CFC Alumnus Eli Goree on Portraying ‘Race’ on the Big Screen
By Emily Gagne ● February 19, 2016 11:00
Eli Goree is about to make the leap from well-known TV star to major movie star, thanks in big part to his new role in Race.
The film, which hits theatres nation-wide on February 19, is a definite showcase piece for Goree, who has also had guest parts on TV series Motive and Supernatural and recurring roles on Emily Owens M.D. and The 100 in recent years. You could say the Actors Conservatory alumnus is making history with the role too, as the film follows the story of real-life sports legend Jesse Owens, the famed African American athlete who won big at the 1936 Olympics, where Adolf Hitler’s supremacist beliefs nearly reigned supreme.
We got a chance to catch up with Goree recently and he graciously shared some insights from his time shooting Race, as well as his hopes for how this film will move audiences given the current and passionate campaigns for inclusivity in Hollywood. Read the full Q&A below for all this, as well a preview of all the small screen work he has coming up next.
Tell us about your character in Race and his ties to the film’s historical context.
Eli Goree: His name is Dave Albritton and he was the best friend of Jesse Owens. He also won a silver medal himself and was a high jumper. They both did track at the University of Ohio.
How much did you know about Dave, or Jesse Owens for that matter, before taking this role?
I thought I knew a lot about him because he’s such an important historical figure, especially in the black community. But I actually realized that I didn’t know as much as I thought. Like, he actually went to Ohio State, the Ohio State. And I didn’t realize a lot of things about his personal life.
Your co-star and fellow CFC alum Giacomo Gianniotti recently said that the film’s director was very interested in getting the actors into the headspace of the time period.
What strategies did you use, personally, to get into that period and this place in history?
I didn’t really think about the time period. I thought about the personality of my character.
[Dave] was someone who had to balance out the seriousness that Jesse Owens had, with [Jesse] having the weight of the world, the weight of the black community, on his shoulders. Dave’s role was to really let [Jesse] let loose a little bit and to allow him to have fun, smile and to enjoy the simpler things in life. That’s what I think Dave gave Jesse and I think that’s what the closeness of their bond was, so I just focused on that. I focused on getting close with Stephan, who plays Jesse Owens, and just building that character.
What do you hope that the audience takes away from this film, especially given the heightened discussions of the importance of diversity on screen right now?
I hope that they take away a couple of things. First of all, I hope that they enjoy the story [and] the performances. And that it teaches them something about a person that they might not have known about. Because this is a new generation of athletes and we’re teaching them about the pioneers who broke boundaries.
In terms of politics, I think it’s important to see people of colour on screen. I hope that this reintroduces the issue of giving proper acknowledgment to great performances by artists of colour. Also, as much as it’s important to see them on screen, I think it’s so important to have people of colour behind the scenes directing, producing and in studios because at the end of the day, those are the people who are voting in certain awards shows. Those are the people that are selecting scripts. Those are the people that are doing the casting.
I think this is a great step and it’s important to see [people of colour on screen], but I think we need to see the film industry become comprehensively diverse.
In addition to Race, you’ve got a number of television roles coming up. How do you approach TV acting differently than acting for film?
It’s strictly a time issue. With TV, you have less time with the material, but you have more time to shoot it. With film, you have more time with the material, but you have less time to shoot it. Unless it’s a major film, a big studio film, and then you shoot everything 10 different ways.
In a small dramatic piece like this, you might get two takes or three takes and that’s it. So you need to be sure before you get to set that you have thought about it, that you know what you’re going to try to accomplish, that you have a few things you’re going to try depending on what the other actors are giving you. You want to stay loose and you want to stay free, so you need to be prepared. Whereas with TV, you might get the script—the final script that you’re going to be shooting—the night before. But you’re gonna have five takes on your side and then five takes on their side and then, you know, everyone gets their coverage and they come in for tight [shots] and go in for wide [shots].
You have a lot more freedom in TV. You can go, ‘Well, if I didn’t get it in that take, I can try something new now.’ With film, you really want to be prepared before you go in. I think that’s why you have a lot of these method actors preparing for two years before and doing the same job that their character did for six months. Because when you get to that film set, you really need to be ready.
You’ve got an upcoming role on the show Heartbeat.
Yeah. I have a guest star appearance on Heartbeat. I also just did an episode of D.C.’s Legends of Tomorrow.
But my next major project that’s coming up is a series that just got picked up and is going straight to series for ABC. It’s going to be called Dead of Summer. I’m going to be playing one of the lead roles in that.
It’s a horror show, right?
Yeah, it’s a thriller. A scary kind of thriller set in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s.
Have you started shooting it, or are you still in pre-production?
We’re shooting in March . So pretty much as soon as I get back from the [Race] premiere, we start shooting.
Any other upcoming projects that we should know about?
I’m doing a few different things. I’m starting to promote myself more on social media. I’ve started up an Instagram and Twitter account, so if people are looking for me, they can find me on there. I also do a lot of stand-up in L.A. and Vancouver, so you can see me do my comedy routines as well. And I’m going to a lot of the Oscars festivities, so I’m looking forward to that!
What advice would you give actors—Canadian or otherwise—who are just starting out in the business?
I think one of the main things is that your time is your most valuable commodity, so just be very careful about how you spend it.
I don’t have a problem with people training or studying, but I think that it’s a good idea to try and get your feet wet in the business first. To find out who you are as an artist and find out what your perspective is before you do some training. That’s what I did and it was very beneficial for me. I did some work, realized what I lacked and then I did some training.
A lot of people go to school and then don’t end up doing any of the actual work they studied. They end up teaching or going into something completely different because they didn’t know what it was they were actually doing when they went to school. I think it’s great to get some experience first, whether that’s background or theatre or short films. Just get yourself out there for a year or so and then go and do your training. I think it helps you absorb what you’re learning a lot better in school.
Race hits theatres Friday, February 19. Heartbeat is set to debut on NBC Wednesday, March 23 at 8 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. CT.