Fem­i­nist causes a ‘rac­quet’

1970s gen­der de­bate heats up be­tween ri­vals on ten­nis court

The Coffs Coast Advocate - - LIFE SCREENLIFE - Seanna Cronin

CO­ME­DIAN Sarah Sil­ver­man takes a more se­ri­ous turn in her new film, Bat­tle of the Sexes.

She stars op­po­site Emma Stone and Steve Carell in the bi­o­graph­i­cal drama, which chron­i­cles the true story of the 1973 ten­nis match be­tween world number one Bil­lie Jean King (Stone) and ex-champ and se­rial hus­tler Bobby Riggs (Carell).

In this Q&A, the self-con­fessed ten­nis fan talks about play­ing Gla­dys Held­man, a no-non­sense pi­o­neer of the sport.

Q: How did you get in­volved with the film?

A: (The di­rec­tors) Jonathan and Va­lerie liked the idea of me play­ing Gla­dys. It’s a great story and as rel­e­vant to­day as ever. Also, I look amaz­ing in ’70s clothes!

Q: Can you ex­plain the premise of the film from your per­spec­tive and Bil­lie Jean’s jour­ney?

A: Bil­lie Jean didn’t set out to be a fem­i­nist icon, she be­came one by be­ing un­de­ni­ably great in her field and de­mand­ing equal­ity. When Bil­lie Jean and Gla­dys got to­gether and re­alised that the US Lawn Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion was pay­ing women one-eighth of what men were be­ing paid, even though they would sell the same amount of tick­ets, they told them to shove it – which was quite brave. Gla­dys and Bil­lie Jean stood up to them and took a chance. Gla­dys se­cured Vir­ginia Slims spon­sor­ship for a women’s tour and their own cham­pi­onship, with fair pay.

Q: While the women were fight­ing for equal­ity, Bobby Riggs was try­ing to put the clock back, wasn’t he?

A: Yes, at this time Bobby Riggs was a washed-up ten­nis star and com­pul­sive gam­bler who ex­ploited this mo­ment by chal­leng­ing Bil­lie Jean King – the best player there was – to a match. Bobby Riggs had been a big ten­nis star be­fore Bil­lie Jean’s time. He was a cocky, male chau­vin­ist pig and a clown, who was also a very good ten­nis player. Bil­lie Jean was loathe to in­dulge in the match, be­cause of the risk of mak­ing her beloved ten­nis into a sideshow, but she saw the im­por­tance of play­ing and she took the risk.

Q: Are you a ten­nis fan?

A: I love ten­nis and I’ve played my whole life. I re­mem­ber see­ing Rosie Casals in Bos­ton, so it was very cool to have scenes in the film with that char­ac­ter (played by Natalie Mo­rales).

Q: Can you dis­cuss your char­ac­ter, Gla­dys, and what you learned about her?

A: Gla­dys Held­man was deeply in­volved in the ten­nis com­mu­nity; she played ten­nis her­self in her 20s and 30s. Ten­nis was her life and her pas­sion and she was a very ‘no non­sense’ woman, she didn’t like things that weren’t fair. She was also a big per­son­al­ity – a pis­tol. And she al­ways car­ried a gun in her purse! She was some­one who sim­ply didn’t fol­low the tra­di­tional idea of ‘a woman’s place’ that so­ci­ety had pounded into ev­ery­one around her. She was a force to be reck­oned with and she was as un­ac­cept­ing of in­equal­ity in 1972 as any mil­len­nial is to­day (and that is in part be­cause of Gla­dys Held­man’s in­flu­ence). I was able to meet her daugh­ter, Julie, one of the Orig­i­nal Nine, which was re­ally help­ful.

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