|Browse by Sport
|Find us on
September 9, 2017
New York, NY, USA
A Press Conference With:
Cast of 'Battle of the Sexes' Movie
Billie Jean King
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Hi. Chris Widmaier, managing director of communications for USTA. Pleasure to have you guys here today.
I'd like to especially welcome from the movie the 'Battle of the Sexes', the directors and many of the cast members. The directors, of course, joining us today, Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris; the stars of the show, Alan Cumming -- I'll save the one in the middle for last -- Emma Stone, Elisabeth Shue and Austin Stowell and of course the inimitable Billie Jean King.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Before we go to questions, tonight in front of the women's singles championship we will be having a special ceremony on the court honoring Billie for the 50th anniversary of her first win at the U.S. Nationals and obviously ultimately with the US Open, four-time champion here among her 39 Grand Slam titles.
Just so people know, Sara Bareilles, who was originally announced as the performer, has come down with an illness and is being replaced by Sydney James Harcourt of 'Hamilton' fame.
The movie will be released in September. You will hear more details from Gary on that. Before we get to questioning, Billie, your thoughts on your 50th anniversary, this movie, just being here today.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Well, it's really overwhelming. Thank you for being here and thank you to everyone here who had so much to do with the 'Battle of the Sexes'. It's quite something. I hope all of you get a chance to see the movie.
1967 was the last year of amateur tennis, and it was at West Side Tennis Club, and I knew by September when our tournament is that we would be going pro next year, in 1968, and it's something I had fought for and obviously many people fought for to change.
So it was a very exciting year for me, because I was looking -- 1967 was a very exciting year, because I was looking forward to 1968 being finally the way I wanted it, professional. To me, professional meant good, really great, and amateur meant you weren't so good (smiling).
So I was thrilled. I was very fortunate to have great partners like Rosie Casals. It was the first time we had won this tournament together in women's doubles, and in mixed doubles with Owen Davidson, the lefty from Australia, Davis Cupper, whom I adore and still adore and I adore Rosie. I am very fortunate to have stayed friends with them throughout our careers and our lives.
Without them -- they made me really gook good that year. I played Ann Haydon Jones in the finals. I know it was a long first set, 11-9. People keep telling me the scores because I never remember even who I played. I had to look it up. I will be honest. So it was Ann Haydon Jones. 11-9, 6-4. It was a great match.
It was also the first year that Clark Graver and I used the T-2000, the Wilson T-2000 racquet which was a really innovative thing at the time. So that was also an added addition and really a lot of fun to the process.
Anyway, it was a great year. Now look where we are here. It's amazing. We have two American women today. I'm really excited about Madison and Sloane being out there.
Anyway, thank you for being here. I love you.
THE MODERATOR: One course of business. Fox Searchlight will be releasing this film in selected cities on September 22nd and it will be released nationally on September 29th.
Please wait to be recognized. We have a lot of people here. One question. Please try to make it short and direct. No soliloquies. We know who Billie Jean King is. You know everybody on the panel. Everybody saw the original in 1973. Short and direct.
Q. This is for you, Emma. Welcome to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Billie is such a well-known figure, known for that infectious, go-forth quality. She has this feisty determination, which is so special. How did you capture her inflection, and how did you capture that quality of Billie Jean?
EMMA STONE: Well, I could never live up to Billie Jean King. I had to take that off the table. I knew the best I could do was to study her as much as possible and to try to capture her essence more than anything, that spirit that you're talking about, to bring that to life in a realistic way and not do an impression of someone who is truly, as you said, inimitable.
So I think that infectious quality, that quote that Billie Jean says often, "Interesting people are interested." She asks everybody about themselves. She wants to learn about everyone's story. She truly loves people. She is a true humanitarian. I think that that spirit was vital to try to even get the edges of. Yeah, I could never quite live up to "the" Billie Jean.
Q. Billie said she was thrilled with the way you portrayed her, but how difficult was it for you compared to a role like 'Help' or 'La La Land' or whatever, and how different was it and difficult to play that role?
EMMA STONE: Well, it's my first time playing a real person, and that person is, as I said before, Billie Jean King (smiling).
