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Anthony Mackie Hopes To Play Olympic Gold Medalist Jesse Owens In Film Biopic He's Developing

by Vanessa Martinez
September 29, 2011 12:37 PM
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Is there a better way to start your day than with an Anthony Mackie post? I think not. ;-) In an exclusive interview with our brothers from another mother at The Playlist, Mackie expressed his desire to portray legenday Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens (9/12/1913 – 3/31/1980) in a screen biopic he's developing.

Here's what he has to say about the project, which is still in the early stages of development:

I feel like Jesse Owens kind of saved the world, If the Olympics had gone the way Hitler expected them to, his idea of being the ultimate race kind of would have been true. Jesse Owens went there and won four gold medals and flattens the idea of there being an ultimate race. Next thing you know, we go to war and flatten everything. And I feel like, for us not to recognize that, is preposterous and asinine. If you can make a movie about a dolphin or a horse for winning a race, you can make a movie about a man that changed the scope of the world.

If Ryan Gosling is believed to be able to gain 30 pounds to play a role, I can definitely lose 10, we have writers we’re looking at and working with. The problem is, you have a lot of directors who can do action, you’ve got a lot of directors who can do storytelling. You don’t have many directors who can do both. Those directors are so few and far between that you don’t want to make this movie with the wrong director. In film, if you have a bad movie you have a bad movie forever. So, it’s at the point now where it’s trying to get on that slate of trying to find that guy or lady or person who can just make that story the way it deserves to be made.

I can see Mackie bringing Jesse Owens to life, he definitely posesses an uncanny resemblance to the late olympian. I'm sure 10 pounds will not be a big deal to lose, although, I'm certain he'll have to go through some rigorous training regardless.

I hope this project gets the support it needs to bring it to fruition. We will definitely stay on the lookout for any updates regarding this development.

The handsome, underrated and busy actor, currently shooting The Gangster Squad opposite Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn and Emma Stone among others, can be seen this Friday, September 30th in the comedy What's Your Number?, and next week on October 7th in the boxing robot action Hugh Jackman starrer Real Steel. He's also set to appear in the upcoming high school reunion ensemble flick Ten Year, which screened at TIFF this month.

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  • misha | October 1, 2011 9:53 AMReply

    @Accidental Visitor You do realize that whether or not Mackie is leading man material is a matter of opinion, right? :) He's a good actor but I have seen nothing to suggest that he is leading man material.

  • CareyCarey | September 30, 2011 11:34 AMReply

    “A straight birth-to-death biopic wouldn’t be the best idea;”

    Okay, on the surface it’s easy to agree with that statement because it awfully ambiguous. However, the following, to a degree, narrows it done... “focusing on the events leading up to the Olympics, then the Olympics, and the aftermath”

    Yet again, what events (leading up to the Olympics) are we exactly talking about? The aftermath... what aftermath? What... there was no television and the black “voice” had limited exposure, so what story (exactly) are we trying to “hear” and tell? What... “That black man, Jesse Owens, won 4 Gold Medals... YEA GOOD JOB! And? And what’s new?

    “Depends on how it’s done”

    Exactly! Now of course that too is the most tantamount and basic issue of storytelling, i.e. writing, viewpoint and objective of the storyteller. It’s my belief that focusing solely on “the Olympics” could be nothing more than a sappy “Made For Black History Month” event. Anyone with access to a computer can find “that” story on-line or in their local grade school library. Consequently, if we are to agree the “birth-to-death” biopic are “worn out”(I don‘t), that again should not suggest the film should limit itself to a short timeframe of world wide social events, nor be limited to Jesse Owens’s life one year, 4 months, or 10 days preceding the Olympics. And again, to speak of an “aftermath” speaks to what (exactly?), when, why, how and where did that aftermath happen?

    In Short, “If it happens, it’ll likely be independently-financed, given that Mackie’s star is essentially still on the rise and I’m not sure how well a Jesse Owens biopic would play to audiences at this point” - Tambay

  • Geneva Girl | September 30, 2011 7:53 AMReply

    I agree with Idol Maker. This would be terrific on cable TV. It would still do good business on DVD. I'm always curious why so many people want to make films for the theaters versus television. Sure, there's more money to be made with a theatrical release, but the risk is higher. I think more of our stories could be told - and watched - on television.

    I do like the idea of Mackie playing this role and hope that it focuses just on the Olympics not Owen's entire life.

  • JMac | September 30, 2011 5:46 AMReply

    I think focusing just on the Munich Olympics also safely keeps us away from his actions in the '68 games . I know I wouldn't want to be reminded of it.

  • cj | September 30, 2011 4:33 AMReply


  • Micah | September 30, 2011 3:22 AMReply

    I'm co-signing with everyone who feels the birth-to-death biopic has basically worn out it's welcome. The formula which is forced on even the mostly wily and unruly lives is starting to breed contempt from even the least savvy of filmgoers.

    Whatever your feelings about the movie Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll are , it presented the characters life in a unique manner. It was very befitting of the real life person it was based on. Plus is had Naomie Harris in it. She makes everything better. If you haven't seen it, give it a try on your netflix instant. That is if you are too angry over the price increases.

    Tambay presents a griping way of delivering the story and Adam suggested a dynamic opening sequence. Perhaps you two should get on the phone with Anthony so someone can save biopics from themselves.

