Emma Stone is at the point in her career where every job seems like a major new challenge.
Grounded as always, the reigning Best Actress Oscar winner wants to keep that perception in perspective.
“That’s not necessarily true,” says the 28-year-old star of the audaciously single-shot “Birdman,” the singing-and-dancing “La La Land” and, now, the docudrama about the 1973 Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs tennis match, “Battle of the Sexes.” “Some of it is just fun to do, doing different things. But it’s so much fun to be challenged, and it’s been such a great opportunity to have worked on some of these projects. To work with really interesting directors and writers and get to learn new skills, it’s all the cool parts of being an actor.”
Especially if you’ve never played tennis before, which was the case for Stone before she signed on to play King leading up to, and including, one of the most famous (and infamous) court confrontations of all time. The actual event was about much more than tennis, of course. King, who was 29 at the time, was embroiled in efforts to win women equal pay and respect in the male-dominated sport. With feminism rising up on all societal fronts, the 55-year-old retired champ Riggs, played by Steve Carell in the movie, got the bright idea of staging a comeback by making like a chauvinist pig and challenging top female players to exhibition matches.
The King-Riggs battle, at the Houston Astrodome 44 years ago this week, became a media circus that drew some 90 million TV viewers worldwide.
But before she could address any of that – and so much more – Stone had to learn how to play the game. And more, how to at least look like she could play it Billie Jean’s unique way.
“It quickly became about understanding – ha! – basically the whole sport, the grips and all of that, then beyond that it became more choreography based,” Stone, who intensively trained four months for the project, reports. “Obviously, she played tennis with a wooden racquet, and it’s a very specific type of game that Billie Jean played. I had to learn how to move on the court like her, how she served, her backhand and all of that.”
For all the effort she put into it, the typically humble Stone is quick to credit her and Carell’s doubles for a lot of the long shots in the film’s climactic match, which had to resemble many of the actual plays…