Behind every great athlete is a great coach helping them prepare and motivating them to glory. Larry Snyder was one of those great coaches. Although his place in history is one that has been forgotten by many, nothing can outshine his importance to the success of Jesse Owens. It can easily be said that without Snyder behind the scenes whipping him into shape, there would be no Olympic legacy.

In the film RACE (in theaters February 19, 2016), Larry Snyder is played by actor Jason Sudeikis. This is the first role of its kind for Sudeikis, known for his parts in comedies such as Meet the Millers, Horrible Bosses and Hall Pass. Sudeikis, who got his start on Saturday Night Live, was able to take on a more dramatic role as Larry Snyder and show the audience a different side to his talents. We got a chance to talk with Sudeikis about what it was like to make this change and more.

What was it like playing this role? Did you ever play sports growing up or have you ever coached in the past?

I played basketball through high school and in college for a couple years. Once I stopped playing I left school, but yeah I had all sorts of coaches early on so I responded right away to that.Jason+Sudeikis+2011+NBA+Star+Celebrity+Game+7iJHihGrFi5l

Would you say you were able to use what these coaches imprinted on you as inspiration for this role?

I had different mentors beyond sports once I started to do stuff. [Saturday Night Live creator] Lorne Michaels is a great mentor or Tina Fey during my early SNL days and other people that really led as much by example as by their point of view and take on the work. They were there whenever I had questions, so I have always been thankful for people doing that throughout my life.

What was it like to make that transitions from comedian to a more serious role-model type of role with Coach Snyder?

The only difference is the way its being received and the value of the questions that are being answered while we’re in the process of working on the film. My way of going about executing it is the same sort of process I’d go through for any film. Even with a film like Hall Pass, I’m trying to make that feel as believable to the tone of the film as possible. Something as crazy as smuggling weed across the Mexican border, or killing bosses, or using a hall pass believe it or not, I’m just trying to play that reality of it. The only difference here is those movies are constructed in a way that when you create a moment, a laugh follows it. Here you’re not going to get that same immediate response, so that was new for me.

Was there pressure to remain as authentic as possible?

It wasn’t like I had to “say this differently” or “do this differently” because the story is so profound and ethical and relevant and true, so you feel a strong responsibility to being as authentic in that make believe moment to the real moment it’s based on.204026_033

In the film you stand up for Jesse being a Black athlete on your team at a racist university. In your own life are you involved at all in any of the daily battles against injustice that we face in society today?

I am happy to lend my voice and platform that I’m fortunate to operate from through my endeavors. I’m very supportive of it, since the day I was born. I am like Larry in a similar way, I have never viewed a person simply by [race]; you look into someone’s eyes and it makes no difference to me. The only distinction is at this point male or female, and at the end of the day even that gets very similar when you deal with the battle between love and fear we all have everyday. I was lucky to have parents that lead by example in that way. I wanted to be Eddie Murphy when I was nine years old after I saw Beverly Hills Cop and I didn’t care what that meant. It didn’t make any difference to me.

Was this a role you sought or did it just come to you? 

No, actually it was crazy. They sent it to me, I read it and I said, “I get who this guy is.” This character reminded me of Gene Hackman in Hoisers or Kevin Costner in The Untouchables and it spoke to me because it was like one of those movies me and my dad loved, and my dad is going to love this. It will probably be his favorite film of mine. The fact this is a man we didn’t know much about, I was able to put a lot about myself and my own point of view and my own human experience into this role.

Did you know much about the story before getting the role?

“No, I read it and it was the best history lesson I could get. I mean, I knew the headlines—like that he won gold metals in front of Hitler—but all the details about Jesse, like all the struggle that he went through, his missteps as a man, even him setting three world records in an afternoon, all that stuff was lost to me.

How was your relationship with Stephan? Was it anything like it was in the movie?

It was great. Not many of us have heard much about him, which I think will change very soon, but yeah, he was just a cool kid. We all hung out quite a bit together off screen and on the weekends. It’s a lot like playing team sports, you get to work with friends. I’m very excited that people are going to be able to experience his talent through this movie.

RACE, from left: Jason Sudeikis, director Stephen Hopkins, Stephan James, on set, 2016. ph: Thibault Grabherr/© Focus Features

RACE, from left: Jason Sudeikis, director Stephen Hopkins, Stephan James, on set, 2016. ph: Thibault Grabherr/© Focus Features

Is this the start of a new chapter in your career? What’s next for Jason Sudeikis?

“I think this gives me the opportunity for people to see me in a different way. We all know that behind closed doors everyone’s life is a comedy, a tragedy, a drama. We’re all complicated, complex human beings. As an artist people have a tendency to put you in a box and it really takes someone to have trust in you plus hard work to prove people otherwise. I’m flattered to get the opportunity and excited that people are responding to it well. As far as what it means to me, time will tell. The distinction between comedy and drama is just stories that are worth being told and working with people. At the end of the day I want to be the dumbest person in the room and be a freshman playing against seniors. I want to learn their short hand and hear the way they talk about it and see the hard work they put in. That’s the goal.

RACE will be in theaters everywhere February 19, 2016.