Christian Lee Navarro is going through something quite special, that not a lot of people in any industry faces. Within a month, his name has become one of the most talked about in the entertainment industry, due to his role as Tony on Netflix’s wildly successful series 13 Reasons Why. Christian, whose prior acting credits include the HBO series Vinyl, is experiencing a metamorphosis of sorts as he has gone from a somewhat known person in the acting world to defining “what’s next” in Hollywood. Tony, just like himself though, have quite a lot in common which makes the role for Christian that much more personal.
Christian is a lifelong New Yorker who resides in the South Bronx, and is a die hard New York Mets fan to boot (good choice, buddy). We met up this past Friday at a local Gregory’s Coffee where he just happened to wear a leather jacket (seems familiar, right?), grabbed a cup of coffee, and sat down with me for one of the best interviews I have ever done.
This is a guy who is humble yet understands the magnitude of the show he is on and the gravity of what went into it, in order for it to happen. The role he plays as Tony is incredibly vital to the entire premise, in that he is the one guiding the main character Clay to finding the 13 reasons why his friend Hannah killed herself. It is an incredibly tough show to get through, yet is taken care of so precisely and in such an amazing way that it has become one of the most popular (if not most popular) show Netflix has ever produced. And with the production, comes the star power in Christian Lee Navarro.
I finished the series about two weeks ago, and was bursting from the inside with questions. Will there be a season 2? What did he think about his character being called “Yoda”? Most importantly, how did he and the entire cast get through the unbelievable emotional baggage the show brought on? Christian told me his thoughts on all of that, and then some.
If you can describe in one word your overall feeling on the monster success of this show, what would it be?
Humbling. I was part of another project called “Vinyl”, which I was incredible proud of, but it doesn’t have the weight or the relevance that something like this has. I think when you get a letter from a fan who says, “A week ago, I was being bullied and the students in my class saw the show and decided not to bully me anymore”, that’s like… so gratifying. When you are working on it, you aren’t too sure of the outcome, you just hope it’s good so receiving letters and emails similar to that is for sure a humbling experience.
You have been referred to as the “Yoda” of this series. Do you agree with that?
Yeah, it’s from the script during Clay’s tape. Brian Yorkey, our executive producer & showrunner came up with that. I think we all met that kid in high school who is a little bit wiser than everybody else, and is sort of an amalgamation of all the things he’s gone through. And it’s not really that he’s tapped into something special, we all get to that place, he’s just there a little earlier.
So I know you can’t say anything, but if you were looking at this show from a fan’s POV like myself, do you think it needs a second season?
Either way, it is wonderful personally, however I think it would be great if there was a season 2 because we don’t get justice for Hannah or Jessica. Jessica is more important at the close of the season because Hannah is going to have her vindication because her parents got ahold of the tapes and they are going to fight tooth and nail for her, but we still have the opportunity to right that wrong with Jess. The only word that we have that Hannah was raped was her own words from the tapes, and we all know how those things can play out in court. With Jessica, we have a real shot at going after Bryce, it is just the collateral damage that comes with that- who goes down with him? And Tony is culpable in a lot of things because he held onto those tapes, so we are all accessories in this.
As an out gay man, I was very happy with your character and what they did with it. Do you think the show could’ve done more with your relationship with Brad?
It was important to me to not fit into any stereotypes, I didn’t want him to be defined by his sexuality. On one hand, I think the subtlety in which they revealed his sexuality was spot on for this guy, because he’s not someone who is defined by this, it is something that he has come to terms with a long time ago and doesn’t need justification in doing so, but I feel like we wrote a lot of scenes that didn’t make the cut. We filmed some scenes with my ex-boyfriend Ryan, who was the guy who introduces me as his “friend” Tony, that I think would’ve helped his character come full circle and just pan out who he was a little bit better. I think we did just enough, however, because I wanted it to be surprising for everyone and yet everyone can go “yeah” and normalize it so we aren’t make it this big moment.
It’s why I felt so weird with Courtney’s character, because she has two gay dads and seems to be pretty popular and no one seemed to care about that, so I didn’t understand why she was so bent out of shape about people knowing she’s a lesbian.
Ideally, if there was a second season, I would love to see Tony sit down with Courtney and say, “What the hell is going on?”.
Why do you think it is that Hannah trusted Tony with the tapes?
Hannah was picked on relentlessly by everyone at the school, except for Tony. He was pretty much the only guy at school who wasn’t trying to grab her ass, because he was gay. Furthermore, he knew what she was going through because he’s an outsider, so he’s seeing everything. One of my favorite moments is when they are at the prom, and outside I hand her the tape, and it starts with the song that her and Clay dance to. I think that the two of them are pure, and pinpoints that these two are the only ones who really aren’t trying to fuck each other over, they really like each other and are good people. They just happen to be a victim of their circumstances. So like Jeff does with Clay, I am consistently aware of his problem that he is in love with her and can’t tell her. Tony has a goal, he always has a mission, and I think Hannah and Clay was his. So I think that’s why he’s so close to her.
And then when all of this breaks, I didn’t want to find Clay the same way I found Hannah. I know Clay on an intimate level, and I know if he doesn’t do this the right way, if I leave him to his own devices, he may just do the same thing.
This whole experience had to put a ton of emotional weight on you and the cast. How did each of you get through to the end and not fall apart?
I think we are all incredibly lucky, because as a cast we have become a family. I become emotional when I talk about them because I am a loner by choice, and I think that when you live this lifestyle you sort of pick up and go, so it becomes hard to form long lasting relationships. The relationships I do have are with my conservatory graduate friends, they are family as well. Moving to California, meeting these people and getting to know them, I found that they are some of the most kind and empathetic and deep feeling people I have ever met. We became a family from the first table read.
There had to be a support system for each other, but for Katherine, to play that role, to go there every day and be in that place, we had to make sure she felt safe and we had to make sure that we kept up with each other. And then the executive producers made sure we felt the same with going to these places every day. We had dogs on set for emotional distress and psychologists and therapists and experts that were there if we needed to talk. Even if just being able to pick up the phone and call Brian Yorkey and say “I’m in the feels today, this shit sucks. It’s day 36 and she’s dead again, everyday and we have to live with that”. He always made us feel good, and the bond we had for each other really helped us get through it all.
On a lighter note, I know you are from here in the South Bronx. What is your favorite place to eat here in NYC?
Yankees Pizza in the Bronx on Morrison Avenue-Soundview, no doubt about it. Amy’s Bread is one of my favorite places as well. There is one right next to my high school that I have fond memories of because I used to get one my teachers some coffee there each morning.
In conclusion, what is next for you outside of the show?
Still in the engine of promoting the show, so there is that. Hopefully we have a season 2 pickup which would put me back in California this coming summer. I just filmed a movie with Melissa McCarthy called “Can You Ever Forgive Me”, and she is incredible. That comes out next year. Then seeing what other roads open up, it’s taken a while to get here and just looking forward to seeing where this takes me.