5 Things to Know about Race Star Stephan James

5 Things to Know about Race Star Stephan James
Allen Berezovsky/WireImage

02/19/2016 AT 11:25 PM EST

Stephan James didn't set out to make his first big marks in Hollywood by playing larger-than-life historical figures -- first as John Lewis in 2014's Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma and now as track legend Jesse Owens in Race -- but he's happy to be in the position to do so.

"I feel good about the decisions I've made so far," James, 22, tells PEOPLE. "I've always been into telling great stories. If you look at Selma or Race, to me those are great great stories in the fabric of not only American history but history in general, world history. Why wouldn't I want to tell those stories?" Indeed, why wouldn't he? Here are five more things to know about the up-and-coming Canadian actor:

He spent two seasons on Degrassi: The Next Generation

"It's kind of a rite of passage for Canadian actors. It's fun, it's a great platform and it's exciting. Obviously a lot of people watch that show and are fans of the show, but yeah it's one of those things that a lot of Canadian actors have to go through before they go anywhere."

Learning to run like Jesse Owens required reprogramming his mind and body

"I had to program my body and mind to a very specific style of running, so I had to make sure I was paying attention to the details in how he ran, how he started, how he finished and what his face looked like. Jesse had a terrible habit of popping up right after he started his race and it's something he fixed over time, but I had to learn the wrong way to do it and I had to learn the right way to do it because you had to see both in the film. If you asked me to sprint I'd probably sprint a little bit like him just because I'm so used to running like him."

He knew he wanted to be an actor in high school

"I've been sort of acting my whole life. I've always been into impressions, more so of people in my family and stuff, but I was always into playing characters and being someone outside of myself. When I got into high school I started taking theater really seriously. I've always been sort of shy so I didn't know how people would react or take to me, but I started getting positive reactions from people within the school and I thought I should maybe try to make a film or television. I got representation and started doing small stuff in TV and started making films."

He'd love to play a superhero

“I can't say I've plotted out the next five years or anything like that, I'm looking forward to reading great scripts and telling great stories. I'm not partial to any one thing -- I don't just do historical films, I don't just do black films, period pieces, I want to be able to tell a plethora of stories in different genres whether it's sci-fi, different thrillers, action films. I want to play a superhero one day, those are the things I think about and just having the opportunity to be able to play characters.”

He's pulling for Leo to win an Oscar

"I like Leo honestly, I thought The Revenant was a game changer in film, period. I think it's a remarkable, remarkable film.”

Race is now in theaters.
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