  • urbanauteur | September 29, 2011 11:41 AMReply

    Wow, i'm definally feeling this, Jesse Owens is from my hometown, him along with another innovator-inventor-Garret A. Morgan, they would put a HUGE dent on a otherwise tired ass bio-pic landscape, and which is absent AND paradoxically BLACK!, i chime in my director vote 'Greengrass or go really retro and get either- underrated brit director-PHILIP(of movie-reflecting skin fame)RIPLEY or francophone/algerian director- RACHID BOUCHAREB!.

  • AccidentalVisitor | September 29, 2011 11:32 AMReply

    {{{ I’m interested in seeing a biopic on Jesse Owens but not sure I’d want to see Mackie in the leading role. He’s a good actor…just not leading man material IMO.


    Mackie is a leading man. He's just not getting leading roles. He is also not a pretty boy type of leading man, but then again neither is his "Hurt Locker" co-star Renner. A couple of years back people would likely insist that Renner wasn't leading man material either. But then someone gave him a shot in a little film that ended up gaining lots of attention. Mackie is still waiting for that type of shot.; that type of leading role. I

  • keepingitreal | September 29, 2011 10:45 AMReply

    I love me some Anthony Mackie! He will be perfect! If I was capable I would fund the whole project and not worry about profit. This is how much I believe in the project and Anthony! #GoodLuck

  • misha | September 29, 2011 9:54 AMReply

    I'm interested in seeing a biopic on Jesse Owens but not sure I'd want to see Mackie in the leading role. He's a good actor...just not leading man material IMO.

  • CareyCarey | September 29, 2011 3:38 AMReply

    "I feel like Jesse Owens kind of saved the world, If the Olympics had gone the way Hitler expected them to, his idea of being the ultimate race kind of would have been true" - Anthony Mackie

    Huuuummm, I have a few problems with that. But first, I'm feeling Idol-Maker's idea of somehow including Joe Louis into the mix... and let me tell you why. The years leading up to the 36 Olympics and many many years thereafter, where turbulent and troubling times for people of color. So to do this story right... with courage and conviction, I believe the story has to tell the whole truth. See, if one is to believe that Jesse Owens’s victories in the 36 Olympics and The Brown Bomber’s victory over the German, Max Schmeling were tantamount in the defeat of white supremacy, they are surely mistaken.

    Let me go back, American did not get involved in the war to save Jews nor because of some moral sense of fairness and decency... or no! They hated Jews just as much as Hitler did. Read your history and see how the USA harbored and protected some of their Nazi friends. And lord knows the black man had to fight - off the track - and outside the ring - for damn near 30 more years to get a simple piece paper signed called The Civil Rights Act of 1964. So lets not get the story twisted and make this story into another “Blindside” and pimp slap. The United States government used Jesse Owens and Joe Louis. The real history (the real story) will tell the truth about how the U.S blackmailed Joe Louis to get him to do their bidding.

    And see, my story would somehow include other blacks in Olympic history like the African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving the Black power salute at the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City, and what that was all about. Heck, Ali won a Gold Medal in the 60 Olympics, but the USA striped him of his boxing title when he refused to kill other people of color.

    But let me stop b/c good guy (BBF) Mackie ain’t ready for this story. And btw, I’m going to say this one more time, can’t nobody do my story except Stevie “I ain’t blind” McQueen. Yep, that man is going to pull back the blinders and serve it up raw and uncut.

  • Idol-Maker | September 29, 2011 2:16 AMReply

    It could really be a quality film if done for cable. If it were to go theatrical, Mackie would likely get squeezed out. (Actually, ol' boy from The Great Debaters could be good in that part as well). But if the egos of those involved can't accept making a GREAT cable piece, as opposed to a likely under-funded theatrical one, then this may never see the light of the day.

    Unless you somehow combine it with a Joe Louis bio over the '36 Olympics as well. Spike could actually pull it off. But again, his ego might not agree to a cable presentation. He'd better make up wit' Tyler P. and beg him to play the Brown Bomber, lol.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | September 29, 2011 2:00 AMReply

    If I were making the film, I'd begin with a sweeping, epic sequence detailing his wins in the '36 O-Games (imagine a Hans Zimmer score, a la "Gladiator.")

    From there, I'd chart his hero's rise and tragic fall, like "Ali" minus The Rumble in the Jungle at the end.

    So I guess I'd do it like Tambay, except I'd just start the film with the blitzkrieg (pun intended) of the Games -- sights, sounds... Hitler holding court like the emperor Nero. Sword-and-sandal, almost.

    Director: Split between Michael Mann and Clint Eastwood (sorry, Spike!)

  • Vanessa Martinez | September 29, 2011 1:25 AMReply


    yeah I think the birth to death biopic approach has been overdone; it's really "tired" at this point.

    It looks like the project may actually concentrate on the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin at least, well, hopefully, maybe; I'm just going on what he emphasized on the interview.

    Hopefully all the media coverage will get the attention of some talented filmmakers willing to invest on this, maybe even Paul Greengrass! :-)

  • tambay | September 29, 2011 1:12 AMReply

    He's been talking about trying to get this made for awhile now, so I won't hold my breath...

    If it happens, it'll likely be independently-financed, given that Mackie's star is essentially still on the rise and I'm not sure how well a Jesse Owens biopic would play to audiences at this point.

    Depends on how it's done. A straight birth-to-death biopic wouldn't be the best idea; instead I'd focus on that singular event that he's most remembered for and really dig into it, maybe even treating it like some gritty suspense movie - the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, where he won the 4 gold medals and negated Hitler's intentions, focusing on the events leading up to the Olympics, then the Olympics, and the aftermath. The end.

    I nominate Paul Greengrass to direct.

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