There are very few cosplayers on the planet that completely embody a specific character, and then there’s Jenn Croft (JC), a 14-year veteran cosplayer known for her likeness as Lara Croft, the world’s most recognizable adventurer; Made into a cult classic by the video game, and immortalized in pop culture by Angelina Jolie.
JC as a person is as dynamic and fascinating as they come, pretty much taking part in any adventure activity she can get her hands on. She’s launched herself off of the KL Tower in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and led various climbing expeditions in Australia and California.
We caught up with JC in between traveling and jumping off the side of large structures so that we could get a little insight into her personality, and thoughts on her cosplay career.
She’s a fitness buff, athlete, gamer, cosplayer, and adrenaline junkie. A person that would rather post real content than a selfie. Enjoy one of our most polarizing interviews to date with the one and only, Jenn Croft.
So, Jenn Croft, you’re somewhat of a legend in the cosplay arena. How has being the Lara Croft changed your career over the past 14 years?
I have been a fan of Lara Croft and Tomb Raider since long before the cosplay boom. I never did it for fame or money but out of love of the character and to challenge myself. I would train long hours and save up all my spare cash to learn new skills that Lara Croft inspired me to try out, such as rock climbing, skydiving, motorcycles, and base jumping.
Only recently have I really started to up my game when it comes to capturing a real adventure into a cosplay photo and I think that people appreciate that. When I did my Lara waterfall picture, I just wanted to have fun doing two things I loved: cosplay and rappelling. I never dreamed the photo would ever go viral or anything like that. Since then I have had the opportunities to do many things that I never have been able to do before.
With JC’s modelesque looks, you would think she was discovered by an agent, but her modeling career started very differently than most, quite nerdily.
What got you into cosplaying and modeling?
“When I was still in high school I discovered The Last Revelation for the PS1 and was hooked. I decided to be Lara for Halloween that year and while researching the costume, I discovered a whole community of fans on the internet who love dressing as Lara and taking photos to enter in competitions. It all kinda snowballed from there.”
Since the snowball has been rolling JC has been around the world being Lara Croft, spreading the Tomb Raider love. For the majority of her career, JC has provided her services for charity events, not seeking any monetary gain, but just to brighten someone’s day. Although, her dedication to the craft has given her some great opportunities.
For about a decade I refused to take money for anything cosplay related and just stuck to charity type of events and hanging at conventions with friends but recently have been opening myself up for business opportunities. I have been running an Etsy shop for the past couple years, selling Tomb Raider Cosplay related props and accessories. And this year I was selected to be a ring girl for Wargaming.net Asia’s World of Tanks Q3 Championship. I was extremely excited to have been given the opportunity to promote such a great gaming company and spread the word about such a fun game and I hope to do more in the future.
What’s your favorite type of event to do?
If I had a choice I’d probably pick convention events because I love being around people and being able to talk to them face to face. I have fun with online events too but there’s something about being able to see everyone and interact on a more interpersonal level that makes things so much more fun and rewarding.
What’s the largest way cosplay has impacted your life?
Cosplay has indirectly lead to a whole lifestyle change for me. It had encouraged me to overstep my boundaries and brave the unknown . If it wasn’t for cosplay I wouldn’t have the close life-long friends I have today and a bunch of sports I would have never become a part of, such as skydiving. It completely changed my life and has made me into a better and more productive individual.
You’re an athlete as well, what are your favorite sports outside of this line of work?
Definitely rock climbing and base jumping. There are things you get to see, beauty you get to experience that nobody else besides other jumpers and climbers ever get to see. It shows you a courage inside yourself you didn’t realize you had, a side of yourself you didn’t know existed.
Have you excelled at any particular sports or compete throughout the year?
I was an intercollegiate multiple record holding pole vaulter and MVP track athlete. After I stopped competing I coached high school pole vault for a year before venturing on to become a certified personal trainer.
Take us through your fitness regimen for a week.
It all depends on the time of year but my ideal fitness regimen consists of 5 days a week with two rest days.
