In these inflammatory Donald Trump times, along comes a movie celebrating female empowerment, and this awards season it’s Fox Searchlight’s Battle of the Sexes, which recounts the moments surrounding the famed 1973 tennis match between world No. 1 Billie Jean King and ex-champ Bobby Riggs. The face-off sought to prove that women were equal, if not better, tennis players than men.
There was already an ABC movie made about the showdown, 2001’s When Billie Beat Bobbie, starring Holly Hunter and the late Ron Silver in the title roles, but Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s Battle of the Sexes is so much more than a “He said, She said” comedy as it shows King taking on a sexist establishment. While male tennis players and promoters were earning more during the early ’70s, female tennis players earned less. In the movie, Bill Pullman’s USLTA honcho Jack Kramer has a caveman mentality that men are far superior athletes to women — an attitude that King refused to tolerate. Thus, she established the Women’s Tennis Association with her business partner/publicist Gladys Heldman, who also created the Virginia Slims tournament.
In our Toronto Film Festival conversation above, King describes how the movie came together, while Oscar winner Emma Stone and Oscar nominee Steve Carell, and Sarah Silverman, respectively, describe how they prepared to play their characters King, Riggs, and Heldman.
For Carell, Riggs was all show, and not the chauvinist he promoted himself to be: “He was more than the sum of his parts. What he projected was character essentially and a way of drumming up interest in the match, and in himself. He was a businessman and a self-promoter. So, he kind of took a page from Muhammad Ali’s book and created this persona and definitely tapped into this zeitgeist of women’s lib. I think he saw an ‘in’ and a way to put himself inside of it.”
Battle of the Sexes opens on September 22.