The M Interview: Comedian Jason Sudeikis is happy to be serious
Hollywood's funnyman Jason Sudeikis does drama in new film Race
US funnyman Jason Sudeikis made his bones on US sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live for 10 years as a writer and cast member, playing detestable characters with an everyman appeal.
After following his mentor Tina Fey to TV show 30 Rock, where he played her love interest, he started showing up in supporting roles in big-screen comedies like What Happens In Vegas and Going The Distance.
Then Horrible Bosses came along in 2011 and cemented his bankability.
But Sudeikis' latest movie, Race, is shockingly not a comedy but a sports biopic that gives him the rare opportunity to flex his dramatic muscle.
Opening here tomorrow, Race is about sporting legend Jesse Owens - played by Canadian newcomer Stephan James - at age 19.
It tells of Owens' journey to becoming a track and field star and how he competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, a time when the Nazis were in power.
Owens won gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.
Sudeikis, 40, plays coach Larry Snyder, who discovered Owens' talent at Ohio State University and was with the athlete every step of the way.
It's a shame how in the then racially-segregated US, Owens' greatness was unacknowledged by the government and he struggled to make a living after the Olympics.
At the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, Sudeikis talked about Race with pride, happy to be part of an important story that is being told by Hollywood for the first time.
He said his reaction to the script was immediate.
"I was like, 'Wow, I get to wear a fedora and speak towards racism without pontificating. My dad is going to love this movie'."
Owens' daughters - Marlene, Gloria and Beverly - who followed the project closely, even went to Berlin to watch the filming.
"We went to a soccer game together in the stadium that has an entire lounge area and floor dedicated to their father, which was a profound experience," said Sudeikis.
"I was holding my little boy (Otis, two) and (US actress-wife) Olivia (Wilde) was there with me. There we were, with Jesse's daughters.
"What he accomplished in that exact stadium was insane."
HAPPY FAMILY: Jason Sudeikis and wife, actress Olivia Wilde PHOTO: AFP
The Olympiastadion Berlin was used to shoot a scene between Hitler's devoted associate and German politician Joseph Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat) and Owens.
"We filmed it at the exact spot where it happened," said Sudeikis.
"Hitler's box had been removed many years ago, so we had to rebuild it.
"The stadium stayed open for tours and the people working there didn't announce the filming to the public. When we were rebuilding the box, people were like, 'What's going on? Is there something we need to know?'
"When you are in the presence of people in Nazi uniforms or sporting the swastika, it's powerful in the most humbling yet disgusting way."
There wasn't much known about coach Snyder, which according to Sudeikis was "a blessing for me because I wasn't charged with having to play someone that everybody knew how he looked and sounded".
"I think Stephan was saddled with that burden having to play the icon, but I got to just play one of the people who supported him.
"The greatest gift was a great quote from Jesse himself in an autobiography where he referred to Snyder as an 'accidental non-racist'. 'Him being colour blind didn't mean that he wasn't aware of what was going on, it was just that he just didn't care'.
"I thought that was a funny line and it was oblique enough to allow my creativity to make some assumptions about what that meant.
"I wish we knew more about Snyder. Even his innovations as a coach weren't documented."
In the film, Snyder appears to be a big drinker. So, is Sudeikis the same in real life?
"I have my moments," he said.
"When push comes to shove and if I am not trying to shed a few pounds to look a little better on camera, it's Jack Daniel's on the rocks."
Sudeikis, who enjoys shooting hoops, said he learnt about competing in track and field through his ex-wife, US actress and 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon, who is also a former track athlete.
And he got to meet Jamaican superstar sprinter Usain Bolt.
"We were lucky to have him for a brief time performing with us on Saturday Night Live.
"He is a gentleman and funny with a great sense of humour.
"I am glad that someone of his integrity is carrying on the tradition of that specific sport."