I’m A Run­ner

Ac­tor Stephen James

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

It ob­vi­ously is an in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity to play Jesse Owens. He was a hero who man­aged to change the world with the power of sport and he broke a lot of bar­ri­ers. Clearly those are big shoes to fill.

Be­ing ath­letic cer­tainly helped me land the role. You have to be ready for the chal­lenge of play­ing the fastest man in the world for three months.

Phys­i­cal fit­ness is some­thing I’ve al­ways thought was im­por­tant. I played bas­ket­ball and vol­ley­ball when I was in high school. Even though I wasn’t a ‘run­ner’ per se, hav­ing that ath­letic back­ground cer­tainly helped in my ap­proach to play­ing Jesse.

To get ready for the role, I would do a half-hour or 45-minute run daily. I didn’t want to have a stunt dou­ble in the movie. I wanted to do as much of the run­ning and long jump­ing as I could my­self.

I did some re­search for the role. I was able to pick out de­tails about how Jesse started his races, his pos­ture while he was run­ning, his strides, down to the lit­tle things, like his fa­cial ex­pres­sions.

I wanted to be ac­cu­rate and truth­ful to his run­ning style. Two months prior to film­ing I went down to Ge­or­gia Tech and trained with Nat Page, the as­sis­tant track-and­field coach, on my days off from film­ing [civil rights drama] Selma. He would make me run 10 laps be­fore we even started the train­ing day.

The run­ning wasn’t easy. There were a lot of sore mo­ments. I had days where I was tak­ing ice baths and had to be with a mas­sage ther­a­pist for at least an hour just to make sure I was loos­ened up. It was hard on my legs but even harder on my feet – when your feet hurt, that af­fects ev­ery­thing.

Race is­sues are part of the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion in the United States right now. Owens was a prime ex­am­ple of show­ing that it doesn’t mat­ter what you look like or where you come from; you’re ca­pa­ble of ac­com­plish­ing spe­cial things. Sto­ries like Jesse’s help open up peo­ple’s minds. By retelling history, we can change the fu­ture, in a way. It’s great that we can use Jesse as an in­spi­ra­tion for peo­ple to strive for big goals. That could be in run­ning or any other type of sport. In the film Race, James plays Jesse Owens, the Amer­i­can sprinter and long jumper who won four gold medals at the 1936 Ber­lin Olympics. It’s out now on DVD.

‘I wasn’t a “run­ner” per se, but hav­ing that ath­letic back­ground helped in my ap­proach to play­ing Jesse’

TYRED OUT The hard work paid off for Stephen

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