N.C. Azalea Festival names Queen

LOS ANGELES - FEB 24: Briana Venskus at "Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D." 100th Episode Party at Ohm Nightclub on February 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, CA

WILMINGTON – The N.C. Azalea Festival has named Wilmington native Briana Venskus as the 2019 Azalea Festival Queen. The title of Queen Azalea dates back to 1948 when actress Jacqueline White first held the title. Former queens include actresses Esther Williams and Phylicia Rashad, talk show host Kelly Ripa, and former Miss Americas Heather French Henry, Mallory Hagan and Kira Kazantsev.

Venskus is an actress and production assistant with a career in film production. She grew up in Wilmington and attended The University of North Carolina School of the Arts where her interest in drama soared to new heights. Venskus moved to Los Angeles to study at the California Institute of the Arts where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting in 2009. While attending the Institute, she made her first screen debut in 2007’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. During her time as an actress, Venskus also began her career in film production working behind the scenes as a production assistant on TV shows such as Dexter, True Blood, Bones, Happy Endings, and the widely known 2009 film, The Fast & the Furious. Her first major role came in 2014’s Let’s Be Cops, which also starred Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. from the popular TV series New Girl. Since then, she has played many recognizable roles in hit TV shows like Nashville and the Netflix original series Grace and Frankie. Venskus also had a recurring role on AMC’s The Walking Dead as Beatrice.

Venskus is one of a few actresses to play notable roles in both DC and Marvel Cinematic universes. Marvel fans will recognize her as Agent Piper in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., while fans of DC Comics remember her as Agent Vasquez in the CW series Supergirl. She admitted that science fiction has always been an area of interest and that comic book storylines have grown on her as the casting calls have increased. She attributes the rise of superheroes in popular culture to the humanizing stories being told by the current franchises. “Superheroes can be related to because they aren’t always from another planet. Regular people can be exceptional,” said Venskus.

As the festival queen, Venskus says she is happy to be spending time in Wilmington and in her home state. “I love California but there’s something about home,” said Venskus in an interview with North State Journal. “I am interested in meeting the people who are on the court and interacting with the sponsors and patrons.”

Venskus will be the headliner for almost every event during the Azalea Festival, which runs from April 3 to April 7 with events throughout the Wilmington area. She says her primary goal is to celebrate Wilmington and connect with the people who flock to the Port City for the annual event.

When pressed on whether she was looking forward to her role and the experience of joining the likes of Esther Williams as Queen Azalea, she admitted: “Who doesn’t want to be on a huge float in a parade? I am a simple girl. So to be at the front of the motorcade and experience all of that, it’s going to be fun.”

Venskus will begin her official duties at a televised coronation on April 3. There she will be surrounded by the Queen’s Court, eight young women who are part of the Miss North Carolina program representing areas throughout N.C. This year’s court is comprised of: Carolina Haller, Miss Johnston Co.; Deja Grant, Miss Cabarrus Co.; Dorian McCorey, Miss High Point; Martina Marler, Miss Greater Sandhills; Maya Campbell, Miss Wilmington; Elizabeth O’Brien, Miss Moore Co.; Paige Henderson, Miss Asheville; and Tiffany Rush, Miss Randolph Co. Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute will escort the Queen’s Court.

As Venskus prepares for her grand entrance, she said she is shopping in L.A. and working with local stylists in Wilmington to look the part. When asked which designers she would be wearing, Venskus said  Camille’s of Wilmington would be her primary clothier. But, she added, “I am going to bring a little L.A. and a little back home.”