Play­ing ten­nis icon Mar­garet Court in her new film, Jes­sica McNamee re­veals her im­mense ad­mi­ra­tion for the sports star – and her very dif­fer­ent so­cial views. By Cushla Chauhan.


Play­ing ten­nis icon Mar­garet Court, Jes­sica McNamee re­veals her ad­mi­ra­tion for the sports star – and her very dif­fer­ent so­cial views.

It was fun to play this role and a de­par­ture for me, be­cause I’m usu­ally play­ing some­one quite like­able and happy-go-lucky,” says Jes­sica McNamee of be­ing cast as leg­endary Aus­tralian ten­nis player Mar­garet Court in Bat­tle of the Sexes.

“I’m from quite a ten­nis-mad fam­ily,” she adds. “Mar­garet was one of my mum’s idols and my grand­mother loved watch­ing her play, so I knew a lot about her. On top of that, Va­lerie [Faris] and Jonathan [Day­ton], the di­rec­tors, are amaz­ing, so when I knew they were at the helm and that Emma [Stone] and Steve [Carell] were at­tached, I was like: ‘This is not an op­por­tu­nity I can pass up!’”

Hav­ing just spent 18 months shoot­ing four films back to back, the LAbased ac­tress is elated to be back home in Syd­ney, but will soon be re­turn­ing to the States for the Bat­tle of the Sexes pro­mo­tional roll­out.

The film is based on the true story of the 1973 ten­nis match be­tween US ten­nis greats Bil­lie Jean King (Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Carell), and ex­plores the bla­tant sex­ism that pre­vailed at the time as well as King’s own sex­ual awak­en­ing. McNamee plays a young Mar­garet Court, who wasn’t on par­tic­u­larly friendly terms with King and her team­mates dur­ing this pe­riod; Court caused a me­dia furore ear­lier this year fol­low­ing her com­ments de­nounc­ing gay mar­riage.

“We shot be­fore all the drama of her com­ing out against mar­riage equal­ity, but even then we were very con­scious of not mak­ing her look too vil­lain­ous,” re­veals McNamee, who nev­er­the­less had to bring an aloof and dis­ap­prov­ing de­meanour to her char­ac­ter.

Al­though a strong ad­vo­cate of mar­riage equal­ity, McNamee be­lieves that Court’s suc­cess as an ath­lete stands as dis­tinct from her con­ser­va­tive take on mar­riage. When the story broke, how­ever, it was a no-brainer for her to voice her opin­ion, which she did via In­sta­gram, post­ing a pho­to­graph of her­self dressed in char­ac­ter along­side Emma Stone, cap­tioned: ‘This ‘Mar­garet Court’ be­lieves in mar­riage equal­ity …’

That con­tro­versy aside, the 70s style trans­for­ma­tion re­quired of be­ing flung back in time for her part was a high­light of the ex­pe­ri­ence, and pro­vided an in­sight into the ram­pant misog­yny so ap­par­ent at the time. “It’s un­be­liev­able! It was just com­pletely PC to be openly sex­ist,” she says, her beau­ti­ful green eyes widen­ing.

The cast formed a tight-knit group dur­ing pro­duc­tion, and after film­ing met for lunch with Bil­lie Jean King her­self, who was im­pressed with how on point the movie and por­tray­als were. McNamee laughs re­call­ing her first in­tro­duc­tion to King: “She walked in and was like: ‘I feel like I can’t look at you with­out be­ing an­gry!’ She was jok­ing, of course.”

Win­ning this part in a ma­jor Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion may seem like a life-long dream come true, but as a child grow­ing up in Syd­ney, McNamee never thought about act­ing as a ca­reer, de­spite her im­mer­sion into the world of mu­si­cal theatre. “I loved it, but I hadn’t been like: ‘I’m go­ing to be a movie star,” she says. It wasn’t un­til year 12 when an en­cour­ag­ing drama teacher sug­gested she con­sider it pro­fes­sion­ally that she de­cided to de­fer uni­ver­sity and in­stead en­rolled in act­ing classes.

The strug­gle to make it in the in­dus­try, she con­fesses, means the idea of throw­ing it all in is some­thing she has con­tem­plated of­ten over the years. But at 31, she’s now more con­fi­dent in her abil­ity to se­cure reg­u­lar work and eas­ily holds her own next to stars such as Stone and Carell.

Right now though, McNamee is mak­ing the most of her down time by chan­nelling her en­ergy into a per­sonal project. “I’ve been writ­ing a script that I want to make, so I’m heav­ily fo­cused on that,” she says.

She’s also savour­ing this home­com­ing. “I like liv­ing in LA, but I’m at the cross­roads at the minute where I’m lov­ing re­turn­ing to Syd­ney,” she re­flects. “I’ve got fam­ily, lots of nieces and neph­ews, and my part­ner lives here. Some­times that side of work can be tough, but I never want to give it up.” Bat­tle of the Sexes is in cine­mas now.


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