimately, she's a 15-year-old girl so I think that there's a natural skepticism that comes with that age.
How extensive was the physical training for this role?
Ultimately, you are being trained to sell a move, not necessarily do the move exactly and accurately because that move actually has to be adapted and appear differently for the camera. So you're learning a movie version of what your character is actually doing or just a slightly modified version. But it was really a lot of fun. The entire cast had to go through specific training and as I said, because my character is super capable, there were a lot of sessions with the stunt coordinator and team.
I use batarangs a lot in the show. We have batarangs appearing in every single episode and while I can't tell you much about the content of the show, I can say that! I had to learn to work with these pretty slight props; they’re pretty tiny. And so you hold them and just fight with them as if you might fight with a sword. And so those are a lot of fun to work with because it's so tedious. These things are tiny and you want to make sure that when you're dealing with other weapons that the other weapons aren't able to touch your hand and I enjoy the tediousness of that stuff.
You described the environment as bleak. Why do you think now is the right time to tell a story that is set in a post-Bruce Wayne world and focuses on a new generation?
I think it's in direct parallel to what's happening in the real world. We're seeing the guards change, so to speak, and we're seeing a younger generation step up and try to take responsibility for the future and for their own for the current environment. It's just a natural progression, right? In this case, the old patriarch laid the groundwork. He literally dies in the show, but in real life that old guard metaphorically dies or passes on, so to speak, and then a new generation comes forward and takes over.
I think Chad Fiveash, James Stoteraux and Natalie Abrams, who are our showrunners and head writers, have been very thoughtful about the way they are inspired by our real-life circumstances. And of course, this is a show that takes place in an alternate universe, but there are so many parallels that they make sure to draw throughout the season. Throughout the season, you see us reference concepts like wealth distribution and political complexity. You see these things that we're very much dealing with in real life be filtered through our show. It's really cool.
As you continue your career, is it a priority for you to be part of projects that have important underlying messages like that?
I think if you're doing film and TV, which has been really thoughtfully created… it's going to be purposeful. So I think if you're focusing on thoughtful work, it's just inevitably going to be purposeful. And so yes, that is important to me because you spend—in my case because I'm currently 17 and under labor laws in Georgia— you spend up to 12 hours a day working on something. You want to feel like there's a reason and that it's necessary and that's vital. So I hope to continue doing work that I feel like has a clear purpose.
What is your favorite thing about Carrie Kelley?
I think my favorite thing about Carrie Kelley's is my favorite thing about her age range. Being a teen is like being a paradox. As Robin, she's incredibly strong and capable and unwavering and when you see her as Robin, she's certainly in game mode and things are more deadpan and she's just persisting. Whereas when you see her as Carrie, you see a softer, more sensitive side of a person who wants to be accepted. And I think that's my favorite thing about her. It's the contradictions that she carries.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Photo: Steve Wilkie/The CW -- © 2023 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved; Amanda Mazonkey/The CW -- © 2023 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.