The infamous 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King came at a time when women were demanding more equality, especially in the world of tennis. The new film Battle of the Sexes explores those themes, along with shedding a poignant light on King and Riggs’ personal life.

At the recent press conference, Emma Stone and Billie Jean King talked about the movie, its significance and how the tennis icon changed perceptions.

On portraying Billie Jean King:

Emma Stone: I don’t think it was really a decision so much as I had never really played a real person before, much less someone like Billie Jean, so I wasn’t sure what my process was going to need to be. So, when I met her, she was so wonderful and she and her partner, Ilana [Kloss], were so welcoming to me. Billie Jean made it clear early on that she would be open to whatever process we needed to go through in order to bring this whole thing to fruition, so we threw some balls around on a tennis court and I quickly realized that I wanted to watch a lot of footage of her from the time period and read a lot about her, because she is so fully formed now and is able to talk about this with closure and hindsight. She can 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 in that very specific time frame.

On the physicality of the role:

Stone: It was amazing. I’d never played an athlete before and I’d never been athletic before, really. I had danced obviously and things like that and that’s athletic but in a different way than a weightlifting tennis player. So, the beginning of the process was pretty brutal but then you get into a place that’s so amazing and you start to understand the mind of someone who is strong enough to execute whatever it is they want to execute. I want to put the ball over there, I can do it. I have the strength. I want to lift this up, I can do it.

I have these 60-pound food bags for my dogs and I was (lifting them up and saying) “I got it.” It was the most empowering feeling I thought Billie Jean is a social activist. She was always wired for social change from a young age when everyone was white, the gloves were white, the balls were white, everything, and she realized that from the very beginning but she also realized she was great at tennis and this was going to be an amazing platform for her. She could be the best to change the world.

So, physicality is everything we do with that. If you have the strength to be the best in tennis, you can change the world so that was an amazing place to get to; to understand that physical strength equals strength out in our country or in the conversation to further equality. I know that sounds a little crazy for me to say that, but I did start to put those pieces together and it was super empowering. It felt so good.

On perfecting those mad tennis skills:

Stone: I had never played tennis. I’m not particularly good at tennis. I did a lot of lessons but I also had an incredible professional double named Kaitlyn Christian, who was phenomenal and I had an amazing coach, Vince Spadea, and a great trainer that was bulking me up so I was surrounded by great people. And I had Billie Jean throwing balls at me and letting me mirror her and figure out all the details. I was surrounded by a team of massive support when it came to that element because so much of the story is about her personal journey and personal struggle but if this had been the Billie Jean tennis movie, I never would have gotten the part… Early on we could gauge these shots would be like this or we’re going to learn the choreography of this. They can do a lot now; there’s a lot of magic out there. You’ve seem these superhero movies. So, we kind of figured out as we were going the choreography of it and that made it possible.

On the emotional moment when Billie Jean privately breaks down in tears after defeating Bobby Riggs:

Stone: I was thinking about that moment in all other scenes of the film because she has such strength and because she holds it together and it’s all just right under the surface for most of the film. That sort of breaking point, you get to earn that moment of finally seeing everything that’s been happening under the surface the whole time because she was on four hours of sleep every night and all of this was going on with Marilyn and with Larry. All of that, you can’t sit in the overwhelm of that and, in that moment, after winning, it was pivotal to me as an actor to know this is where we were building to.

Billie Jean King: I thought Emma absolutely portrayed it 100 percent right. I did not have an opportunity [to have a cathartic cry] but that’s exactly how I felt. She captured it better than I could have even imagined. It was so touching when I saw it. It was so authentic about what was in my heart at the time.

On King’s ex-husband Larry King and his part in changing women’s tennis:

King: Larry and I always talked about changing the tennis world from the ‘60’s. It was at the Cal State L.A. library where we first started talking about how we wanted to change tennis so he and I were very much in it together, which really did show how he stayed connected and there is a scene there where we are forming the Women’s Tennis Association, and Larry has these papers sitting on the desk, which is in the movie. That was very important to me because those were the bylaws. He was a lawyer so he was able to get the bylaws ready before we had that meeting so we could elect the officers and actually have an association and have it ready to go. You can get together and say “Oh yeah. We’re going to do something,” and then we have to get everybody back together again to elect the officers and write up bylaws. Larry did that all before we had that happening and that made a huge difference so we were very much in it together.

On why it’s harder for male athletes to come out:

King: I can tell you, just in general, whenever we were playing, the women were always asked about their sexuality, but the men never were. Right there, it’s more secretive. We don’t have to keep facing the barrage of questions, and it’s the last bastion of machismo. It just scares the death out of the guys because of how they’re going to be treated by their fellow players. That’s really important because, like with actors, that’s our family. When you see them together, they’re connected by their profession, so just being your authentic self is really difficult when it’s so shame-based, and it still is. That’s why it’s important to embrace everyone because you want everyone to be their unique self.

On how 21st Century Fox will donate 79 cents of every ticket sale for The Battle of the Sexes to the Women’s Sports Foundation:

King: It’s very meaningful. I want to thank 21st Century Fox for doing that. Working for Fox Searchlight has been an absolute joy. Also, I think women should only work 79 percent of the year. We have to work until April to receive equal pay with the guys. So, something has to stop, and something has to start.

On King helping the cause for pay equality for actresses:

King: I have to understand it totally—how they do box office etcetera. Once I understand it I might have an idea. You never know how you will touch another person’s life and how they’ll touch yours as you go through life and it’s important to pay attention. This is one of those moments. I know I’ve been thinking quite a bit about it but I don’t know it well enough. The [actresses] understand it. They live it— the men and the woman—so I’d like to listen to them first and then it might be interesting to pursue.

Stone: [smiling] We can talk about it privately, and go to the media later.

King: You don’t want to disrupt anything. You want to just make things better for everyone so it’s a tightrope. We’re always on a tightrope because we’re always trying to get everybody’s hearts and minds to match up because once you alienate, they go away. It’s a very, very difficult thing and you always try to do everything you can behind the scenes first and don’t go to the media unless it’s an absolute last resort because it’s not fun. It’s just not fun. You just want to do the right thing.

Battle of the Sexes is playing theaters this Friday.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+