Most people today have probably heard the name Jesse Owens, but not many know his story.
RACE, coming out February 19, is a film that tells the true story of Owens’ journey from being a small town track star with a family to support to an Olympic gold medalist and piece of history.
Canadian actor Stephan James scored the lead role of Jesse Owens and it’s shaping up to be his biggest role to date. The young actor, 22, has previously appeared in When the Game Stands Tall, Academy Award nominated Selma, and Canadian hit TV show Degrassi: The Next Generation. On screen, James owns his role as Jesse Owens and is able to give life to one of the most inspirational stories in sports history. From the beginning of the film James captivates the viewer with his ability to give life to an individual who isn’t widely known outside of his athletic success. We had the opportunity to talk to James about the making of the film and more.
How did you hear about the role? What about it made you want to play this historical figure?
“I got the script like anyone else. I’m sure a thousand other young Black actors got it. For me I was just so inspired that I really felt compelled to play him or have the opportunity to meet the director. It wasn’t something I was chasing, but once I found out about it I definitely wanted to be part of it in some capacity.”
What was it like playing the role that had so much to do with racial injustice? Are things the same for people of color in Canada as they are here in the United States?
“I think that those sorts of issues are everywhere in the world, so there were little things I was able to take and things I understood. There wasn’t much of a disconnect for me. Being from Canada these are stories I’ve explored and researched before so it wasn’t anything I was unfamiliar with.”
What was it like playing one of the greatest track and field athletes in history? Did you have to train prior to the role?
“I had to go into a training regiment where I was training like a track star. Two months prior to filming I was training at Georgia Tech with the track and field coaches there and making sure I wasn’t only running but I was running like Jesse, because he had a very specific style of running.”
Did you play any sports growing up?
“I definitely played sports. I was more so big on basketball and football and baseball so never really track too much.”
In the film your rival, Eulace Peacock, was played by your brother. What was that like? Was there any on screen sibling rivalry going on?
“All siblings have their thing but I think but we’re a little bit too old to let that get to our work, but it was cool to be able to work with him on the film. I honestly didn’t know he was going to be doing the film. We keep our business separate so it was a surprise to see him.”
What about your relationship with Jason Sudeikis off screen, did it maintain that coach-player vibe portrayed in the film?
“Later on in the film you see Jesse and Larry as more so friends than a coach and athlete. We became friends very easily. We’re both big sports guys so we both understood what it was like to have that coach and player relationship. It was cool we hit it off pretty quickly and it made it much easier to work with him.”
Coming off such a big role, what do you seen in your future? What’s next for Stephan James?
“I don’t know man. Honestly I don’t know. I just hope people see the film and are inspired. To me this film appeals to everybody. You don’t have to be an athlete, you don’t have to be a runner, young or old; this movie is meant to inspire and I hope I can help to inspire people through this role.”
RACE will be in theaters near you February 19, 2016.