Iconic tennis history comes alive
IT’S HARD TO MAKE A GOOD TENNIS MOVIE, which is why the best ones aren’t just about the sport, but what’s happening off the court. “We wanted to make this because of the stories that existed behind the scenes,” says Jonathan Dayton ( Little Miss Sunshine), one half of the directing duo (with his wife Valerie Faris) behind Battle of the Sexes.
The film, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, is a loose retelling of the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King, a closeted lesbian competing at the top of her game, and Bobby Riggs, a chauvinist Wimbledon champ playing past his prime, who set the spectacle up in part to help finance his gambling addiction.
In real life, King clobbered Riggs in three straight sets, but, as Faris tells it, “the victory wasn’t so black and white.”
“What was really interesting to us was that at the end of the match Billie Jean did not look triumphant,” she says. “What she was fighting for in her personal life and her professional life had a long way to go.”
To play such a nuanced role, Faris and Dayton tracked down a pre-Oscarwinning Emma Stone, who jumped into the role shortly after filming La La Land. It was a smart choice, because, much like King, the Hollywood actress has become an outspoken feminist, especially in regards to equal pay and sexism in Hollywood, since stepping into the spotlight.
“I think it’s only in recent years she’s felt comfortable speaking out,” Dayton says.
“I think it’s been kind of a good thing for her to feel what is it like to go out there and really fight for change,” Faris adds. “She got to walk in Billie Jean’s shoes and then now hopefully continue on her own.”
“What she was fighting for in her personal life and her professional life had a long way to go.”