You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TIFF Rising Star Stephan James Talks Jesse Owens Biopic ‘Race’

Stephan James (“Selma”) will be the first actor out of the starting blocks to star as legendary track-and-field athlete Jesse Owens when Focus Features’ “Race” hits screens on Feb. 19, 2016.

James, one of four young Canadian actors selected for the Toronto Film Festival’s 2015 TIFF Rising Stars program, told Variety at a cocktail event held Sunday that he was offered the Owens role while he was filming “Selma.” (Joe Boyega was set to play Owens, but pulled out when he was cast in “Star Wars: Episode VII.”)

“When I first got the call from my manager asking if I’d ever heard of Jesse Owens, I recognized the name, looked him up and was blown away by his story,” James said.

Race” is directed by Stephan Hopkins and written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. It also stars Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt and Carice van Houten. A French-German-UK-Canadian coproduction, the film was shot in 2014 in Montreal and Berlin.

James said “Race” tracks Owens’ story from his record-breaking victories while attending Ohio State University to the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, where the athlete won four gold medals, countering the Nazi party’s vision of “Aryan racial superiority.”

“Owens’ struggle and triumph against adversity is so inspiring. The experience of playing this role has been such an honor,” James said.

While “Selma” was shooting in Georgia, James started training during off-time with an assistant men’s track-and-field coach at Georgia Tech.

“Growing up, I was always into sports — basketball and volleyball — but I wasn’t really a runner,” James said. “So I had to learn how to run and how to run fast, but also how to run like Jesse Owens, because he had a very particular style.

“The documentation of Owens is very limited; there aren’t a lot of videos or recordings available to know how he spoke or moved, so it really helped that one of his daughters and his granddaughters were around during the filming.”

James recently completed the pilot for NBC the drama “Unveiled.” In additional to playing Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader John Lewis in “Selma” and a supporting role in the CBC miniseries adaptation of Lawrence Hill’s award-winning novel “The Book of Negroes,” he played the role of Justin for three seasons on “Degrassi: The Next Generation.”

The actor is repped by Innovative Artists and manager Norbert Abrams.

More Scene

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream hosted by AT&T and from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. “The images and stories recognized [...]

  • Emile Hirsch, Matt SmileyEmile Hirsch hosts

    Emile Hirsch Hosts Smiley Face Art Opening at Mondrian Hotel

    Despite the rain on Wednesday night in West Hollywood, there were plenty of smiles inside the Mondrian hotel thanks to artist Matt Smiley‘s Refresh exhibition. Not only is Smiley his real last name, but several of his paintings and other pieces in the exhibit feature smiley faces. “I’ve seen more smiley symbolism lately, and I’ve [...]

  • Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu

    Constance Wu Wants Her 'Fresh Off the Boat' Co-Star Randall Park to Host the Oscars

    While the Academy may have decided to go hostless for this year’s Oscars, that doesn’t mean the rest of Hollywood has stopped thinking about who would be a good choice for the emceeing gig. Former host Whoopi Goldberg recently suggested Ken Jeong. Jeong said, when he was a guest on “The View,” Goldberg told him [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Stars Reveal Dream Guest

    'Schitt's Creek' Cast Reveals Dream Guest Stars: Oprah, Beyonce and ...

    “Schitt’s Creek” has big dreams. Dan Levy, who stars as David on the series, says his wish list of guest stars includes Oprah, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Gwyneth Paltrow. “All for different reasons, none of whom we’ll get,” he cracked at the Critics’ Choice Awards. For those who haven’t caught on to the “Schitt’s Creek” [...]

  • Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bundchen

    Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen to Be Honored at UCLA Science Gala

    Science can be very glamorous. It certainly will be during Oscar week on Feb. 21 when the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES) honors Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen for environmental activism at its annual Hollywood for Science Gala. “When I moved to LA, the air was unbreathable. Rivers were catching fire in [...]

  • Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells Black

    Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells Talk Snorting 'Coke' on 'Black Monday'

    “Black Monday” show creators David Caspe and Jordan Cahen divulged an intriguing detail to come later in the first season of the new Showtime comedy at its world premiere, held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday night in Los Angeles. “The fourth or fifth episode opens with a sexual harassment seminar, which very well [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content