Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to Emma Stone during the past few years knows she’s on fire. Fresh off her Oscar win for “La La Land”, her next venture “Battle of the Sexes” is only bigger and better.
There are few times in one’s life where they get to speak to legends that have dominated in most fields, but the “Battle of the Sexes” press conference brought such people together under the same roof. In preparation for the film’s premiere today, The Knockturnal sat in on a panel with tennis legend and film inspiration Billie Jean King, Emma Stone, Alan Cumming, Austin Stowell, Andrea Riseborough, Elizabeth Shue, Natalie Morales, and Jessica Mcnamee.
Being Stone’s first biopic, she spoke to preparing to play a real person.
“I don’t think it was really a decision, so much as I had never played a real person before, much less someone like Billie Jean. And so I wasn’t sure what my process was going to need to be. So when I met her, she was so wonderful, and Ilana, her partner, they where so welcoming to me and Billie Jean made it very clear early on that she would be open to whatever process we kind of needed to go through in order to bring this whole thing to fruition and so we through some balls around in the tennis court and then I kind of quickly realized that I wanted to watch a lot of footage from her in the time period and read a lot about her then because she is so fully formed now and is able to talk about all this with closure and hindsight and a lot of you know, she could see it more clearly than she might have been able to at age 29, so I ended up just doing a lot of research on her, just in that very specific time frame.”
According to King herself, she could not have asked for a better representative than Stone and the rest of the cast.
“I thought Emma portrayed it 100% right. I did not have an opportunity, but that is exactly how I felt. She captured it better than I could have even. It was so touching when I saw that, so authentic to what was in my heart at the time…I must tell you this cast, if you are talking in sports terms, they’re really an amazing team. They’re really good to each other. It’s been an unbelievable experience,” said King.
And the team backing up Stone was one of fire. One particularly interesting dynamic was the one between her and Austin Stonewall who played her dutiful husband and best friend Larry. Stonewall spoke to how he personally approached their untraditional “marriage”.
“Well, the way that I just approached it from the very beginning was love. That this was somebody that Larry saw, Billie Jean as a strong powerful woman, with a message, and a statement, that she wanted to get out into the world. And he was willing to sacrifice himself, and allow her to deliver that message to the world, and just give her all the tools that she needed to do so. But at the end of the day, I think that it was a relationship built on selflessness, and it was never… it was about the message, that the message was more important than the marriage.”
One member of team Billie Jean that never seemed to stand with the rest was Margret Court, played by Jessica McNamee. McNamee had the challenging task of playing the defeated anti-feminist in the group, something that was somewhat of the norm in the 1970’s, yet blatantly out of place among this crowd in 2017.
“I mean, I think she’s (Court) still out of step, so, it was interesting, it was fun. I didn’t get to know the girls as much, all the nine, there was a real separation as you are, in terms of filming, and I was always kind of separated from all that…I mean we are aware that she’s come out recently and kind of still has the same beliefs and same attitude. It was kind of timely for me, it was fun to portray her in that life. I was worried that maybe I was gonna appear kind of villainous in the film but I think we did her justice,” McNamee commented.
Court is a vast contrast to Natalie Morales’ character Rosie Casals, tennis champion and female sports commentator for King’s matchup against Riggs. Morales’ reflected back on the broadcast footage that the film was able to rip directly from archives for use.
“Well, the original footage is exactly that. He is somehow choking Rosie from the back. And we always think of Howard Cosell as this famed commentator, but it was really was with Mohammed Ali that he got his thing, he never really did tennis. So, Rosie is this, you know Grand Slam champion, one of the most winning tennis players of all-time, very qualified to commentate on this match, and he introduces her like, ‘Hey! It’s little Rosie Casals!’ Like oh my God! He grabs her by the neck, and it’s just, very telling of the times. But the way we did that, is sort of fascinating, it’s a split screen obviously, so its real Howard and me acting with nobody and listening to the footage, and it had to be at the perfect time so that it would make sense with the conversation…I would be listening to Rosie’s audio, and just perfectly match it throughout that whole entire match so it would all work. And it was really sort of fascinating,” reflected Morales.
Although it’s unclear how big his character was in the real-life version of the Billie Jean King story, Cumming’s character of uniform stylist Ted Tingling is one that captivates the audience throughout the film.
“Well I think that the role that Ted has in the film by kind of being this sort of fairy godfather to Billie Jean is something that I feel very strongly about and think is a really important role to play in society as well as in the plot of this film,” said Cumming, “I personally find that I have a healthier, more sane life, I think most people do, if they are able to be who they are and not have to hide or lie or pretend to be something they are not. So that is something that I always encourage people to do, but also it’s a personal choice and sometimes people take a little while to get there. And also yes there are constrictions in Hollywood, people want to put you into boxes, make you a certain way, down with it I say!”
Billie Jean King also spoke at length about 21st Century Fox’s decision to donate 0.79 cents of every ticket sold opening weekend to the Women’s Sports Foundation as a representation of the $0.79 (white) women make for every $1.00 made by a male counterpart.
“I just want to thank 21st Century Fox for doing this, and I must tell you working with Fox Searchlight has been an absolute such joy…I think women should only work 79% of the year. We have to work until like April of the next year, to be equal to what the guy made the year before, so something has to stop and something has to start…Sometimes you never know how you are gonna touch another person’s life or how they are gonna touch yours. As you go through life, it’s important to pay attention, and now this is one of those moments…You really just want to make things better for everyone, so it’s really a tightrope – we are always on a tightrope. We are trying to get everybody’s hearts and minds to match up, cause you don’t want to alienate, once you alienate they all go away. So it’s very very difficult, and you always want to do everything behind the scenes first, don’t go to the media unless its an absolute last resort, because its not fun you guys, its not fun. You just want everybody to do the right thing.”
Contribute by buying your ticket to “Battle of the Sexes” opening in theatres nationwide Friday, September 22.