If I’m just trying to stay fit I’ll go to the gym and run 30 minutes of interval sprints/uphill jogs. I program what I call “One minute hell” intervals where I alternate between fast sprints and uphill runs. 5 min jog warmup followed by one minute of sprinting, three minutes of easy jogging, one minute of uphill running. Then I do two minutes jog (the jog is kind of a dynamic recovery), one minute of sprinting, two minutes resting jog. Then I alternate between the 1-3-1, 2-1-2 till I have reached an overall of 30 minutes. This is my favorite way to get cardio while building leg muscles and staying quick on my feet. I will usually follow this up with heavy weight training or a Les Mills Body Pump class (which is endurance weight training).
If I’m training for climbing I will aim to get out onto the rocks at least 2-3 times a week, frequenting areas that have a long steep approach hike to the walls. Carrying a 25lb pack on my back, this ends up being a pretty good cardio/strength session. Then I will try to do an endurance jog of about 5km one of the days of the week and one indoor gym climbing session to really train up the forearms and back muscles. When I have access to it, I also like to get a base jump in at one of my favorite locations that includes a 20 minute climb to the exit point. I can’t say where it is, but I’ll say it’s tough and I get rewarded with a fun jump (and sometimes a very fast sprint) at the end of it.
I’m sure you’ve seen cosplay grow loads over the past 5-7 years, what are some of the things you’ve seen that you’re not fond of in the industry?
Sexual harassment has to be at the very top of the list. Having had an experience at San Diego Comic Con in 2002 where someone grabbed my butt in the crowd, I know exactly what some of these women are going through and I know how scary it can be to stand up for yourself but I think that they are helping everyone move in the right direction when it comes to finding methods to try to prevent this sort of unacceptable behavior from happening in the future. Unfortunately not everything in cosplay is bright and happy all the time, but if we all stick together we can try to make it better.
Something we always address within our interviews is the sexualized nature of cosplay and how it’s perceived. What’s your take on the matter?
There are two different kinds of people when it comes to this subject. The people who love it and the people who hate it. Neither one is wrong because it is all a matter of personal opinion. But one fact remains: There has always been oversexualization in pop culture. Always has and likely always will.
But the beauty of it is that there is a growth in recent years of companies coming out with new ideas for awesome characters who aren’t oversexualized, such as Fem Shep from Mass Effect 3 and Burnside Batgirl. Even Lara Croft has gotten a makeover in the new reboot to make her less objectified. With strong female characters like this on the horizon, I am confident that there will be more options for people not wanting to cosplay sexy characters and with that hopefully will come more acceptance for the people who do.
Do you think body image is a problem within cosplay and how do we address it?
I think it can be but isn’t always. On the one hand you have people of a certain body type who despair over not having the same body as their favorite characters, sometimes even taking things to the extreme by either starving themselves or going through many surgical procedures, and then you have others who look at these characters’ bodies and think of them as a goal or inspiration for their workouts.
There are many cosplayers I have witnessed over the years who have made insanely awesome transformations with their own physiques to better portray the characters they love dressing as and I think that is a beautiful thing. But at the same time I do believe there aren’t enough characters in pop culture who represent ordinary people with ordinary bodies. Not everything has to be a goal in fitness so it would be nice to see (for example) more overweight or obese characters who do amazing things and succeed at what they do, just like you’d see in real life.
What have you learned about yourself through cosplaying?
I have surprised myself many times through innovation when it comes to designing costumes and executing those plans. I never thought I’d get to the point I’m at, so I feel very proud of myself to have come this far. I learned that no matter how difficult a costume may seem, there is always a way to make it happen and that I just have to figure out the best way for me to handle it.
I have also discovered a love of making people smile. At conventions my favorite part is seeing little kids marvel over my portrayal of a character and it’s something that is pretty priceless to me. I never saw myself as much of a people person until I joined this hobby, and now I can’t seem to get enough.
Advice you would give to newbie cosplayers?
It’s easy to get caught up in who is doing what and being the first to do something or the whole drama of the hobby but you have to remember why you started cosplaying in the first place and just stick to that. Remember that we do this for fun; if it wasn’t fun then nobody would do it. Always choose love over hate and surround yourself with people who make you smile. Oh and learn to be thrifty, as you will need every penny you can get!