So the pressure of that and wanting to do right by her was definitely immense, but there couldn't be a more supportive person in that circumstance. She's a coach, and immediately when we met she said, You like to dance. Well, the tennis court is my stage. You know what it feels like to be onstage and perform. Those moments you're on the court, everything else is gone, all the struggles of your life, any pain you're going through, anything, is gone. It's just between you, and you just watch the ball.
And that simplification of something that obviously is so complex and difficult was immensely helpful. I just tried to take it one day at a time and genuinely keep my eye on the ball in any moment.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Excellent.
Q. Some of us have known and loved Billie for many, many years. I have to assume that you did not know much about her growing up, or did you? And when did you first hear about her and what did you hear about that match?
EMMA STONE: Well, I had heard many bits about Billie Jean King and about 'Battle of the Sexes' throughout my life, but this is really where the rubber met the road and I had to get into the nitty-gritty details.
I can tell you a lot of details about Billie Jean King. I will tell you that. She can tell you a lot of details about me, too. She asks all the questions.
Yeah, the wonderful thing was that what I got to focus on, and I didn't really realize this in the moment, but when I first met her, I thought, oh, I'll talk to her about everything and get her insight on everything.
After a little bit, it started to become clear that I needed to go to age, early 30s and before, and read those interviews and watch that footage and see what happens before someone has the benefit of all these years of retrospect and understanding of their journey.
So, you know, it's lucky that I am the same age that she was when she was going through this, because I can relate to a lot of the internal confusion and wondering where you're headed next.
So that was, yeah, it was mostly learning a lot, a lot about that specific time period of her life. And then now, of course, much more.
Q. I was wondering, what was your relationship with tennis before shooting the movie? What is it after? Did you used to play? Are you sick of it by now?
EMMA STONE: This is a good question for Elisabeth.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Elisabeth is the crazy one about tennis. She's our tennis player. She is our tennis nut.
EMMA STONE: Very, very good tennis player.
I had played a little bit when I was 12 in the summer, maybe three times (smiling). Then I went on the court with Billie Jean King. She basically threw the ball. I was like a golden retriever, follow the ball, catch the ball, was throwing me the ball, and it really became, you know, a novice. I was practicing as much as possible.
Also, you know, it was incredible to have the doubles that we had in this film. Kaitlyn Christian and Vince Spadea were amazing. That was really, you know, comforting to know I could focus on the details, how she bounced her ball or the beginning of her serve or her backhand and could really try to perfect moments rather than become the No. 1 role player.
But you should have...
ELISABETH SHUE: I couldn't have done it either. Nobody can be No. 1 in the world. Nobody can portray that but you.
BILLIE JEAN KING: You love tennis.
ELISABETH SHUE: I do love tennis.
BILLIE JEAN KING: She plays every day. I'm so jealous. I'm envious.
ELISABETH SHUE: Talk about your physicality.
EMMA STONE: No, no.
BILLIE JEAN KING: She pumped up. Girly man, girly man. She pumped. She worked out so hard.
VALERIE FARIS: And she'd do push-ups on the set. She was worried her arms were getting a little too small.
BILLIE JEAN KING: She was pumping it. Pump it up.
Q. Billie Jean is known for your fight for equality and for equal pay. In Hollywood, do you think that's still an issue, especially with directorial opportunity?
EMMA STONE: Valerie?
VALERIE FARIS: You mean women directors? We're still, like, I don't know, a seventh of the directing -- you know, working directors. Yeah, I think, you know, hopefully things like this help change it, but it's an ongoing battle. We need to support women directors. There are a lot of great ones out there.
You know, I think it's -- they are making great movies, so it's just a matter of just trying to support them in what we do.
That's what impressed us about Billie Jean. In her field where she had a voice, she made a difference, and I think that's what we're all trying to do, as well, with the voice that we have.
Q. The two directors, what was it about this story that really drew you to want to make it? Because you obviously have lots of stories come your way and there are lots of opportunities.
JONATHAN DAYTON: Well, we both remembered the original match, but what really drew us to this project was the more we learned about Billie Jean's personal life during this period. And just that, you know, you can be this important public figure, but we all need to know the details of what it's really like to be on the ground and, you know, how courageous Billie Jean was in every aspect of her life.
VALERIE FARIS: And knowing that she was under so much pressure during this period, that was what kind of shocked us, was to learn during that time, leading up to the match, all that she was dealing with personally, and then at the same time, you know, starting the Women's Tennis Association and doing all of that and sticking to it and not giving up. Just an incredible message and story.
