ON FEB. 18, Race brings the story of Jesse Owens's rise from Ohio State track and field star to Olympic hero at the 1936 Summer Games to the big screen. It's the first feature film about the man who smashed records and racial barriers by winning four gold medals in Adolf Hitler's Berlin.
SI chatted with actor Stephan James, 22, about portraying Owens.
SI: What did you do to prepare for the role?
SJ: There's not much on YouTube, so I watched Leni Riefenstahl's film Olympia, which showcases the 1936 Games. That helped me know what it was like at that time and how Jesse looked and talked.
February 15, 2016
I also spent time at Georgia Tech training under coach Nat Page. I had done a little bit of track growing up in Toronto, and I had to learn how to tailor that to Jesse's start and stride.
SI: How much did the Owens family help?
SJ: Everybody knows the athlete he was, but we don't know much about him as a person. They provided that perspective. They became part of my family too.
They also told me how much Jesse liked to dress up and smell good. He wore a lot of cologne.
SI: What was it like walking into the Olympic stadium in Berlin?
SJ: In that moment I was Jesse walking in there for the first time. I could only imagine what it was like with thousands of Germans in 1936. It's on a street named Jesse Owens Allee, and there's a lounge there with his photo everywhere. It was incredible to see that they haven't forgotten him.
SI: Has the film enhanced your appreciation for track?
SJ: We went to the IAAF World Championships in Beijing with Jesse's daughters. To hear what he means to guys like Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin was inspiring.
THEY SAID IT
"WE JUST HOPE HE'S THE NEXT ARCHIE MANNING, YOU KNOW?"
American Pharoah's trainer, commenting on the horse's career as a sire.
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
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