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Kevin Navayne talks roles as Charles Taylor, Marcus Garvey & Mandela

Photos: Ali Donze

From model to actor, Kevin Navayne shares how his ‘diva’ ways ushered him into acting.

Starting off the day at Angelo David Salon with Richardine Bartee, we met on Madison Avenue. I straightened my curly hair, and Richardine got a blowout and a manicure. Ready to flaunt our locks, we were discouraged due to the downpour. Subsequently, we took a cab to AG Kitchen on Columbus Avenue to meet with Kevin Navayne, a versatile dramatic actor, who portrays Marcus Garvin in an eponymous biopic, Charles Taylor in ‘American Warlord,’ and plays alongside Laurence Fishburne in the BET miniseries ‘Madiba’ as Nelson Mandela.

Editor’s Note:

Before we get into the interview, here’s a short review of our time at AG Kitchen. Angelena’s twenty-one question interview with Mr. Kevin Navayne starts below.

Many options to choose from, all written in catchy blurbs on the menu, AG Kitchen is a spacious Nuevo Latin restaurant on the Upper West Side that serves burgers and fries and seafood. I placed an order for ‘Her Name Was Lola’ ($13), a drink consisting of Copacabana 1940 Añejo Rum, Licor 43, fresh mango, passionfruit, and oranges. It was my first drink. I felt like I was on a small island. I was on that island alone with a strong sweet drink. It was the perfect cure for a rainy day. Next, my order of ‘Crispy Calamari’ ($12) arrived. It was the best calamari I’ve ever eaten. Served with organic sprouts, cashews, and Dominican Honey Glaze, it was perfect. The serving size was large enough for three individuals to eat.

After Mr. Navayne left, we ordered entrées. I called for the unique ‘Surf N’ Turf’ dinner item. The Guava BBQ Ribs ($14) and Jumbo Shrimp ($14) was oral contentment — well seasoned and well cooked — the meeting of ribs and shrimp were exciting. Every bite worked, in tandem, to tantalize my taste buds. Instead of fries, I requested asparagus. Dessert time came around. The ‘Apple Pie La Mode’ ($7) came to the table. Usually not fond of dessert, this time, I thought about biting my fingers off. The pie was warm. It wasn’t too sweet. It was crunchy.

Angelena Als: As a man of (Jamaican) ‘Yardie’ heritage, what does it mean for you to portray Marcus Garvey? What does he mean for you?

Kevin Navayne: He means a lot to me. Honestly, he’s a Jamaican hero first and foremost. He’s someone that my parents knew growing up and read about, rather not necessarily know, but definitely passed down to me, by what he stood for, by what he represented and all that he was trying to do so being able to play him and portray him to the best of my ability is a totally… I’m totally excited about it.

Did you learn anything special about yourself from the portrayal? What was it like tapping into the character of a mastermind and Civil Rights Activist?

Did I learn anything about myself? I did. I learned not to necessarily give up on things. Marcus fought through trials and tribulations just to prove his point and get to where he needed to get to and so, I, not necessarily, tend to give up quickly. If I see things not going my way I’ll change course or change route and try to figure out a different way — maybe an easier way. [I learned] that you gotta stick to the course. It was totally amazing that he accomplished everything that he accomplished [in] a short amount of time. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do right by him. I’m hoping that I will but even if I can, maybe [I’ll] capture a quarter of what he fought through, and show it through the film. It’ll be well worth it.

Internally, what is your greatest feat with portraying a devious character like Charles Taylor? What did you learn?

I learned how to be bad. No, I think portraying Charles Taylor… It’s as different mindset. Everything that you saw was good — is kind of not — he sees the world completely different. Again, Charles, he’s a bad guy. No questions about it. There’s no ifs ands or buts about it. So playing him is completely different than what I’m used to. I’m totally excited about it.

What was it like to embody a tyrannical politician?

Similar to playing the role [of] Charles Taylor but there’s a method to the madness, you know what I mean? So there’s an end sequence. I think everyone has their own motivation. Playing someone like that is fun, first and foremost but at the same time, it’s taking me out of my comfort [zone]. [I’m] really trying to tap into something bad.

What is your religious background? Did it have any effect on your character work as Charles Taylor?

I grew up Baptist-Catholic. Growing up, I was forced to go to church. Now, I don’t pray as much. Not like I should anyway so it didn’t really have an effect in that aspect.

How do you feel about guerrilla warfare and its effect on society?

Not good. Not good. Yeah, nothing good comes out of it. It’s amazing to me that it actually goes on today, in this day and age. Countries do it all the time, so much that it’s sad. It’s disheartening. [It’s] even worse that no one’s really doing a lot about it [or] paying enough attention to it. I think a lot of that is because the US is not doing anything. There’s no real oil in the countries where it’s happening. There’s nothing of value nothing to be gained, so why bother?

Actors often empathize with their characters in order to jump into their shoes, do you have empathy for Charles Taylor?

You know what, believe it or not, yes, a little, and please let me define it. He grew up, you know what I mean? You only know what you know. Portraying his son — he didn’t really have a choice because he saw what his father did, and probably in his mind, he thought, “Wow, my father’s great! He has money. He’s a warlord. He has all these soldiers reporting to him, you know? That’s kind of cool. I want to do that.” Similar to kids in the ‘hood, in the ghetto, right? You know, they see drug dealers and guys with the fancy cars and the bling. All they know is that they know don’t know anything else. They don’t know that business guy on Wall Street, right? They’ve never seen him. So I think, in that aspect, that’s what he knew and what he understood.

