It’s no secret that it takes legitimate skills to put on a good performance. A good martial artist might be able to throw fast punches and kicks but it takes a special skill set to make that look especially good in front of the camera. Enter the incredible stunt performer Bobby James!
His stunt resume includes work with many well known productions. You can catch him in movies like Marvel’s “Black Panther” (2018) and “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) and TV series such as “Raising Dion”, “The Resident”, “Cobra Kai”, and many more major productions.
With a background that includes training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, various karate disciplines (including Kyokushin, Okinawan Goju-ryu, and Shotokan), and more, Bobby James is a performer who can definitely back the skills he shows on screen.
In this exclusive, special featured interview with Kung Fu Kingdom, he delves into his favorite moments from being on set (spoiler alert: it includes some BIG names!) and discusses his journey into the world of stunts and how passionate future stunt performers can craft out a career too!
Everything is Kung Fu!
Hi Bobby. First of all, let me thank you for coming out here and joining me for this interview. I’m really excited to talk to you about the stunt world and to hear your answers.
Well, thank you for having me – I’m excited to be here!
Just to get your views briefly, what do you think of the name Kung-Fu Kingdom, what comes to mind?
When I hear Kung Fu Kingdom, the first thing that comes to mind—I straight up see, the Shaolin Temple. (Laughs) and I see a bunch of monks studying and focusing on the various styles of their art. That’s the first thing that comes to mind.
And then, outside of that, my brain starts to go to almost a video game. I see the energy behind the martial arts movement and the different, various styles of kung fu. The grandeur of kung fu and also the subtlety of it. All of those things play into my head.
That’s awesome (laughs). That’s a wide scope right there. I love the fact that if you look at the word itself, kung fu itself translates to, more or less, “mastery of skill earned through hard work and dedication over time” and I would say your stunt work and the experience you’ve garnered is definitely earned through hard work.
Bobby’s Martial Arts’ & Sporting Background
So, let’s get into the first question. Please tell us how you got into stunt work in the film industry, and what were the major challenges you faced?
My journey, specifically getting into stunts, probably started when I was little, not even realizing that being a stuntman was a career! Starting out as a martial artist, I then got into gymnastics. I was also always into cars and motorsports and all those fun things that you like to do as a kid, and then you grow up as an adult and find out that you can actually make a career out of it.
I got cast to work on “Black Panther” and that was my first major film set. I had been on indie films before that, but once I got on there I started to realize that I actually knew a lot of stunt people already and had worked and trained with several of them. I got “bitten by the bug” and haven’t looked back since.
I didn’t really have any major challenges. I think the only abnormal major challenge that I had was that I’d already established myself in a career. So for me, I actually abandoned a successful career in another industry to get into stunts. I left a full-time job that paid for everything for me and my family and took care of us, to move into the stunt industry and start working, training and enjoying things.
That’s quite a leap of faith right there – that’s awesome to hear actually!
Yeah it is. I’m a huge proponent of faith because it really does take that and commitment.
I see. What are your favorite or stand-out memories from your work in stunts so far?
I would say my two favorite memories – one of them is kind of generic. As a performer, whether you’re acting or doing stunts, you’re on a movie set. It’s the first time you meet and see celebrities that you get to work with. That always strikes you, but it’s amazing how fast that goes away when you realize they are normal people.
Working with Eddie Murphy & Arsenio Hall on “Coming 2 America”
One standout memory was actually working on a film with Eddie Murphy coming out soon (“Coming 2 America” in December). They just finished filming it in Atlanta at the end of last year. Being in a scene with him and Tracy Morgan and Arsenio Hall and trying to not laugh…It was great! You’re watching all of your comedic heroes and trying to be serious as a stunt performer but the mood, the atmosphere, the cast, the crew, the script, it was all just so on point and so funny. That memory sticks out.
Bobby’s Experience on the Set of “Black Panther”
Also, I would say my first experience on a major set, “Black Panther”, it was an eye-opener. The way that that crew ran, the way that the director and the assistant director worked with the cast – at the time, I was a background artist. The way that director, Ryan Coogler treated everyone as a special part of this monumental film, it was definitely inspirational. That experience, I wouldn’t trade for anything.
I can well believe that. That’s really cool. Are there any upcoming projects or goals that we can look forward to seeing from you in the future?
Yes. I recently worked on a local television show called “The Resident”. That was great. I also recently worked on a film directed by James Gunn.
I see. It seems like there are a couple of differences between each stunt role. Just from changing up the crew you’re working with and the production. I can imagine you get a lot of new and interesting experiences each and every time, right?
Yes. Every job is different because you’re telling someone else’s story. You’re a character in a different story every single time.
You have to move and act, talk, fight or run or drive like that character. That’s always a fun thing; getting inside your own head, figuring out who that’s going to be, and then immediately jumping outside of your own head to be that character for that project, and then nailing it!
