The film “Battle of the Sexes” is not due out until Sept. 22, but Billie Jean King already has seen it and gave it her stamp of approval.
“They did a great job,” she said on Thursday before a news conference at the National Tennis Center to promote the New York Empire’s World Team Tennis season.
The movie is the latest look back at her straight-sets victory over Bobby Riggs in 1973, this time with Emma Stone portraying King and Steve Carell as Riggs. Holly Hunter played King in a 2001 TV movie.
King said Stone visited her before filming. King gave the actress, a tennis novice, some on-court tips. “She’s a quick study,” King said.
The two even have become texting buddies. “I know she’ll be a friend now forever,” King said.
It was Stone who informed King of the recent controversial comments about gays by Margaret Court, whom Riggs beat easily before losing to King.
King met most of the actors at a cast party in Los Angeles recently and was impressed by how humble they seemed, in addition to admiring their acting skill – Stone’s in particular.
“There’s one part that’s almost eerie, that’s just scary,” she said. “When we announced the match, Bobby and I, over at Town Tennis Club [in Manhattan], we’re sitting there and I’m to his right and he’s to my left and I heard her speak and it was so weird.
“It was almost like hearing myself. She nailed it, is what I’m saying. She got it right. She’s got the gift, and Steve Carell has got the gift. They’re all gifted actors . . . We had the cast party and I go, ‘None of you looks the same [as in the film].’ They did a great job. Everybody was so good-looking and handsome. I’m like, oh, my God, they all look so great.”
King recalled the pressure she felt before the Riggs match.
“I kept sweating over if I lost, imagine what the rest of my life would have been like?” she said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to help [promote] equality. It just would have changed the whole dynamic for me.”
King still bristles over the theory Riggs threw the match in her favor. She said Jerry Perenchino, who promoted the event and who died last month, told her that was false.
“He told me, ‘When he beat you we were going to Chris Evert for a million dollars, winner take all. I had all these endorsements and opportunities lined up for him. We had a whole game plan for Bobby. When you beat him that put the kibosh on everything. Everything stopped.’
“I didn’t know that,” King said. “I’m glad I didn’t know it, because he was one of my heroes. That’s why I beat him: Because I respected him.”