Race star Stephan James, 22, is one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars. We were lucky enough to chat with him about his background, his role as Jesse Owens and the big break that hasn’t happened yet.

We first noticed you in Selma as John Lewis, a living legend of the Civil Rights Movement. How did you get the part?
I was working on another project in Toronto, where I was born and raised. I was delaying putting myself on tape. I finally got it in, and literally like 20 minutes after I sent it, I got a call that I would be Skyping with Ava [DuVernay] and Oprah. I was freaking out, just going crazy. That’s where it started.

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You’re playing Jesse Owens in Race (in theaters February 19). Do you consider this your big break?
I don’t think I’ve had my big break yet. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of some big things.

For the reenactment of the 1936 Summer Olympics, what was it like filming in Berlin?
The people were nothing but gracious to me. They’re such big fans of Jesse Owens. The street that the stadium is on is called Jesse-Owens-Allee. His pictures are still up. He’s a hero to them—just as much as he is here.

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Your family is Jamaican, and now that you’ve had a role as Jesse Owens, any hopes to play Usain Bolt?
[Laughs] I’m probably done playing runners for a little bit. I’ll try something else.

Race opens in theaters today.

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