UC Berkeley alumna, stunt performer Janeshia Adams-Ginyard talks ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Janeshia Adams-Ginyard
Frances Yang/Staff

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With the hotly anticipated release of “Avengers: Infinity War” finally upon us, audiences worldwide are preparing to witness what promises to be Marvel’s most ambitious film yet. Following the blockbuster critical and financial success of “Black Panther” this year, “Infinity War” is hitting theaters with massive expectations.

And with the surge of “Black Panther” into the zeitgeist this year, came the introduction of one of Hollywood’s newest action talents — Janeshia Adams-Ginyard, a UC Berkeley alumna, who served as a stunt performer on the sets of “Black Panther” and “Infinity War.” She also portrayed one of the Dora Milaje — an elite group of female warriors trained to protect the kingdom of Wakanda.

All of this was just icing on the cake,” Adams-Ginyard said in an interview with The Daily Californian, referencing her experience on the sets of Marvel’s newest films. “The cake being, ‘Hey, you are one of the Dora Milaje, the fierce women of Wakanda.’ Anything that came after that was just icing.”

As a member of the Dora Milaje, Adams-Ginyard breathed life into the kinetic action sequences of “Black Panther” and hopes to infuse “Infinity War” with the same energy as well.

Originally from Cerritos, California, Adams-Ginyard came to UC Berkeley after graduating from Gahr High School in 2001. At UC Berkeley, she studied linguistics and African American studies with a concentration in Caribbean culture, all while competing on the track and field team.

“My passion was to be a sports commentator and sign language interpreter for athletes,” Adams-Ginyard said.

Once Adams-Ginyard realized she could pursue a career in stunt performance, she was quick to seek experience in the film industry. “I enrolled in some background services for extras. I wanted to get some set experience — learn what a PA (production assistant) does, learn what a director does, learn what a producer does — just get set etiquette,” Adams-Ginyard said.

Her athletic career benefited her greatly as she sought training for a career in stunt performance. Adams-Ginyard primarily gravitated towards disciplines like taekwondo and gymnastics during her training process, focusing on developing flexibility and her physical self-awareness to prepare for her future roles.

While she took up a series of television roles for years — everything from “True Blood” to “American Horror Story” — Adams-Ginyard believes her career has soared since she received her role in “Black Panther.”

“This movie was definitely a dream come true,” Adams-Ginyard said. “Working on the set with Ryan Coogler was absolutely amazing. … This was gonna be an experience of a lifetime, because there are so many heavy hitters involved.”

Adams-Ginyard emphasized the unimaginable experience of working with Hollywood veterans such as Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett on set and the importance of working with a visionary director such as Coogler. “This is Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’; this is cinematic history. … Ryan Coogler had a vision for this process, and it exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds,” she said.

Adams-Ginyard attributed her current success and her role in “Infinity War” to her previous experience in “Black Panther” and noted that her training made the transition between the two films much easier. “With (‘Infinity War’) the action just increased. … Everything I did was everything we had already been training for,” Adams-Ginyard said. “We trained eight hours a day in Bo staff while we were on ‘Panther.’ ”

The martial arts training prepared many of the stunt performers to work with real spears on screen, applying their practiced movements and athleticism to the film. “I noticed a definite change in ability — it increased. It wasn’t that it was bad on ‘Panther.’ … We just upped the ante because we had been doing it for so long when we went over to ‘Avengers,’ ” Adams-Ginyard said.

Ultimately, she hopes audiences will acknowledge the group efforts that went into the making of her new film. “(Marvel) can bring a lot of heavy hitters and make them a part of one movie. I can’t even think of a movie that’s had this many A-listers on the roster and be successful and not have some type of stories of … conflict on set,” Adams-Ginyard said.

Adams-Ginyard’s positive attitude has surely contributed to her current success and upcoming projects. After the release of “Infinity War,” she can be seen as a stunt performer on Fox’s procedural drama “9-1-1” and in the 2019 big-screen release “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.”

Of course, Adams-Ginyard is sure to note the experiences that led to her position in the film industry today. Her advice to UC Berkeley students who aspire to build a career in entertainment — not being afraid to pursue multiple passions. “You cannot allow anyone to deter you from your dreams, your aspirations and goals. … I work in an industry where commas are very accepted. ‘Commas’ meaning actor, producer, writer, director … the list goes on,” Adams-Ginyard said.

“I’m an actress, a stuntwoman, a professional wrestler. … I have excelled in this industry known as Hollywood and, really, no one helped me along the way. I created it. I made my way,” she said.

Adams-Ginyard’s confidence and optimism have made her a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry, and audiences will surely continue to witness the multi-talented performer take the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Hollywood by storm.

Anagha Komaragiri covers film. Contact her at [email protected].