Billie Jean King really wants Emma Stone to win (another) Oscar for 'Battle of the Sexes'

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Tennis icon Billie Jean King with Emma Stone, who plays King in 'Battle of the Sexes.' They attended the U.S. Open together on Sept. 9.

NEW YORK — Emma Stone had just finished shooting her old-school movie musical La La Land when she met the person she planned to portray in her next film, the first time in her career she would play a real person.

Billie Jean King said hello to Stone, then blurted out the first thing that came into her mind: “I want you to win an Academy Award with this.”
The iconic tennis player and women’s rights advocate had the right idea but her timing, it turns out, was just a bit off. Little did King or Stone know when they met nearly two years ago that by the time Stone’s portrayal of King in Battle of the Sexes hits theaters this Friday (in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, San Francisco and Washington; expands nationwide Sept. 29) she already would have won that best actress Oscar for La La Land.

Steve Carell and Emma Stone as Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in 'Battle of the Sexes,' which re-creates their famous 1973 tennis match at the Houston Astrodome.

Now, though, in retelling the story, Stone can’t help but laugh out loud at King’s boldness.
“No pressure, by the way, this is the first thing she said to me,” says Stone, delightedly needling King while sitting by her side during a recent interview at the U.S. Open tennis tournament.  “First thing she says!” 
“(It’s) what I wanted for you,” King, 73, replies.

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Wish granted. Stone, 28, brings her newfound status as the highest-paid actress in Hollywood to her compelling portrayal of King, who came to terms with her sexuality while preparing for her historic 1973 battle with male chauvinist Bobby Riggs (played by Steve Carell).

There's already Oscar talk around Stone's performance, a role that couldn’t be more different from the struggling, dreaming actress Mia Dolan in La La Land. Yet Stone was able to identify a crucial similarity between the two roles, with King’s help.

The real Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King clown for the cameras weeks before their milestone tennis match.

As she worked out diligently to pack on 15 pounds of lean muscle, Stone also spent time on the tennis court as King threw balls toward her, helping her learn to move like a professional tennis player.

“The nice thing was that early on, Billie Jean said, ‘You like to dance. The court is my stage. That is where I perform,’ ” Stone says. “That was what was so great. Working on footwork was probably simpler for me than doing the things I needed to learn to do with the racket.” 

Emma Stone won a best actress Oscar earlier this year for her performance in 'La La Land.' Could she be nominated again for her role as Billie Jean King in 'Battle of the Sexes'?

Not long after meeting King, though, Stone decided she needed to shut herself off from her until the movie was completed so she could focus on immersing herself in the much-younger King, who was 29 when she played Riggs.

“I had to learn about her in that time period without all the benefit of the 40 years that have passed since,” Stone says.

And what has she learned about her own life after winning the Oscar?

“It’s such an honor and an incredible experience to have, but it really feels like a great night and then back to the same goals and outlook I’ve had,” she says. “Your dreams sort of rise with you. Things happen that are unimaginable at the beginning and then of course your dreams change or your goals change to meet the circumstances you find yourself in.

“So it’s just sort of business as usual, I guess.”

Brennan co-wrote 'Pressure Is A Privilege: Lessons I've Learned From Life and the Battle of the Sexes,' Billie Jean King’s self-help book published in 2008. She had no involvement in the movie.


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