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Inside ‘Ozark’ Actor Felix Solis’ Unique Approach To Playing Villain Omar Navarro

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Ozark’s final episodes are now streaming on Netflix

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and actor Felix Solis is pulling back the curtain for us, revealing his process of portraying drug lord and the main antagonist for the series, Omar Navarro.

To play the cartel leader Ozark fans were long aware of but didn’t meet until season three, Solis stayed away from traditional research like cartel documentaries or news articles but identified where he could relate to the character in his own life.

“I wanted to shy away from [research] for three reasons,” Solis told me. “One is I had resisted auditioning for roles like this for quite some time before I auditioned for this role. I was trying very hard not to contribute to something I didn’t want to contribute to, and so I wasn’t. But the irony is that I also wasn’t getting the roles that I wanted to play.

“At the time I was auditioning, I just wasn’t getting them. And I remember one time just going after about six or seven rejections, I thought to myself, sitting in my car, ‘All right, universe, obviously I’m not getting what I’m asking you for; so you have something else in mind for me. I will humbly accept and take on whatever it is that you think it is that I’m supposed to be doing next with my career as an actor.’

“And then this audition came along and I thought, ‘Ooh, there it is. Ironically enough, the very thing I’ve been shying away from for the last 5 to 10 years.’ I said, ‘Okay, well, if this is what I’m supposed to do, then I’m going to try to do it to the best of my abilities to a point where I can sleep well at night where I can feel like I’m not betraying what I have been trying to fight for for the last couple of years.’

“And I thought, ‘How do I do this?’ and that’s when I came up with this idea that he just has to be a regular dude. He has to be a normal, regular guy. So I shied away from [research] a little bit.

“And also, too, sometimes, I’m a reference type actor, where I believe that you really don’t have a true opportunity to do a scene or a moment to the best of its ability if you don’t have some kind of a reference. That’s not to say that I went out and I started dealing drugs, but I do know what it’s like to run a business.

“I have my own production company. I do know what it’s like to have people look up to you and look for answers when there’s a problem going on. I’ve had to manage people. I’ve had to manage relationships. I’ve had to be around people who’re insisting and scary and dangerous. I’ve had to just because of my life and who I am. I have those references. So I don’t necessarily need to look for those.

“I knew that I could call upon my own life experience for certain moments in the script. And using the word script … which is if on the page, someone gets shot in the head, I can’t do anything about that. That’s on the page. That’s the writing. It’s going to happen no matter what. So I can handle it. It’s going to happen. It’s already on the page.

“So to add to it or feel like you have to contribute something to it is, for me, unnecessary because it’s already there. It’s going to happen. No matter how you play the scene, the scene still ends with somebody getting shot. So how do we then play it to the most interesting level, how do we play it to the most unexpected level?”

Once Felix had his reference point for Omar, it was easy for him to jump into the character without evaluating his unfathomable crimes and both the looming danger he presented to people like the Byrdes and faced himself, from his enemies.

“Well, the first, immediate bullet to the head of an actor is to make a judgement on the character they’re playing,” Solis said. “So I immediately didn’t. I completely removed any judgement of who I thought this person might be and instead said to myself, ‘Who is this person to other people?’

“Meaning, I was hoping — as the character continued to develop and as I was asked to come back and do more episodes and continue and so on and so forth — I was hoping to try and develop a person that would have this kind of scenario.

“You’re at Penn Station waiting for the train to go home. You’re at the local bar having a beer before the train comes. And when you’re sitting, you have a conversation with a guy, and he tells you what he does, and he says, ‘Oh, I have my own business. I run it. It’s kind of an international business, and I work with people, and my family’s important to me. And how about you?’ ‘Well, your family— oh, that’s a beautiful— oh, you’re married with children…’

“You have just a regular conversation with the guy at a bar. Then you get on the train, and you go home. And a couple of weeks later, you’re watching the news, and you go, ‘That’s the guy who I was just having the… right?’

“So then you don’t ever get an opportunity, which we never should, to go, ‘I know exactly who that guy is as soon as I look.’ So contrary to that, I wanted to make sure that I was an everyday-er. I was an everyman; and I was the person who could have been running a food stand or a bodega or an auto mechanic shop or any business.

“So I approached him from the man who’s running a business, and unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you choose to view it, the business he runs has to have a specific kind of protocol. There’s a certain set of rules that have to be adhered by in this particular business that I am in. …

“I mean it’s just interesting because they are — drug lords are humans too, just like a police officer is, just like a doctor is, just like a lawyer is, like a mechanic, like a superintendent, like a plumber. They’re all human. So what’s most interesting to me is to try and find the guy, the character, the personality of the guy, rather than what he does.”

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