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Entertainment Weekly

Fall Movie Preview

How Battle of the Sexes recreated the iconic Riggs-King tennis match

Fox Searchlight

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Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs took to the tennis court in 1973 for an intense duel of sport, spectacle, and gender equality, and now Emma Stone and Steve Carell are bringing that grudge match to the big screen. But even though it has been 44 years, the on-court scenes in Battle of the Sexes look like they’re being broadcast live from the Astrodome.

Because the event was so heavily publicized — an estimated 90 million watched it on ABC — directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) took advantage of all the photos and video footage to make their version as accurate as possible.

“It was a luxury to have the actual event be so well documented,” Dayton says. “We began by cutting down a version of the real thing into what we imagined might be at the end of our movie.”

The since-demolished Los Angeles Memorial sports arena stood in for the Astrodome, and the filmmakers set out to recreate everything from specific points scored in the match to costumes, right down to the ’70s-era underwear. (They even got permission from Howard Cosell’s estate to use his original commentary.)

“It reinforces the spectacle of it and the pressure that they were under,” Faris explains. “You don’t really get a private moment with them during the match.”

That attention to detail also extended to the actors. Stone studied details like King’s unique tennis grip and her smile, while Carell grew his own mutton-chops and dyed his hair the exact same Clairol shade as Riggs. Having never portrayed a real person before, Stone immersed herself in old interviews and match footage.

“I was a real creep,” Stone admits with a laugh. “I still am a little bit. If we do an interview [together] or we’re sitting and talking, I find myself just staring at her and watching how she’s moving—which I don’t need to do anymore. But that’s how I relate to her. I’m like her creepy friend now.”

Battle of the Sexes will hit theaters Sept. 22.