Actor Stephan James dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Thursday to discuss his role as Jesse Owens in the upcoming movie, “Race,” which premiers Feb. 19. The film chronicles Owens’ quest to become the greatest track and field athlete in history at the 1936 Olympics, with Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler as the backdrop.
James, 22, felt a personal responsibility to perfect this role.
“When you think of Jesse Owens, you think of so much more than an athlete,” James said on Tiki and Tierney. “This is a man who essentially changed the world through sport and his love for running. I understood the responsibility right away. The weight that was on my shoulders to make sure I was being accurate, to make sure I went through my training regimen, to learn what it took to be a track star, but then to learn what it took to run like Jesse Owens because he had such a particular running style – you can’t fake that stuff. There’s so many history buffs and Jesse Owens lovers around the world. I wanted to make sure I was doing it on point. I was just paying my respects as an actor and going through the process myself.”
James, who also appeared in “Selma,” did a ton of research for the role – and not just track and field research.
“I think a lot of people really don’t know about just the type of person he was,” James said. “They know about the athlete, this big hero. And so for me, it was about tapping into his humanity. I got to hang out with his daughters, who are lovely. They’re in their 70s and 80s, but they’re like the sweetest women. They taught me a lot about their father, just about the humanitarian he was – just a good, kind-hearted individual who treated people like how he wanted to be treated. He was always supportive of his family and did whatever he had to do to make sure he could support them. So I tried to attack it from that angle.”
Owens won four gold meals at the 1936 Games, including wins in the 100 and 200 meter dashes. Even more special, Owens accomplished all of that at a time when black athletes – even ones from the United States – were not necessarily revered by all Americans. James, however, galvanized the country during the Great Depression.
“I think he really just went over there and did it for the love,” James said, “and in turn, he showed why America shouldn’t care about where you’re from and what you look like. It’s just about talent at the end of the day. It doesn’t really matter (what race you are). You can do great things regardless of where you come from.”