Former female tennis champion Billie Jean King is one of the most influential athletes to ever live.
Her story is the subject of the new film “Battle of the Sexes,” starring Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs, the man who challenged her to a gender-competing tennis match on nationally broadcast television. King’s skillful ability to play the game, in addition to her being a female athlete, helped reshape social feminist conventions.
Attending a press conference for the film, I was lucky enough to ask select cast members and the filmmakers who their most influential female heroes and mentors were. Read their answers below before seeing “Battle of the Sexes” this Friday to see whose influences helped inspire not only their performances and artistry but their perspective and outlook on life.
Steve Carell (Bobby Riggs): His Mother
It was my mom [Harriet Carell]. I got asked a question yesterday, ‘During this period of time, when you were eleven, did the [King vs Riggs] match affect you in terms of your ideas of feminism and chauvinism?’ I said I wasn’t really aware of it because of my mom and her relationship with my dad. There was such equity in their relationship. They were equal breadwinners and equal child raisers. She was a psychiatric nurse so definitely, my mom was the template of empowerment for me.
Elisabeth Shue (Priscilla Wheelan): Her Daughter, Billie Jean King
I have two. The first person who popped into my mind was my 11-year-old daughter, Agnes. She’s so loving towards everyone and very open and very comfortable in her own skin. And to be honest, after going through this experience on this movie, Billie Jean King has become a really important role model for me because I don’t like pressure. I get very anxious. Even just being here makes me have anxiety! But getting to know her and her openness and lovely generosity towards everybody, always wanting to build everybody up and not really worried about herself. I play tennis, and hopefully one day I’m going to be on a tennis court where there’s going to be tense pressure and I’m going to be calm and relaxed.
Valerie Faris (Co-Director): Her Teacher
I had a teacher at UCLA, Shirley Clarke, who was an experimental documentary filmmaker, and she was a total inspiration. There are a lot of [mentors], but she was a good one.
Jonathan Dayton (Co-Director): His Mother
I would have to say, my mother. She was a school teacher, a brilliant person, and she was lucky to have a career but I know at a different time she could have done even more with her life. She was a great mother as well.
Sara Bareilles (Original Song): Billie Jean King, writing partner Jessie Nelson
I have a few as well. Billie Jean King [for one], especially after getting to meet her. That has been such a profound experience. Someone who’s closer in my life is my writing partner Jessie Nelson, who I met writing a musical called “Waitress.” She’s really changed my perspective on what it means to be a woman in business and how to hold each other up and how to root for and enlighten each other along the way. She’s been a great role model and kind of my hero these days.
Eric Christian Olsen (Lornie Kuhle): His Mom
That’s easy. My mom. She’s a non-denominational Chaplin which means you don’t have a specific religion you use for healing. It’s funny because my dad is a professor and he was always the smartest guy in the room until my mom walked into the room, and then she was the smartest person in the room. Watching this movie and as you do research, realizing what she grew up in, and how she turned out to be this incredibly articulate, powerful, loving, and empathetic creature just doubles down on how amazing and inspiring she is.
Nicholas Britell (Orchestrator): His First Piano Teacher
My first piano teacher inspired me a lot. I remember in my first music classes, she would just be playing the piano for the room and I thought that would be pretty cool to [learn how] to do.
Bill Pullman (Jack Kramer): An Artful Bohemian
I think of Gennie DeWeese, an artist from Montana. When I was young, in my twenties, I went to Montana to live there and do theatre for awhile before I got into the business. She was a true bohemian who really lived an artful life. Everything from how she perceived the day was a sort of mirror that I looked into and realized that there was quite a bit of fraud in my bohemian life. Partying, and what not. She really taught me a lot about what it is to be an artist.