Who wins Lara Croft Vs. Black Widow?
That’s a hard one! Lara Croft has superior athleticism and problem solving skills whereas Black Widow probably has better fighting (and probably gun fighting) skills. I think it would be a very close fight but I think that Lara, with her super endurance, could last longer and outsmart her way to victory.
Who’s your favorite cosplayer?
I have a lot of favorites so it’s hard to pick just one, but I have to admit that I really enjoy following Jessica Nigri. I know it sounds cliché probably, but I like her not because of boobs or costumes but because she just seems real and genuine. She doesn’t seem to put on a show, she just acts like her quirky self and the amount of fun she seems to have in this hobby is something I strive to be more like.
You keep a pretty low profile on social media, which is surprising considering how well-known you are. How do you balance the real world and social media life?
It’s hard balancing social media, prop building, full-time job, workouts, and conventions. I also am spread pretty thin between other sports as well as the cosplay community. I find myself having to choose between an international base jumping trip or conventions like Dragon Con or going on a weekend climbing trip in the mountains.
Most of the time I’m too lazy to take selfies and when it comes to social media, I’d rather be posting less content that is really really good than post a lot of content that is sorta ‘meh’. Plus when I am building a costume I tend to get “in the zone” and don’t want to stop to take progress pictures for fear of losing my motivation. But I’m trying to be better about it, as we now live in an age where people expect updates from you all the time.
Have you ever had the chance to meet Angelina Jolie?
Nope but something tells me we would get along. She seems like a really cool chick, despite her idiosyncracies.
What’s your nerdy pleasure outside of cosplay?
DOTA2. I can’t stop playing it. Someone please help me, is there a support group for this or something?
What would you like to accomplish within your personal and professional life over the next few years?
Professionally I hope to complete my NASM certification in personal training and build a stable clientele at a reputable gym that will hopefully lead to starting my own freelance business. I’d also love to start doing more cosplay related events and promotions. Personally I’d love to learn wingsuit skydiving, be able to climb a 5.11d route, tour Europe for cosplay and parachuting, jump the Cave of Swallows, and get a Shiba Inu dog.
What’s the best thing about Australia?
The wildlife! People think that all the animals in Australia are out to kill you but that’s not entirely true. There are many really cool things to see out in the bush and places like the Great Barrier Reef will take your breath away.
Is the cosplay and comic culture different in your neck of the woods?
If you are referring to Australia, I have recently moved back to my hometown in California but I’ll say this about Australian cosplay and comic culture. It’s a lot smaller than in the states but there is a great sense of community with some really amazing people. I went to Australia knowing nobody there and left with some lifelong friends I have met because of the cosplay community. Some of them would give me the shirt off their back if they needed it. I’m really going to miss them a lot.
I’m assuming you’ve been to pretty much every Con over the years, what was your favorite?
On the contrary, the only east coast convention I’ve been to is Dragon Con. For American cons I only really went to the ones in California. My favorite has always been Dragon Con though. It’s not so much a commercial type of event, it’s geared more towards having a great time and seeing/wearing some amazingly crafted costumes. It’s pretty much like the Las Vegas of comic conventions.
One misconception about cosplay that you would like to put to rest.
If a girl is wearing a sexy costume it doesn’t mean she is promiscuous. No, you don’t have to cosplay your body type. If people wear a poorly constructed costume it doesn’t mean they were actually trying to make a great costume, so stop putting them on lists of “People Who Should Quit Cosplaying” because the truth is, a lot of these people are seeking to make people smile and laugh with their humorously constructed costumes, not win a competition.
If I’m casting a movie about your life, what would it be called, who would play you, and what would the soundtrack consist of?
It would be called Sane Insanity, Zoe Bell would play me since she could do all the stunts too. The score would be done by Hans Zimmer and the soundtrack would probably be similar to the movie XXX.
Photo Credits: Super Hero Creations by Adam Jay, Raissa Portella