VARIETY: Jesse Owens Biopic Finds Its Leading Man

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03 Feb 2014

British actor John Boyega will portray Olympic athlete Jesse Owens in the biopic “Race,” with shooting set to start in May in Berlin and Montreal.

Forecast Pictures’ Jean Charles Levy and ID+’s Luc Dayan made the announcement Friday.

“Race” will be introduced to buyers at next month’s Berlin Film Market, with Mister Smith Entertainment handling international sales. Stephen Hopkins (“The Life and Death of Peter Sellers”) will direct from a script by Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel.

“Race” will focus on how Owens, the son of an Alabama sharecropper, shattered Adolf Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by winning a record four gold medals in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, the long jump and the 400-meter relay. Owens’ victories are considered among the greatest atlhetic feats of all time.

Hitler had insisted Jews and Blacks not be allowed to participate in the games, but relented when threatened with a boycott. He shook hands only with the German victors on the first day of competition and then skipped all further medal presentations.

Shooting locations include the actual Berlin Olympic stadium where Owens won the four gold medals. Producers are aiming for a release in the spring of next year.

The German-Canadian co-production will be produced by Levy, Dayan, Kate Garwood, Stephen Hopkins, Louis-Philippe Rochon, Dominique Seguin for Solofilms (Canada), Karsten Brunig and Thierry Potok for Trinity Race GmbH (Germany). Executive producers include Christopher Charlier, Ben Grass, Scott Kennedy, Bonnie Timmermann, George Acogny and Nicolas Manuel.

The 21-year-old Boyega stars in Malik Vitthal’s inner-city drama “Imperial Dreams,” which premiered Jan. 17 at Sundance. He debuted in feature films in 2011′s “Attack the Block” and appeared in 2012′s “Half of a Yellow Sun” opposite Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

“Race” is supported by the Jesse Owens Foundation, the Jesse Owens Trust and the Luminary Group. It has been been in development for the past two years.

Hopkins’ directing credits include “Ghost and the Darkness,” “Under Suspicion,” “Californication,” “24″ and “House Lies.” “John Boyega is definitely one of the most exciting young actors working today and I am thrilled to have him on board to play the iconic role of Jesse Owens in ‘Race,’” he said.

Forecast Pictures’ credits include “Lullaby for Pi,” “The Tall Man,” “Faces in the Crowd,” “The Tall Man” and the upcoming “Lockerbie.”

Mister Smith Entertainment, a joint venture between David Garrett and Constantin Film, has a slate that includes Russell Crowe’s directorial debut “The Water Diviner” and Dan Fogelman’s directorial debut starring Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer, Annette Bening and Jennifer Garner. It’s also distributing Constantin Film’s romantic comedy “Love, Rosei,” starring Lily Collins and Sam Claflin.

Variety reported last month that Disney was developing a separate biopic about Owens, setting up the project with BermanBraun and Netter Films and attaching Antoine Fuqua to direct.

Boyega is represented by CAA, IAG, and Management 360. Stephen Hopkins, Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel are also represented by CAA.