The Jesse Owens biopic suffered setbacks before its big finish, says producer

Stephen Hopkins’ new biopic on the life of quadruple-Olympic-gold-winning US athlete Jesse Owens opens across the UAE this weekend. The movie stars Stephan James (Selma) as Owens and the discrimination and struggles he went through as he prepared to compete in Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics to achieve his incredible sporting success. Speaking from its UAE […]

Stephen Hopkins’ new biopic on the life of quadruple-Olympic-gold-winning US athlete Jesse Owens opens across the UAE this weekend. The movie stars Stephan James (Selma) as Owens and the discrimination and struggles he went through as he prepared to compete in Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics to achieve his incredible sporting success.

Speaking from its UAE premiere early in the week, executive producer Morgan Emmery said the film was six years in the making.

“We’d had the idea for past 15 yrs, and spent the last six years making it,” he said, “We were really pleasantly surprised that no one ever thought of making a movie about Jesse Owens before — he was probably one of best athletes of all time. We spent about two years researching him and came up with a book about 3,000 pages long by the end of it. What he did in 1935 [at the US’ Big Ten athletics meet], breaking three world records and tying one in 45 mins will probably never happen again. It’s surely one of biggest achievements in sport, ever, alongside his four gold medals. There have been a couple of documentaries about him, but amazingly no features as yet. When we spoke with Owens’ family [Owens himself having passed away in 1980] they were really pleased someone was finally doing it and said ‘let’s go and do a movie.’ We flew family to Berlin for the shooting and showed them some unedited footage, and it was a really moving experience.”

Even after the movie went into production it was not without setbacks, not least when its original star, John Boyega, was forced to pull out after being offered the lead in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

“I understand John’s decision completely — it wasn’t exactly a bad move for him and I’m very happy for him,” Emmery said. “I’m very pleased with the final casting though. When Jason Sudeikis’ name came up I was surprised as you’d think of him more for Saturday Night Live and comedy — this was his first serious role — but he was one of the best and nicest actors I’m yet to meet. I’m really pleased with the end result altogether.”

Race is out now in cinemas

cnewbould@thenational.ae

Source: art & life

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