Toronto's own Stephan James is going places. The 22- year old actor who played Representative John Lewis in the critically acclaimed Selma, plays another hero of sorts in Race, the story of Olympic track superstar Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He defied all odds when he represented the U.S. in Berlin and won four gold medals. The film also stars Jason Sudeikis as his track coach Larry Snyder.
Race was originally supposed to star John Boyega in the lead role, but when Boyega was cast to star in Star Wars: The Force Awakens the next obvious choice was Stephan James. The up and coming young actor who has always been active in sports trained hard to play the Olympic athlete getting his running style just right. There wasn't a lot of video footage available but James was lucky to have the real Jesse Owens' daughters to talk to and get as much insight as he could about the man.
James who got his start in television starring for two seasons in the long-running Canadian teen series Degrassi: The Next Generation, was one of four young Canadian actors selected for the Toronto Film Festival’s 2015 TIFF Rising Stars program this past September. After leaving Degrassi, James played various supporting roles on television, including in the TV series How To Be Indie (2011), My Babysitter's a Vampire (2011), The Listener (2012), andThe LA Complex (2012), as well as the ABC Family made-for-TV movie 12 Dates of Christmas (2011).
He landed his first major feature film role playing opposite Tatyana Ali and Fefe Dobson in the Canadian film Home Again (2012), in which he played a Jamaican deportee. James garnered a Canadian Screen Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the 1st Canadian Screen Awards for his performance. In 2015, James guest starred in the CBC television miniseries The Book of Negroes, based on the award-winning novel of the same name by Lawrence Hill.
Stephan says to be able to play Jesse Owens has truly been a dream come true and is excited to see what is next but for now, he intends to take a much-needed vacation.
I spoke with Stephan James in Los Angeles where we discussed what he learned about himself playing Jesse Owens and how he prepared for the role.
Race is in theatres nationwide on February 19th.