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Emma Stone made her first trip to the Telluride Film Festival last year in support of Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land,” which helped put her on a trajectory that ended with a best actress Oscar in her hands on Hollywood’s big night. She returned to the Colorado ski village last weekend with “Battle of the Sexes,” Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ new film centered on the 1973 tennis showdown between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
Stone arguably tops her Oscar-winning turn with a performance that allows her to play even more notes. She is tasked with portraying a strong-willed feminist sports icon internally coming to grips with her homosexuality in a blinding public light. It’s an even taller order with King around to have a take on Stone’s depiction.
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“I had never played a real person before so to be playing someone like Billie Jean, who is around and very much alive and still an icon, it was a lot,” Stone says. “I realized as much as I want to be best friends with this woman, it would be a disservice to me and to her, ultimately, because I can’t sit in the position of wanting to please her on a daily basis. And I was actually pretty distant from [who she is] now throughout the process, in terms of articles and things that she’s done now. It helped me to not have the 40-plus years of perspective that she has now and just dig in to who she was at age 29.”
Critics have pointed out that the film plays as a sort of fantasy of last year’s election, with an iron lady trouncing a chauvinist showman. As well, there’s commentary to be made of King and Riggs’ battle of the sexes reflected in today’s gender equality zeitgeist.
“We shot the movie at the beginning of 2016, so we saw Hillary and Trump,” Stone says. “But it’s so nice to watch a movie or to read a [script] that tells a true story of a very strong and capable woman justifiably and rightly winning a match against a man who is a bit buffoonish and a little cartoonish. I don’t know what parallels people will pick up to all of that but it definitely does feel good.”
The actress is just six months removed from her Oscar win, which came on a night that ended in chaos as “La La Land” was accidentally named best picture of the year in front of 30 million people. “Moonlight” was the actual winner, and the very live course-correction instantly became an Oscar moment that will live in infamy.
“I think as much as the team on our film would have loved and celebrated winning that, ‘Moonlight’ was such an incredible and beautiful and vivid film,” Stone says. “The thing at the end of the day is I wish they would have gotten the opportunity to just go up right away and have their moment. But I think we were all really excited for that film.”
For more, including working with auteur Yorgos Lanthimos and 10 years of her breakthrough film “Superbad,” listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.
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