It's easy to say that, in her new movie, Emma Stone trades in her "La La Land" tap shoes for tennis sneakers. But "Battle of the Sexes" is about much more than tennis and a specific match between a man and a woman. It's a film about gender equity, equal pay and the struggle to be your authentic self.
In the film, Stone plays Billie Jean King, who in 1973 was one of the top women's tennis players in the world, and she advocated for women players to be paid the same prize money as men. She had been challenged to a match by the 55-year old retired tennis champ, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell), a provocative showman and chauvinist with a gambling addiction who was determined to prove that a woman’s place was in the bedroom or the kitchen — not the tennis court.
What Stone learned from Billie Jean King's story for the film:
I wanted to know as much as possible about her story, definitely. It was helpful for me to really try and key into her in that exact time period, rather than the kind of circumspection that she has now, where she has 40-ish years distance from that time period and her life. So it was amazing to watch interviews or read articles of her back then, the way she was presenting herself, the sound of her voice back then, which is different than it is now ... I could feel a lot of changes within her from then to now.
What Billie Jean King taught Stone about acting:
One of the greatest things she did as a good coach — which she is — is right when I met her, she said, What do you like to do the most? I said, I like to act, I like to read, I like to dance. She said, Well, this is dancing. That's all this is. This is my stage, the court is my stage, I am a performer, and that's what I'm feeling the entire time so we relate completely on that.
And that was really kind of an amazing insight right away. And then reading "Pressure is a Privilege" and anything she wrote about visualization ... It was fascinating to do scenes and realize that two people in a scene are kind of like two people on a court hitting the ball back and forth ... It was very useful for the process of actually playing her to use the visualization that she used on the court. I just tried to apply as many as her principles into my life as myself, and obviously as playing her, and it was massively helpful.
On gender equality today:
In sports, I think that there has been a lot of great forward movement. In tennis, certainly, thanks in huge part to Billie Jean. In other industries, across the board, obviously there's not pay equality, so it's just a fight that is continuing on and on and on. And hopefully this will not be a conversation we have to have for much longer.
On what modern audiences can take from this film:
These are the shoulders on which we stand. Someone like Billie Jean is such a huge part of our country's history and LGBTQ history and there's just so much that she's done. It's just an honor to tell that story and to introduce it to a generation like mine. My generation was not around for this match and has heard of Billie Jean, but maybe doesn't understand the extent of this fight. And I think its really important to know who has come before us to get us to where we are today and hopefully galvanize within us now.
To hear John Horn's full interview with Emma Stone, click on the player above.