How Do You Get Hired to Work in the Stunt Industry?
Great insight. Let’s get into the hiring process. What do you feel makes somebody a good hire for stunt work?
A person that’s a good hire for stunt work is definitely someone that’s motivated and ready to be a part of a very, very, very exclusive creative team. They have to be ready to put themselves out there, be ready to take some bumps and bruises along the way and smile about it and get up to do it again the next day.
If you’re someone who eats, sleeps, and dreams about being involved in high-energy activities, whether it’s martial arts or skydiving or motocross or autocross, then you’re someone who should consider where you can fit into a community to be a part of the team of creators that makes this stuff happen.
Let Your Talent, Creativity, Art & Movement Shine!
You’ve gotta realize that eighty to ninety percent of what we do, for most of us, doesn’t involve being on set. It involves being creative, learning to explore your movement, your talent, your art, your skill level, learning to contribute to the creative process of other people at any level you can so that eventually when the opportunity comes, you’re ready to do that on a major scale.
That’s for whether you’re working in film, television, live shows, or stage productions. Your mindset and your heart has to be sold out for this industry. It’s a great industry to be in, if you have that mentality. If you don’t have that mentality, then I highly recommend going to school or figuring out something else. (Laughs)
Bobby’s Mindset & Philosophy for Success
Indeed! Sounds like you have some really cool stuff on the way. What warrior wisdom quotes or philosophy has helped shape you into who you are today? Because you’re a very interesting person for sure.
There are tons of quotes. I would start off with actually just saying that I am a spiritual person, I definitely read and study the Bible. The first thing that drives me more is the concept of being able to love people and care about people even greater than I do myself.
That is a good place to start. If you’re helpful, considerate, and genuinely concerned about making sure that people are stable in their well-being and you can help them with projects, you can help them with whatever you can do, just being a good neighbor, that’s the first thing.
My warrior quote is definitely Bruce Lee’s “being shapeless and formless like water”. Being able to flow and crash. Becoming what you need to become, because in this industry, every single day can be different and your goal is not to be locked into something so much that it hurts you to be different. That goes with what you do on set and also in your training, you have to vary your training.
It’s great to be able to be a world-class fighter, it’s great to be a world-class driver, and you can be successful in this career doing that. But to have acting or to be able to create and write your own scripts or choreograph your own fights and choreograph your own shoots for your driving, well, those skills grow what we do as creators on a professional level.
When you bring those skills, those things that you learned, into my production, or something that I’m shooting as an indie person who shoots their own things, then I value that a lot. Those are the kinds of things that my long term relationships are built off. It’s having creative people around you that helps boost whatever you’re working on at that time.
Bobby’s Advice to those Wanting to Break into Stunts
Nice. So, what advice would you give, especially to those interested in getting into action, martial arts films and the stunt industry?
Well, I host a lot of stunt trainees in Atlanta in the gym that I work at and one of the things that I always tell them is that you’re getting into an industry where you have to play the long game. You have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror every day and know that from the time you woke up to the time you went to bed, that you did your best to succeed and survive in this industry.
Sometimes success comes quickly for people, sometimes it takes a while, but having this in your heart and soul is really what makes you successful. There are people who’ve worked for two years and gotten their SAG-AFTRA card and gotten into the union. Then it takes them another three to five years to get to a stage where they’re working semi-steady. We are always working and that’s the big thing.
Further Insights for Aspiring Action Film & Stunt People
If you are someone that is thinking about getting into stunts, then I would say become, the best you can, a solid master of your skill. Don’t worry about trying to be a jack-of-all-trades right now. You don’t need to be. Just be really good at what you do. Be focused. Take a slow, thoughtful approach. Maintain your level of professionalism and wisdom in everything that you do. As martial artists, that’s at the heart of all of our training.
It doesn’t matter what system or what country you’re studying in. There is no martial art that’s out there that’s (at its core) about dominating and destroying and breaking things down. The heart of what you learn is being at peace, having discernment, having wisdom as you move through life. Having wisdom as you serve in your community.
I think taking those things into your goal of being in this field will shape you into what the industry is looking for. If you see your future in this industry in the years ahead of you, if you’re maintaining that kind of quality in your life and your character, the industry will find you too!
Bobby’s Message to Kung Fu Kingdom Followers
Nice insight there. Okay, so as we wrap up, what special message would you like to share with Kung Fu Kingdom followers?
I would imagine that if you’re reading Kung Fu Kingdom, then you’re probably someone that is already interested in martial arts film, martial arts cinema, kung fu cinema specifically, or even just action in general, so if you’re someone like that, keep reading!
See what kind of things you can pick up about the marital arts world, see what you can learn about your heroes that are featured on KFK and take those lessons and figure out how you can deepen them and apply them to yourself.
That’s a great send off Bobby. Thank you so much for being with us, it really means a lot and it’s been an absolute pleasure. We wish you all the best with your current and future action endeavors!