Now playing in select theaters, with a wide release scheduled for this Friday, “Battle of the Sexes” has certainly made its mark as a film of strength and courage.
In conjunction with the growing momentum of female empowerment, 21st Century Fox donated $0.79 for every ticket sold during the film’s opening weekend to the Women’s Sports Foundation. The sports biography details the infamous and legendary tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. King, always a social activist, was determined to change the world views through tennis and it’s clear how far reaching her impact has had on her peers, fellow athletes, and society as a whole. We talked to King, as well as Bill Pullman, Eric Christian Olsen, Sara Bareilles, Elisabeth Shue, and Nicholas Britell about their experience working on “Battle of the Sexes.”
Billie Jean King considers this a blessing
Billie Jean King: To me, everything that happens is a blessing. Holly Hunter did the TV movie [“When Billie Beat Bobby”]… but I never thought [there would be] a movie movie! People would come to us about it over the years, but this one was perfect… I must tell you if we’re talking sports terms, this cast is an amazing team. They’re really good to each other and it’s been an unbelievable experience.
Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs smile during a news conference in New York to publicize their upcoming match at the Houston Astrodome, July 11, 1973. (AP Photo)
George Foreman bet on Billie Jean to beat Bobby
Billie Jean King: It was incredible [watching Sloane Stephens win the U.S. Open and $3.7 million]. And she’s a woman of color. That’s one of the things we were trying to do- did you notice in “Battle of the Sexes” how ‘white’ everything is? I think we had two people of color in the audience, Jim Brown, the NFL football player and Geroge Foreman, the great boxer. George bet on me and of course, I knew Jim would vote for Bobby. George actually ended up being a security guard, we had no security guards in those days.
An obituary humanized the friendly misogynist, Jack Kramer
Bill Pullman (Jack Kramer): He was such an institutional man. He has a book called The Game: My 40 Years in Tennis (Bobby has a book called Tennis is my Racket). He was the #1 player [in the sport], his obituary is full of great praise and how he lit up the room whenever he walked in.
The secret to Priscilla’s endless patience with Bobby
Elisabeth Shue (Priscilla Wheelan): Steve’s portrayal of Bobby was so human and ultimately so complicated and what I loved about him was his sheer desperation to be liked. Priscilla recognized how vulnerable he was and that allowed her to really love him and want to take care of him.
Steve Carell and Eric Christian Olsen in the film BATTLE OF THE SEXES. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved
Playing a Bobby Riggs wingman requires short-shorts
Eric Christian Olsen (Lornie Kuhle): I get a lot of Instagram comments about the short shorts. That’s really going to help at the box office between Steve’s sideburns and my short shorts. Lornie Kuhle is a big part of the movie, he was there when we filmed a lot of the scenes. He’s 73 years old now, he’s amazing. I played him one day at lunch and he beat the crap out of me. I got like, 1 point out of him. He hustled me for $20. He’s a remarkable man and I wanted to make sure I captured some of that cool swagger that he has in this relationship that dates back so far. Working with Steve, I’ve been a huge fan for 20 years so I was just excited to show up for work.
Billie Jean’s other passion is dancing
Billie Jean King: My parents danced a lot so I loved dancing. I love ballet, modern dance, hip-hop, everything. It’s all about movement, I love how you shape time and space [by dancing]. But I think tennis came easier to me than dancing. I never pursued [dancing] but I think it would’ve been fun.
Uncovering similar qualities of characters in family members
Elisabeth Shue: I think my mom was pretty similar to Priscilla in that she was trapped in her circumstances because of the way society saw her. She never had a career, never had those aspirations. Priscilla never had a dream of her own, and I felt that really strongly.
Theme Song: “If I Dare”
Using her own voice to build a wall of female vocals
Sara Bareilles (Composer, Theme music “If I Dare”): Well, it’s cheaper than hiring background singers. I wanted something that felt innately feminine but also strong and powerful. It was so cool to be building off of Nick’s score. There was something really melodic and lyrical about the music anyway. And then you have Billie Jean as an inspiration. I wanted to speak to her spirit and her fire.
This is the only thing harder than scoring an award-winning Grammy album or a film
Sara Bareilles (Composer, Theme music “If I Dare”): They’re challenging in different ways. This is my first experience with a film project. What I think is the most challenging but also the most rewarding is a musical because of the collaborative effort that’s required. You’re trying to make so many people happy. Writing music for an album is very insular. The musical was also harder because there were more songs. In order, it goes the musical, the film, the record.
(From L-R): Natalie Morales, Ashley Weingold, Bridey Elliott, Martha MacIsaac, Emma Stone and Mickey Summer in the film BATTLE OF THE SEXES. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved
Getting the vintage vibe with this piece of musical equipment
Nicholas Britell (Conductor, Orchestrator): When you’re doing something that’s set in 1973, you want to figure out a way to approach that in a fresh and unique way without being overtly 70s. All the orchestra sessions were recorded with vintage microphones. I’d also apply analog tape to some of the recordings just to give it a subconscious feeling of the era. One of the first ideas I had was to write classical music but played it on 70s rock band instruments. The sound evolved from there.
This is the most important takeaway from “Battle of the Sexes”
Nicholas Britell (Conductor, orchestrator): A feeling of empowerment is something that I take away from it. For me, movies are all about the feelings that are generated which you get to live with for that two-hour period.
Bill Pullman (Jack Kramer): That sense of generosity of spirit, which was so much a part of Billie Jean.