Sadly, the “fastest man alive” is not with us anymore. But his daughters are. At the Los Angeles press day for the upcoming Jesse Owens biopic, Race, we had the chance to pick the brains of both Marlene and Beverly Owens. They told us all sorts of tales about what life was like growing up with an Olympic athlete. As the daughters of a four-time gold medal track star, for instance, you’d think they would have a story or two about hopping onto the track with their pops. But that was not so much the case. “You did nothing like that. You were a lady at all times. You went to school, you did what you had to do at school. You took dancing, you took dramatics and all those kinds of things. So that’s what our life was like,” Beverly tells us.
Check out our interview with the ladies below as they discuss what surprised them about seeing their father’s story play out on screen and what they thought of Stephan James’ portrayal of Owens.
First of all, what did you ladies think of the film? Did it do your father’s legacy justice?
Beverly Owens: Yes. Yes, it did.
Marlene Owens: We loved it. We thought the film was excellent. Production quality was excellent. Wardrobes were excellent. Depiction of our father was really quite good. Overall, it’s really quite well done.
Having watched it, was there anything that surprised you about him that you hadn’t really thought of before?
Beverly Owens: No.
Marlene Owens: I think that what was driven home to me was the pressures that he endured all of his life from the very beginning on. I think that was kind of new and interesting to me.
Just the pressures…
Marlene Owens: The pressures, yeah.
…he did the best that he could…
Marlene Owens: That were imposed on him. Like the decision whether to go to the Olympics or not. Decisions that impacted on his life and the future, his decision not to continue to do the European tour after the Olympics and came home and then was suspended, his amateur athletic standing taken away from him. Pressures to help his family, to provide, to help support the family. Pressures to raise and support his own family. You know, there just seemed to be a number of pressures.
How involved you were you guys in the script, in helping inspire Stephan to capture the essence of your father? Did you go visit the set?
Beverly: Yes, we did. We visited the set. We visited the stadium. And we were able to edit the script. And then we were able to review the film to see the things that we had asked to be taken out were taken out and to make it as true to his life as possible.
Were you guys at all nervous to have this story shared? I mean it touches on all the amazing running accomplishments, but then it does get into a little bit of the areas of his personal life, which were a little up and down.
Marlene Owens: It’s difficult. It’s hard to watch. But it happened and they survived it. It’s just a part of their life story.
Did Stephan remind you a lot of your father when you were watching it? Did you feel like you were spending time with him again?
Marlene Owens: I thought Stephan did a terrific job. I think physically there is not the resemblance, but he just did such a good job of capturing the essence of the man that I thought he was very convincing, even for us to watch it. I was convinced that, “Hmm. That is who he was.”
Beverly Owens: He did a great job.
Marlene Owens: He did. He really did.
Were you guys big runners? Was that kind of mandatory growing up in that family that you hit the track with your father?
Beverly Owens: Oh, no. you did nothing like that. You were a lady at all times. You went to school. You did what you had to do at school. You took dancing. You took dramatics and all those kinds of things. That’s what our life was like.
So you were more cheering him on in the stands then?
Marlene Owens: Well, we weren’t born when he was running. And so, when we came along, his track career was over. So we didn’t see him run.
Now you get to on screen!
Marlene Owens: That’s right! We get to see it.
Beverly Owens: Well, thank you.
Race is in theaters February 19, 2016.