Shanice Banton Talks 'Race' and her role as Ruth Solomon

Shanice Banton Talks 'Race' and her role as Ruth Solomon

Shanice Banton has primarily been seen on television, but she's making her way to the silver screen with her feature film debut Race. The film captures the story of famed track and field athlete Jesse Owens, played by Stephan James, as he travels to Germany to compete in the 1936 Olympic Games. Shanice Banton stars as Ruth Solomon, Jesse's girlfriend and eventual wife, who supports him from back home in the States. We talked with Banton about making the transition from television to film and what she learned playing a real life person on screen. Be sure to also read our exclusive interview with Stephan James about stepping into Jesse Owens' shoes.


Shakefire (SF): This is your first feature length film, right? How has the experience been for you?

Shanice Banton (SB): That is correct, yes. It’s been super amazing. It’s a different experience. I’ve worked a lot in television and short films as well, but being on a film like this is a totally different experience. I really love it, actually. I love the time we were able to take to make it. The director was great. Great set, great cast, great people. So it was a really joyful experience for me.


SF: How did you handle that transition from TV to film?

SB: It was a lot more time. I found in television, especially since you know I did a lot of  Degrassi, it’s fast paced. It’s boom, boom, boom. You got to get it all in half an hour. Then on Race on the set you have a little more time to explore the character and explore the emotion and mood, take time with the set and get to know everything. That was definitely something I appreciated that I was able to experience.


SF: Tell me about playing Ruth. How did playing a real life person help shape your interpretation of the character?

SB: Sometimes I think when people are playing actual characters they get a chance to meet the person if they’re still alive or discuss or meet the family members and stuff like that. I personally wasn’t able to meet or talk to Jesse Owens’ daughters so I had to pull a lot of stuff from my research and speaking with the director to kinda incorporate who Ruth was and find the truth within that and then mesh those two together to really show that performance on screen. It was great. It was a challenge, but it was great!


SF: Have you heard any feedback from them or gotten any word about your performance from the family?

SB: No, I personally haven’t. I haven’t been in contact with them. I know Stephan James has been in contact with them, but I personally haven’t heard anything from them. I actually haven’t seen the film yet so I’m hoping to see it soon.


SF: Do you feel an added pressure since you’re playing a real life person?

SB: Yeah, I think that pressure definitely comes from the audience and the outside viewers. For myself, I didn’t feel much of a pressure. I went in with an open mind and took my work as an actor, all the hard work I’ve been doing over the years, and put all of that into this character. I just hope that everyone enjoys it.



SF: What I found interesting about Ruth and Jesse’s relationship in the film is that it’s mainly a long distance relationship. How was that dynamic on set for you?

SB: I think from Ruth’s point of view it was definitely hard. Having little baby Gloria and having to work at the salon and not having Jesse there, that took a toll on her for sure. Just having to do a lot of that by herself, and Jesse on the other side doing as much as he can sending money over and trying to support as much as he can is really great, but at the end of the day as a woman taking care of all this stuff and still trying to support her husband I think that was really a hard thing for Ruth to go through.


SF: Did you learn any interesting things about Ruth in doing your research for the film?

SB: She was a very caring woman; very caring, very loving. She grew up with a lot religion, church, and stuff like that. Her mother and father were very religious. She kinda had a background of always having a lot of faith and prayer so she was very caring, very warm, very open, and very loving. That in itself are all great characteristics, and I really connected with that aspect of Ruth. I love that she was that sort of person and that I was able to portray that on screen.


SF: What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

SB: I hope that they take away a huge amount of inspiration from the film that they can carry on throughout this year and all of the years to come. And that they can realize that there is so much more history that needs to be learned. As far as myself, I didn’t know much about the Jesse Owens story before I got the audition so I think it’s a great story that people really need to know about. I hope that they’re inspired and I hope that they know that greatness can be achieved regardless of the circumstances around you and that you have to always follow your heart and follow your dreams.


Race opens in theaters nationwide on February 19, 2016.

Matt Rodriguez
Interview by Matt Rodriguez
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