What would be your ideal character type to portray?

Great question. Ideal character type? Someone who is —you know what, fuck that — Someone whose damn funny. I play all these damn drama roles, alright. I want to do some comedy, just like Kevin Hart — crazy, wild and out there — that’s what I want to do.

Since there isn’t any footage of your forthcoming work available, can you give us a brief synopsis of what it entails without any spoilers?

So, I just wrapped a movie. It’s a coming of age story where a guy, who grew up in Harlem and the South Bronx, back and forth between foster parents, gets a scholarship to go to a very good high school. Then, [he] ends up going to Columbia [University]. [He] makes a name for himself on Wall Street, by being one of the first Black executives, making a whole lot of money.

Who is your greatest influence? What impact did they have on your work?

A lot of actors. I think, in terms of obviously the greats, Denzel Washington. I grew up a big Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro fan. You know, people of my generation, so I think those are definitely the people.

As a man of West Indian heritage, what mark do you intend to make on society?

To put Jamaica on the map. Lord have mercy, [to] really to help put Jamaica on the forefront, to get real Jamaican actors playing Jamaican parts. No disrespect – Taye Diggs in ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back‘ — you got guys playing these parts and they’re making Jamaicans look bad and it’s terrible, you know?

What are your ultimate goals, and greatest achievement to date?

Ultimate goal is to take over Hollywood on all fronts, not just being in movies but to actually produce movies, finance movies, own a studio. We need to own studios. Greatest achievement thus far? I think, in such a short time, honestly, I’ve only been doing this for about 8 years. I’ve been doing pretty good in the 8 years so, I’m extremely proud of that and everything I have accomplished thus far.

What inspired you to start acting? What is your relationship to production, and how did it begin?

I used to model. Honestly, I kind of got a big head. [I] thought I blew up a little bit. [I] started being late to go-sees and shoots and so, my agency at the time said, “You know what? Maybe it’s time for you to transition to something else because it’s getting hard for you to book jobs… You think you’re the diva.” So I tailed in between my legs, went ahead, started taking some acting classes, [and] started doing some extra work.

Have you had any professional training? If so, which school or program did you attend? Which technique(s) do you work with?

American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Lots of theater. Lots of insurance, stage presence, and you know, really just perfecting the craft.

If you could change one thing about your journey thus far, what would it be and why?

I don’t think I would change anything. I think all the road blocks and all the hiccups have made me stronger. At the time, I probably couldn’t recognize it but now that I look back on it, everything happens for a reason and I’m happy it has.

With the intensity of race wars happening in America today, do you ever fear for your life? Or the lives of your loved ones? Do you think your performance will help to ease the tension, inform us, or inflict more divineness? How do you feel about your work as a Black artist in today’s society?

Aw man, those are heavy questions. As a Black man, I do fear for my life every time I get pulled over. It’s a scary thing because you never know. It can start off as an innocent traffic stop. Next thing you know, there’s a bullet in my head. So, it’s extremely scary, and I’m extremely aware of the situation. Every time I put myself in a situation like that, I have to make sure that I’m not doing anything crazy or could be taken as a violent or resisting arrest. Will the movie help? Probably not because Marcus Garvey didn’t like white people too much, and I say that jokingly. He did but he definitely believed that we should be separated and we should be empowered by ourselves and for ourselves.

Sorry, the last part of your question… I’m proud of it. Would there be more roles that I would love to portray being African-American, being Jamaican-American? Of course, I would love to do that but those roles aren’t there. Especially, starting in Hollywood, you just gotta take what you can get, right? You gotta work and pay bills, and you gotta do what you gotta do so, you know, at this point, I’m not ashamed of anything that I’ve done. I’m very proud of it but definitely, as I rise and continue to rise hopefully, that will empower me to make those movies.

What is your greatest struggle, working in the film industry?

Being Black, honestly. It’s getting those roles. I mean, if you see the breakdowns, pages of breakdowns and pay, there’s probably 30 to 40 roles every day to audition for. For a Black man, there’s maybe 3 and when you go read for these roles, you’re seeing every other Black actor sitting there, reading with you and you’re like “This is a joke cause only one of us could get this part.” That’s probably the struggle, which is why I’m saying it’s not just to get these studios and studio heads to make movies for Black people, they don’t know how to. That’s why you gotta own the studio. That’s how you have to do it. Not just produce. You gotta be bigger than that. You gotta think global.

What advice do you have for Black men (or any minorities), entering the world of acting or Hollywood?

Don’t give up. It’s gonna be tough, and it’s a struggle but you cannot give up. It’s a hustle, alright, just like anything you do in life. You gotta hustle hard. You can’t give up. It’s gonna be frustrating. You’re gonna be like, “Why am I doing this? I want to quit.” You just gotta keep on, keeping on.

Did you ever experience racism whilst dating Odette Annable? If yes, how was it dealt with, and what was your initial response?

Don’t believe everything you read. Anytime I’m in an interracial relationship, in certain parts of the country, you do get looks. You do get the side-eye, like, “What are they doing?” but for the most part, I don’t let it bother me.

As an artist, what is your soul purpose?

My soul purpose is to enlighten, educate and entertain.

What was it like to work alongside Laurence Fishburne? What’s next for you?

Laurence is a genius; definitely a hero of mine. Big bro, if you will. I would say ‘father figure’ but he would get mad. It was amazing. I learned a lot. Still learning from him, and what’s next is, owning the world.

Words by Angelena Als & Richardine Bartee


Written by Manny King John

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