In an exclusive interview with People Chica, Solis dives into his character's emotional arc, his new projects and how the tides are changing for Latinos in Hollywood.
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Felix Solis
Credit: Photo by Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

Felix Solis made a pact with the universe before landing his role as Omar Navarro on the Netflix original series Ozark.

The Nuyorican actor, who was seeking roles that didn't place him in stereotypical characters Latino actors often get cast for, told the cosmos that regardless of what the next role had in store for him, he'd take it and humbly accept his fate.

That's when the series' main antagonist came into his life. Navarro, who is the head of the Navarro cartel, recruits Marty (played by Jason Bateman) and Helen (played by Laura Linney) to help him launder money for his casino.

Being a man of his word, Solis kept his promise to the universe and accepted the role—endowing the drug lord with a stark level of humanity rarely awarded to those types of characters. With this role, Solis redefined what it means to play a typically one-dimensional character and embued it with a person that is multi-faceted and layered.

In an exclusive interview with People Chica, Solis dives deep into his what his process was like in developing this character, the changing tides for Latinos in Hollywood and his upcoming projects as FBI Agent Matt Garza on ABC's The Rookie.

Felix Solis
Credit: Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Netflix

You've been one of the most visible leading Latino actors working in Hollywood. How do you think the industry is changing and incorporating more Latino roles?

I think they're finally starting to realize that we actually have this power in numbers and we do have numbers, not only with our opinions but with our wallets. It's starting to show clearly that that is the case. It started a long time ago with certain actors, unfortunately, having to do the kind of things that we no longer have to do. For example, changing their names and making them more Americanized and so on and so forth, then slowly starting to find a way to take that back and put it into the reality. We're finally showing them, this is what we'd like, this is what we don't like, this is what we'll support, this is what we won't support and this is how we will support and how we want [to] support.

My responsibility as an actor seems to be that I try to make every character that I play somebody that is more human. The less brown he is, the less black he is, the less white he is, the more human he is, the more relatable. To get that kind of response from an audience is a goal for me. To get the "He is just like my uncle," or "I know that guy," rather than it being just the service of "Well, here's what we've been told he's supposed to be and how he's supposed to look," and instead, we make him more human, make them more like you and me.

Omar Navarro
Credit: Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

You were born in New York and consider yourself a Nuyorican. What was your experience growing up there in the 1980s?

We lived on 73 and Columbus when I was born, and then [when] I was 8 years old we moved to Chelsea during the 80s. I grew up in the Greenwich Village area in an incredibly culturally diverse [place]. My mother and my father were superintendents of buildings, what they call now property managers, so when they sold the building we were living on in 73 and Columbus, the owner of the building had two more properties [and] he gave my father an option of moving us to 110th and Lenox, which is historically known as "El Barrio" [or] Greenwich Village.

It was interesting because my father had a dilemma [at] that moment, "Do I raise my children, my two sons, in a neighborhood full of people that look like him" or "Do I bring my children and raise them in a place where there's a multicultural amount of people? And it's a little bit nicer, but they may be a little different." My father made the choice to bring us to Greenwich Village and my mother also said things like this might be a better place to try and successfully raise children and not fight the sort of system or the oppression that was in place in that area of "El Barrio."

What is one part of your upbringing you carry with you in your professional and personal life?

I carry the dichotomy of a quote from a from an Eric B. and Rakim song, where it says, "It ain't where you're from, it's where you're at." Wherever you are right now is where you are and that's where you're from, but I also carry the dichotomy in the contradiction of the fact that I've been to so many places in the world, and when I open my mouth and everyone's like, "You're from New York, ain't you?" It's just there. It's in my blood, it's in my pores and especially when someone says, "Where are you from?" I think that the thing I carry with me, which is more of the creative and artistic integrity that I carry, is the fact that I grew up in an incredibly multicultural neighborhood.

Solis
Credit: Photo by Giovanni Rufino/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

From the beginning, your character has been pivotal to the development of Ozark. In Season 4, Omar Navarro wants his freedom and will go to any extent to get it. How have you prepared for your character's arc throughout these four seasons and what has been the most challenging part for you?

The necessity aspect of it was the fact that before I got the audition for this character, I was not being cast in the roles that I wanted and it was a little frustrating to me. I kept pushing away the characters that were more in the category, I don't like using the word stereotype, but they were in a category where I didn't want to do those characters. The characters I wanted to do, I wasn't getting. I would audition, but I just wouldn't get them. One day I was sitting in my car and I said, "Okay, universe, I think you're trying to tell me something. I don't know what it is, but I think you're trying to tell me something, because everything I want to do you're not giving me, so I will just relinquish. I will let it go. I'll [do] whatever it is that you think I'm supposed to do next. I will humbly accept it and I will take it on as the most important thing and the best thing I've ever done."

