Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to her hometown on Sunday for the New York premiere of “On the Basis of Sex,” a biopic starring Felicity Jones tells the Supreme Court justice’s origin story. The 85-year-old Brooklynite received a standing ovation when she entered the Walter Reade Theater — a testament to the Notorious RBG’s rock-star status.
Ginsburg gave two mandates at the project’s outset: Get the law right, and get Marty right. For Armie Hammer, who plays Ginsburg’s late husband, that meant literally taking a page out of Marty’s book (cookbook, that is) and whipping up a meal for the rest of the cast.
“His recipes were written very much in his voice, so they were funny, they were witty, they were exact, and they were very detail-oriented,” Hammer told Variety on the red carpet. “The care that he took with his cooking also replicated the care that he took with his legal practice — and, in terms of his family, how good of a parent and a husband he wanted to be.”
So, is he on Marty’s level when it comes to the culinary arts? “I would like to think so, but I can tell you conclusively, no, I am not!”
Despite that, his time with Marty’s recipes paid off. He even got the coveted Ruth Bader Ginsburg seal of approved.
“Did you notice the scene in which he is in the kitchen chopping vegetables?” Ginsburg asked the crowd (which included surprise guest Hillary Clinton) during a panel after the screening. “That was very, very reminiscent of Marty.” (As the justice tells it, her first comment on meeting Hammer was that he was “rather taller than Marty,” to which he replied, “And you’re rather shorter than Felicity Jones.”)
Jones also earned Ginsburg’s praise for her performance. “The most remarkable thing,” the justice said, “is to hear Felicity Jones, who speaks the Queen’s English, sound very much like she was born and bred in Brooklyn.”
The “Rogue One” star, for her part, found the role daunting but impossible to refuse. “It’s definitely intimidating at first, playing someone who’s that deeply beloved, but I had such enormous respect for her,” she told Variety. “She’s someone who managed to completely change the system for the better and was considered a total outsider. She had obstacles against her the entire way, and she gives us such hope that change is possible”
When Daniel Stiepleman first set out to write the screenplay, he didn’t know it would be about someone who loomed so large in the culture — he was just trying to tell the story of his aunt.
“When I started this in 2011, it was pre-Notorious RBG, pre-Citizens United, so I thought I was writing the movie that was going to introduce the country to Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” he told Variety. “And it’s funny, in a way, I’m doing that even more so now. There’s a version of her that exists in the zeitgeist, and it’s kind of right, but it’s also kind of wrong. I think the big difference is in the zeitgeist she’s a superhero. If she’s a superhero, she has superpowers, and if she has superpowers, that means the rest of us can’t accomplish what she accomplished. But really, she’s a woman. And she’s a woman who did incredible things.”
Director Mimi Leder sees her subject the same way. “’On the Basis of Sex’ is an origin story, but Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not a superhero,” she said. “She’s a woman who, like countless generations of women before her and since, withstood the subtle slights and overt discrimination of the culture around her. She’s a woman who changed that culture with her intelligence, her eloquence, and the support of a good man, Marty Ginsburg.”
Leder hopes the film will inspire audiences to “use your voice, big or small, to change the things that are unjust and fight the good fight.” For her, that lesson feels more urgent than ever. “We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.”