Playing an Olympic runner in a film won’t be that much of a stretch for Alexi Pappas.
She herself is an Olympic runner, having competed in the 10,000m race at the 2016 Rio Games. She is a NCAA All-American athlete, and a Greek 10k record holder. On the acting side, she’s attended Upright Citizen’s Brigade and Second City Improv.
Pappas wrote, directed and starred in “Tracktown,” in theaters May 12, about an Olympic hopeful training for the biggest race of her life, when an injury forces her to take a day off only to face challenges off the track. Many members of the cast are also real Olympic athletes.
We caught up with Pappas before the release of her film:
So Olympic runner, Ivy League graduate, Improv, Actress, and Filmmaker … is there anything you’re bad at?
It sounds like a lot, but the truth is, I’ve found that having different outlets for my time and energy to be extremely positive. Just focusing on one thing wouldn’t work as well for me. You can’t train 24 hours a day! The key is making sure each activity is synergistic and feels like it’s enhancing everything else. If it feels like a positive experience to eat a post-long-run meal while editing film, it will be a positive experience.
This film feels like a passion project. How long have you wanted to tell this story?
I have wanted to tell this story since I first experienced Eugene, Oregon during the 2012 Olympic Trials! Jeremy Teicher (my co-writer/director) and I knew we wanted to make a movie that could both capture my experience as a female elite athlete and speak to the challenges of chasing a dream … and so, “Tracktown” was born.
What was the process like in casting the other roles?
Casting was a really unique experience because, on the one hand, we went through a traditional route of auditioning professional actors for many of the main roles. But for the runners in the film, we recruited actual elite runners (including many Olympians and teammates of mine). It was so important to us to keep the authenticity of the world, which meant that the runners should really be able to run!
Sometimes feature films take liberties with details. How realistic is this story and the struggles the viewers see of an athlete trying to qualify for the Olympics?
Everyone’s journey to the Olympics is unique, but our main character is someone whose journey could have happened in real life. But also, the little details of the story: the protein powder, the naps, the altitude tent — all of those details come from a real place. I knew we made something special when I saw packs of young runners at our film premiere say, “this movie felt like it was made for me.”
What part of the film process did you enjoy most? Directing, writing, acting?
I enjoy acting the most. I find that is where I feel like my most vulnerable and greatest self. I also enjoyed the process of getting into a role, which I learned (from an acting coach) is a lot like warming up for a workout or race! It was very cool to see the parallels between these two seemingly different things.
Your Twitter profile picture is retrorific, especially the yellow Sony Walkman! What’s on your playlist as you run?
Ha! Thank you. That picture is from the Runner’s World Magazine 50th Anniversary cover shoot (from November ’16). My playlist is full of Lorde, Beach House, MIA, and as of late, podcasts have been my jam.
Recently, Twitter live streamed a marathon event called #Breaking2, where runners attempted to break the 2-hour marathon barrier. What were your thoughts on that attempt?
I watched the Breaking 2 event live (online) and was amazed by the effort — the attention to detail was incredible and seeing how close to the barrier they got was beyond impressive. It’s thrilling to see how the sport is progressing and where it will go from here. For me, the marathon distance is one I’ve yet to tackle! To see athletes chasing barriers like this makes me excited for what is ahead.
Last question, I’m training for a marathon and I find myself extremely bored while running. Any advice?
Find company! I always find that having a friend there is the best way to pass the time. If you can’t find a friend, I think creating routes that involve ‘tasks’ is the best. For example, I might run by the local bread store on my way home from a run. It gives me things to look forward to. I also think establishing a ‘practice time’ — the moment you will leave the front door — is so key.
Learn more about the film: http://tracktownmovie.com/
Follow Alexi Pappas on Twitter: @AlexiPappas