A couple of days later, I get an audition for this character. This is the guy that I kept saying no to, but I promised the universe that I would say yes. Part of the preparation was that I understood that's where I was supposed to be. The other thing was this idea that I thought if I have to do this kind of role, how do I do it in a way that allows me to sleep well at night? And two, I never made this choice consciously, but ultimately I was making a choice [of] how do I play this role like no one else has ever played this type of role before?

It dawned on me that the only thing I know how to do is play the human inside of this character. The person who is grounded and the person who is real, the person who can be any of the trades that we all know. He could have been an export importer, he could have been a carpenter. To make him the everyday man. The universe keeps saying, "You're going to play this drug lord," I said, let's play him like somebody who is the [most human] guy in the world. That's what I delivered in my audition and then when I humbly accepted and [was] grateful for the opportunity to start the part, I said, "Now that I'm committed to that, what am I going to have to 'fight' for when I get to work?"

We can say Omar Navarro carries traits we would associate with criminal kingpins: ruthlessness, cunning, calculating and unempathetic. Are there any real-life characters you've been inspired by to recreate this role?

No, I didn't, because I wanted to be careful not to tempt myself to mimic a category. I didn't study drug dealers, but what I did study were families who owned farms, businessmen who had their own private businesses, "mom and pop" shop-type people. I remember having conversations with bodega owners here in New York City, you know, pushing him away from what you think he needs to be and making it more of a person who's the everydayer. The thing that is fascinating to me is [that] an actor's job is to perform the role as written and to make sure that their responsibility is to the character in the story that's being told.

Now, if on the script it says "Omar Navarro slaps Marty in the face," there's nothing I can do as an actor that's going to change that. Now what makes this thing interesting to me is that he's kind when he does it, he's doing it for a reason. That's human behavior, not drug dealer behavior. We all do that, we sit down, we grab our friend by the collar, we're like, "Look, man, you need to shape up!" I was very careful not to model myself after something that might be, again, I don't want to use the word stereotypical, but that put me in that category.

Aside from your character's ruthless traits, he also shows another side that is devoted to his faith and his family. How do you think these traits resonate with the audience and humanize him?

I'm an actor who believes that everything that a character does in a scene is to the other person, it's never about what they want. It's a traditional sort of way of thinking with actors when you go, "What's my objective? What does my character want in this scene?" And to me, that puts me, even just physically, in a back seat position.

I feel like characters are foot forward, they're forward-thinking characters, the ones that are more interesting and most fascinating to me. I work from action. I work from, "What am I doing to you in the scene? What is my purpose to you?" I started to see what it was that I needed to be doing to be the person in the scene and that's when it dawned on me that this guy is kind. He's trying to get this person to help them out, he's not lying, doesn't ever lie.

When I started to work [on] doing the episodes, I started to work with just trying to find a comfortable place, and to Jason Bateman's credit, and the creator of the show, Chris Mundy, were both very open, they were one of the first people who ever in my career as an actor who said, "What do you think, Felix?" I think he's not a stereotype. I don't think he has gold teeth. I don't think he wears sharkskin shoes. I don't think he curses. I don't think he twirls his mustache.

Credit: Raymond Liu via Getty Images

In contrast to Omar's character in Ozark, you play a father figure in the CW's reboot of Charmed. How do you think your character reflects the complexities behind fatherhood?

Ray Vera is my teddy bear character, he's my toy character. I released to the universe anything that happens to my career and whatever I do, but every time they call and say they want me to do an episode, it is always me saying, "I get to Toys 'R' Us today." It's such a fun character to play.

Yes, there was that truth, which is that he misled them. He completely came, again to the credit of the people writing the show, they gave you the opportunity to go, "Well, this is the reason why it was because I was protecting you and I didn't want you to go get hurt. I did these awful things, but I'm here now." Yesterday is history, tomorrow's a mystery, today's a gift, which is why they call it the present.

Now that Ozark is coming to an end, you're joining the cast of ABC's The Rookie. What can fans expect from you in this new role?

It's the furthest from Omar Navarro that I was able to find. It's just a pendulum swing. FBI Agent Matt Garza came along, he's a tough leader in the FBI and he carries a badge, [a] straight shooter. That's exciting.

I got to tell you that this show has a very unique fan base because it's a unique premise. Very rarely, and as a 50-year-old man I'm drawn to it, do we get an opportunity to see storylines where people who are "in a further along part of their lives" get a chance to do things that would be considered things that only younger people get to do.