‘Battle of the Sexes’ film has connections to Nevada County
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, whose work has been nominated for multiple awards, have another film to hit theatres locally Friday, called, “Battle of the Sexes,” starring Steve Carell and Emma Stone.
The film, which has connections to Nevada County in more ways than one, tells the story of Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs and their tennis match that rocked the world.
HOW IT STARTED
“We got the script a couple of years ago and we knew Hillary Clinton would be running against a man in the election and we knew it was the right time to tell this story,” said Dayton who grew up in Grass Valley. “We remember the event when we were kids but we had no idea what was going on between Billie Jean and Bobby.”
When the two directors were set to cast they already had Steve Carell, who starred in their award winning film “Little Miss Sunshine,” in mind to play Bobby Riggs and were hoping Emma Stone was available for the role of Billie Jean King.
“Emma was interested and Steve was one of the first people we thought of when we started on this. We knew we wanted to work with Steve again and when we talked to him we could feel his interest in the story,” said Faris. “With Emma we just sat down with her and she really got the story and was interested in the role.
“There was a little bit of delay with Emma though because she had ‘La La Land’ to do.”
The other huge role of the film was Billie Jean’s husband Larry King, who also happens to live in Grass Valley, played by Austin Stowell.
“I grew up in Grass Valley, and I heard that Larry lived there too so I had to get in touch with him,” said Dayton.
Larry and Billie Jean were married in 1965 and spent 22 years together.
Larry was a pivotal role in orchestrating the match that would change the world of sports forever.
The “Battle of the Sexes” as the match is known between King and Riggs, was a historical moment for tennis and culture.
During that time women’s tennis had taken a rather dark turn and the equality of the sport was becoming unhinged at the professional level.
Men were getting paid a higher purse than the women on the professional circuit, but the issues talked about in the film go beyond that.
“Most people born after 1980 have no idea why Billie Jean’s famous,” said Larry King. “The reason she’s still famous is her impact on our culture.”
Women’s sports were under attack at the time and many were against a women’s professional circuit.
“There was a Spanish tennis player that said, ‘he’d rather watch cows graze than watch women play tennis.’ Those were the times,” said Larry.
The big proverbial tip of the iceberg was Jack Kramer, who started the Association of Tennis Professionals in the ’50s. Kramer tried to prevent Billie Jean and eight other women from competing on the professional level.
Larry said, because of this injustice towards women and women’s sports, he felt compelled to get involved.
“Jack Kramer was responsible for getting nine women blackballed in tennis,” said Larry. “And he didn’t like the fact that we went around him and he did everything he could to make sure they wouldn’t play professionally. It didn’t work.”
Besides the tennis match itself, the movie has two storylines that drive the film.
One being the Jack Kramer trying to edge out Billie Jean and other female tennis players, and the other follows the personal lives of both King and Riggs.
“We talk about the battle within and the battle outside,” said Dayton. “Women’s equality and fair treatment and then the battle with Billie Jean’s private life.”
“We went behind the headlines for Bobby too, to go into his personal life,” said Faris. “And we really wanted to tell a moving love story for Billie Jean. There’s a scene with Billie Jean getting her hair cut by Marilyn Barnett that we hope shows that.”
While telling Billie Jean’s story the film doesn’t leave out Riggs.
Riggs himself was a known showman and was trying to get back into the spotlight during that time.
“Bobby Riggs was a world champion in 1936 and he was old news at this point,” said Larry. “His whole standpoint was to be back in the spotlight and he enjoyed the hell out of it.”
“Battle of the Sexes” has already hit theatres nationwide, but you can see it locally at Sierra Cinemas starting Friday night.
What will make this showing particularly special is that Larry will be participating in a Q&A after the 7 p.m. showtime.
“That’s so great that Larry will be a part of that,” said Dayton. “We hope that audiences will enjoy the movie and everyone from the Grass Valley/Nevada City community come to support this.”