By Jaritza Mendoza | Staff Writer |
The production company Focus Features invites CSUSB and eight other U.S. colleges to an intimate roundtable interview with the cast and crew of the upcoming film, “Race,” at the Four Season Hotel in Los Angeles on Jan. 24.
“Race” tells the inspiring true story of African-American Jesse Owens, who surpassed social and personal barriers and became the first worldwide superstar by conquering the 1936 Berlin Olympics in Germany, during the height of Hitler’s reign.
This film brings elements of strength, endurance and success in this biopic focusing on Owens, who despite segregation and non-believers, showed that individual excellence distinguishes a man rather than race or nation.
It focuses on Owens’ life from his arrival at Ohio State University, at the age of 19, and ends with his participation in the games. Director Stephen Hopkins stated, “I don’t think it’s possible to do full justice to Jesse Owens’ life in a two hour movie. By honing in on the years 1934 – 1936, we see him mature from a talented runner into a worldwide champion.”
A room was reserved for a total of ten U.S college students to conduct interviews with Stephan James who plays Jesse Owens; Jason Sudeikis who plays Owens’ coach Larry Snyder; Hopkins; and Owens’ real life daughters, Marlene and Beverly Owens. While waiting for the film participants to enter, interviewers bonded through discussion of movies and their reaction to this film.
“I thought the performances were fine, especially from the two leads. James was charming and showed a lot of range for a relatively unknown actor, and Jason Sudeikis fit right in the mentor role perfectly. The casting was certainly different, but it worked for the movie,” stated Scott Davis, one of the interviewers.
When asked by an interviewer how James discovered these historians, especially in an artistically and emotional way, James said, “I try to take sort of an approach where it’s more than just research. It’s about living like these guys.”
“I wanted to wake up every single day and look at him in the mirror, and see only him. Talk like only he did, and run like only he did, so everything I did was what he was doing,” James continued.
James is no stranger to portraying historians, having played U.S Congressman John Lewis in the Oscar nominated film “Selma” last year. As Sudeikis’ first dramatic role, he was asked to explain his transition from comedy to drama.
“It didn’t feel odd to me when I read the script that I connected with this guy. I played basketball [in school],” said Sudeikis, “I knew the coach-athlete relationship so that resonated with me.”
The room filled with laughter as he explained stories from in between takes from having jump contests and getting in trouble by Hopkins while explaining how the atmosphere was not always so dramatic.
CC: Do you feel the film honestly depicted your father?
Beverly: I think they did a phenomenal job in embracing his character and projecting that because we had script approval we know that the facts are right.
CC: Why, after 80 years, do you think it’s the perfect time to tell the story of your father?
Beverly: They say everything happens for a reason. When this was brought to us and given us the opportunity to read the scrip, because we didn’t have that before, edit the script, and take out, we were just given a free hand so to speak.
Marlene: Time is right.
CC: What were some of the difficulties in filming in the arena?
Hopkins: Some of the shots were completely digital, some of them were the real arena. The arena itself is so different to how it used to be, but yeah, it was a very difficult visual effects film to make.
CC: What were some of the challenges and fun things involved in making a periodic piece like this?
Hopkins: In the end you wanna get people to feel what it was like. I wanted to try to give younger people a hero to look up to. I’m not sure who my kids, my grandkids look up to now. He [Jesse] was a very reluctant hero and he just did what he wanted to do and I wanted to do a story about a real hero like that.
CC: We’re coming up on a very intense week for race issues in Hollywood and the Oscars. Do you feel in that your career, knowing race is still a major factor in getting the media roles?
Owens: It’s important to raise that discussion and talk about it. It’s healthy, it’s good that people wanna see diverse casting and diversity in itself, but for me, as an artist, I really haven’t felt held back. I hope that a film like this,will help show people why it doesn’t matter what you look like or where you come from, anyone is capable of accomplishing great things.
CC: How did you learn about your character and how did you research his history and mannerism?
Sudeikis: There’s not much out there. The biggest gift outside of the script and the story itself, in the fact that they maintained this friendship was from Jesse’s autobiography along the line that [Larry] Snyder was an “accidental non-racist.” That word, to me, meant the world and that’s how I attack the character.
CC: What you hope modern audience get from this movie?
Sudeikis: If you find something that you love, work really hard, take your natural gift, allow yourself to be open towards being coached, mentored, etc…You can change the world whether that be on a global stage or even within one person.