Jenel Stevens is an actress and stuntwoman. She is best known for her role as a member of the special forces Dora Milaje in the films 'Black Panther', 'Avengers: Infinity War' and 'Avengers: Endgame.'
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF?
I am a stunt performer. That covers everything.
WHAT PROJECT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
I am working on a Marvel project. I unfortunately cannot say more about it right now but I love working for Marvel.
AND YOU’VE DONE MARVEL PROJECTS BEFORE?
Yes, I worked on Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and some Marvel TV shows that were filmed in New York.
WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE IN AVENGERS?
It was the same role that was brought over from Black Panther: I was a Dora Milaje.
WHAT IS THE MOST DANGEROUS STUNT YOU’VE DONE?
I think that is a relative question. People see the things I do on a day to day basis and they say, “oh, that’s extremely dangerous,” while I think, “oh, that was an easy one!” I’m motivated by fear, so I like to do stunts that push my limits or push me past my comfort zone.
The stunt I’m most proud of is performing a 33 ft swan dive from the top of a yacht into the ocean. I had never done anything like that before and I only had six hours of high-dive instruction before attempting it. With that said, the most dangerous stunt I’ve done is probably being hit by a car or jumping through a glass window.
YOU SAID YOU’RE MOTIVATED BY CONQUERING YOUR FEAR…
Yes, and I’m glad you corrected me there. My father responded the same way when I told him I was motivated by fear. He said, “you’re not motivated by fear – you’re motivated by the desire to overcome fear.” And I was like, “oh, yeah – fair enough.”
HAS THAT EVOLVED OVER TIME? OR HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MOTIVATED BY OVERCOMING FEAR AND DOING THINGS MOST PEOPLE ARE SCARED OF TRYING?
Insofar as overcoming challenges, it is definitely something that has always been ingrained in me. I’ve always pushed myself and lived my life not wanting to have any regrets. Overcoming fear was perhaps an evolution of this motivation. So that even if something scares me, by facing it I can look back on it and say, “I did that,” instead of, “I wish I would have tried.”
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN STUNTS?
It was a perfect storm of talent and timing. I was a personal trainer at the time, having trained at Anderson Academy with Dasha and Dan Anderson. I had arrived at a point where I was at a high level in martial arts and had created my own business under their umbrella. A lot of the New York stunt community was training at Anderson and I was intrigued by what they were doing. I watched their fighting and the stunts they were performing and how they prepared for them. One day, a friend of mine – who had been my co-worker as a personal trainer but whom I hadn’t seen in a while – came into the school to work with the other stunt performers. I asked her about a stunt career and she said she thought I’d be really good at it. She told me put together a resume and she would pass it around. When I told her that I didn’t have a resume for stunts, another student nearby said, “no, just write down things you do for fun!” When I set myself to do that, I realized that I’d been training for a career in stunts my whole life without even realizing it.
DID YOU START LEARNING MARTIAL ARTS WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG?
My parents put me in karate class when I was about four. It was a short stint but I got a feel for it. Then when I started going to school in Long Island, they put me in taekwondo. I was halfway towards earning my blackbelt when I had to stop due to a conflict with my high school basketball schedule. Never a quitter, I promised myself I would get a black belt someday. When I had pretty much hung up my basketball sneakers, I was invited to check out a martial arts school that had moved nearby. That’s when I really fell in love with it.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO BE A PART OF BLACK PANTHER? IT IS AN IMPORTANT MOVIE THAT MADE A HUGE CULTURAL IMPACT. WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE LIKE? DID YOU ANTICIPATE THAT THIS ROLE AND FILM WERE GOING TO BE IMPORTANT?
I had a feeling that Black Panther was going to be big but – at the time – I did not realize how impactful and important it was going to be. When you are working behind the scenes on a film, you don’t see the finished product or have the whole story; you are so focused on filming your scenes that you don’t know everything else that is going on around you. All you can do is hope for the best. The moment its importance hit me was when the film was released. There was an Instagram post of two little black boys standing outside of a movie theater pointing at the movie poster saying, “Oh, that’s me! I’m this one! I’m that one!” When I saw that, it crushed me — I literally broke down into tears. It was then that I fully understood the gravity of what I had been working on. It’s been a surreal experience ever since that day.
SWITCHING GEARS A BIT NOW. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY IN YOUR DAY TO DAY LIFE? ARE THERE THINGS YOU TRY TO DO MORE SUSTAINABLY? IS SUSTAINABLE FASHION SOMETHING YOU HAVE GIVEN THOUGHT TO OR IS IT SOMETHING NEW FOR YOU?
Sustainable fashion is actually something new on my radar. In the past, if I heard the word “sustainability” I would think about it in terms of my body or fitness. I hadn’t thought about it in the sense of the fashion world – I didn’t even know that was a movement. But having done some research about Katla, I have been blown away by the idea of sustainable fashion. It is definitely something I would like to explore more.
IF YOU HAD ANY SUPERPOWER, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
To fly, without a doubt. Now that I’ve had the luxury of a career where I been able to fly on wires I have developed a love for the feeling of flying! There are amazing things to see in this world that pictures do not do justice to: the Grand Canyon or a beautiful sunset – these things are living portraits or paintings. To be able fly around above these natural wonders would be breathtaking.
IS THERE A WOMAN WHO INSPIRES YOU? IF SO, WHO AND WHY?
My mother inspires me for sure. I’ve seen her evolve and overcome challenges, personally and professionally. She can be vulnerable but also the strongest woman I know. She epitomizes strength for me — especially from a female perspective. I look up to her and respect how far she has come as a human and a woman; a mother and a wife.
YOU SEE HER AS YOUR ROLE MODEL?
Definitely, in a lot of ways. I also appreciate that she says she looks up to me as well; that I teach her things. She is not one of these people who thinks he or she knows everything. She’s open and receptive to learning and looking at ideas through my eyes, which is refreshing. She has a thirst for life and it’s very inspiring.
IS THERE SOMETHING YOU’VE ALWAYS DREAMT OF DOING BUT HAVEN’T YET DONE?
I would like to travel more. I’d love to visit Thailand.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVORITE TRAVEL DESTINATIONS YOU HAVE BEEN TO?
I really enjoyed Iceland! It didn’t seem real. Italy is my favorite country, however. And I like Japan as well.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT ITALY THAT YOU LOVE?
I love the food and the culture. My mother – who is Puerto Rican and Cuban – would describe their culture as cariñoso: loving, warm, and welcoming. Coming from a Spanish household, Italy’s way of life is one I can relate to. I went with my boyfriend to Venice and we took a romantic gondola ride, which was on my bucket list. I love witnessing different cultures. Travel opens your eyes to the world and makes you more open-minded and well-rounded.
YOU SAID ICELAND DIDN’T SEEM REAL. SOMETIMES PEOPLE SAY IT’S LIKE BEING ON A DIFFERENT PLANET. IS THAT HOW YOU PERCEIVED IT?
Yes, absolutley. I felt like I was on a different world. The earth was hardened black lava with pockets of steam coming up everywhere. I loved swimming in the Blue Lagoon, a natural hot bath reservoir full of minerals. Iceland is different from anywhere else I’ve been. It is truly magical!
WHAT ARE YOUR THREE FAVORITE KATLA PIECES
I love the Maria slip dress in the glacial print, which is inspired by Icelandic glaciers and beautiful. As someone who pretty much lives in hoodies, I also love the Slightly Explosive and Butter hoodies, in white, which are super comfy.