Battle Of The Sexes is the true story of the 1973 tennis match between world number one Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). What drew you to make this into a film?
Valerie Faris: It’s both the story of an historic sporting event and of a woman’s private, personal transformation, while under intense public exposure. We were interested in how she was fighting both personal and political battles at the same time.
Jonathan Dayton: It was the most challenging project of our careers. It is at once a sports movie, a love story, a socio-political drama and, at times, a comedy. Forty-four years after the battle, the same issues are clearly still being debated. We were struck by how this circus-like event became a place where important social issues were played out.
Its themes are very relevant today.
VF: This match felt like a precursor to the way politics are working in our country today, how the debate is so often reduced to a game or entertainment. We’re often more caught up in who wins than in what is really at stake. We started work on the project during the 2016 primaries, when it appeared likely we’d see the first woman candidate for president. For a while, everyone thought the film would show how far we’ve come. Obviously the outcome of the election shed a very different light on the story. The world has become even more polarised since we began making the film, and we certainly don’t want to contribute to that – that’s why we chose to focus on the emotional lives of Billie Jean and Bobby.
JD: Our goal was to empathise with all the characters and experience the complexity
of the situation.
The year 1973 seemed like a pivotal moment in history.
JD: It was a time of great upheaval. You had the equal rights amendment, the
Vietnam War, Watergate, and everything seemed to be in question. Then, suddenly, the debate over women’s equality finds a forum in a tennis match between the 29-year-old women’s champion, Billie Jean King, and 55-year-old former champ, Bobby Riggs. As silly as it seemed on the surface, it became a huge deal.
Did making this film cause any friction between you?
JD: Val and I probably fought more on this project than on anything we’ve ever done.
VF: Arguing is always part of our creative process. In the back of our minds I think we were aware of an expectation that I was the spokesperson for women and Jonathan for men. In truth, it’s not a competition. It’s an ongoing dialogue that leads to a shared vision.
What was it like working with Emma Stone?
VF: We’ve wanted to work with Emma for years. She loves a challenge and she really wanted to take this on. We even delayed the start of production so she could have more time to work out. She trained with Matt Damon’s trainer from the Bourne movies. But most importantly, Emma was able to capture Billie Jean’s spirit. Billie Jean is so switched on and interested in everything and everyone around her. Emma’s very much that same way.
JD: We knew we could never raise Emma’s tennis game to Billie Jean’s level, but our hope was to capture King’s physicality. She transformed her body, putting on 15lb of muscle.
And it must have been a dream come true getting Steve Carell involved.
JD: We love Steve’s comic abilities but he’s also such a skilled dramatic actor. We were excited that playing Bobby Riggs would allow audiences to see the full range of his skills in one role. One moment you’re laughing, the next he’s breaking your heart.
VF: Like Emma, Steve felt a great responsibility to do justice to a real person. We all wanted Bobby to be seen as more than just a clown. We weren’t interested in portraying Bobby or anyone as a simple villain, but in truth he was voicing the prevailing attitudes of
Battle Of The Sexes is released on 24 November.