Q. I understand Howard Cosell was -- you didn't hire an actor to play Howard Cosell. I remember him being a key part of that telecast.
JONATHAN DAYTON: That was really important to us. You saw him portrayed in movies, but it's always this dissonance between great Howard and then some imitator.
So we approached his estate and asked them if they would allow us to use his image and his voice. And so we really used that. We shaped the match to work with his commentary. Everything you hear is the real Howard, what he said, you know.
It's quite telling. I mean, he was a relatively progressive guy, but in that time, he said some things that today seem a little shocking.
VALERIE FARIS: Like she's walking more like a male than a female.
BILLIE JEAN KING: He talked about my looks when I was coming out. Literally didn't talk about one thing about my accomplishments, not one thing. I'm like, Really? I never looked at the tape of that match until about 25 or 30 years later.
So when I saw that, I went, gulp, I went, Seriously? I mean, come on. Whoever is being brought out, talk about what they have done with their lives besides, oh, if they'd cut their hair and take their glasses off, they can be in Hollywood. Seriously?
I mean, that was so revealing of the time and what we are dealing with in a daily way. I had no idea he said that until 25 years later. Thank God. (Laughter.)
It was ridiculous.
Q. Alan, you played Ted Tinling who is a beloved figure to some of us. How difficult was it -- you obviously never met him; you didn't know him. But how did you research the great Ted Tinling?
ALAN CUMMING: Well, YouTube is a great thing, of course. It was actually quite fascinating to see these videos of him presenting his designs and everything. Gave me an understanding of the way that fashion in tennis was perceived in those days.
You know, I spoke to Billie Jean and Elena about him. It was actually great to sort of take someone, and you have a certain side of them that is probably a little hackneyed and a little sort of cliched in terms of the stuff that's on YouTube and to humanize them.
Within the structure of the film, he's kind of this sort of support to Billie Jean about that side of her life that she's struggling with. It was really lovely to take a two-dimensional person and make them into three-dimensional.
Q. Having seen the film the other day, would you say it's not really just a tennis film?
BILLIE JEAN KING: It's not just a tennis film.
Q. It's a film about social consciousness of that period?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Absolutely. It's about what the match was about. It was about social change. It was about what was going on then and at least where I wanted life to go.
The wonderful thing about the movie, one thing I did ask Jonathan and Valerie, could you at least put the Original 9 in there. I thought the way they put them in was just amazing. They were so fun. Rosie was a smartass, as usual. Natalie Morales has done a great job. Rosie got a text from her. She's so excited. She's going to meet her in LA. It's so sweet.
And I think getting Ted in it and just, you know, getting Larry -- I mean, look at Austin. I mean, Jesus. (Laughter.) All you have to do is look at him every day, and I thought -- you know, and then you get to Bobby Riggs, how Steve Carell was so accurate with him, so authentic, the many layers of Bobby Riggs.
Bobby just wasn't this guy. You see the back story of Bobby and really understand his personal life so much better, the challenges he was going through. You see my challenges. You see Larry's challenges and Priscilla who is Elisabeth, Bobby's wife. You did an amazing job.
It's not just a tennis movie, no. It's really about social change. It was also inner struggles that we all go through. Me obviously with my sexuality and Bobby trying to cling on to his marriage and having gambling problems.
But there is a lot of humor in it, too which is great. There was a wonderful balance. I think every actor here and the other ones that aren't here, Jonathan and Valerie and everyone, Simon Beaufoy, the writer, who is also an Academy Award winner with 'Slumdog'.
What a great team. I love team sports. So, for me, this was just perfect. I got to meet almost everyone now. They're like family. They are just wonderful people, but they just did such a great job on this.
They really captured the essence of the time. Emma captured what I was feeling so well. I mean, it's frightening that somebody can do that. It was really eerie, actually.
I'm just excited for everyone. I hope this movie is relevant. I hope it helps younger people to know the story, but more importantly, what are we going to do with now and the future? I hope it will help everyone in some way.
I hope if even one more person becomes comfortable in their own skin from this, then that's also really going to be helpful so we can all be our authentic self. It really speaks loudly to that.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports