Carell: Bobby Riggs was just a showman

Emma Stone, left, and Steve Carell in a scene from "Battle of the Sexes." The story of the early days of the tour and King's fight for equal prize money is chronicled in the movie, which opened nationwide on Friday. (Melinda Sue Gordon/Fox Searchlight Pictures via AP, File)

Emma Stone, left, and Steve Carell in a scene from "Battle of the Sexes." The story of the early days of the tour and King's fight for equal prize money is chronicled in the movie, which opened nationwide on Friday. (Melinda Sue Gordon/Fox Searchlight Pictures via AP, File)

"Battle of the Sexes" star Steve Carell believes that feminist Billie Jean King's male tennis nemesis Bobby Riggs was neither a chauvinist nor a pig - just a showman. (Oct. 2)

Related story

In 'Battle of the Sexes,' King passes a baton to Emma Stone

photo

Emma Stone, from left, tennis great Billie Jean King and Steve Carell arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of "Battle of the Sexes" in Los Angeles. Stone portrays King in the film. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

TORONTO (AP) — Walking through the tunnel to Arthur Ashe Stadium alongside Billie Jean King, Emma Stone gasped at the size of the U.S. Open's main court.

King, of course, was more familiar with the grounds of the tennis center — it's named after her, after all. But as accustomed as Stone is to the spotlight, her playing fields are usually private film sets or more intimate television show audiences. In making "Battle of the Sexes," a new film about King's infamous 1973 showdown with Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), Stone was often both awed and a little jealous of the stages on which King crusaded for sport and for women's rights. (King helped win equal prize money for women at the U.S. Open that same year.)

In tennis, the lines are clear, the scoreboard is final and a landmark victory against sexism could go down in straight sets.

photo

Steve Carell, left, and Emma Stone in a scene from "Battle of the Sexes." (Melinda Sue Gordon/Fox Searchlight Pictures via AP)

"It's just such a longer conversation in the movie industry," Stone said in an interview shortly after watching the women's finals with King earlier this month, which saw Sloane Stephens capture the trophy. "When I look at a tennis match, whoever wins at the end, the prize money should be equal. There are so many moving parts in how that comes to pass on a film to film basis. But of course things need to be changed."

"Battle of the Sexes," which Fox Searchlight will release Friday, is in some ways a time-traveling experience back to the 1970s and the chauvinism of another era. But the film, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, also seems very much of today, coming less than a year after a bruising presidential election often fought over gender lines. And King's fight for pay equality — she helped launch the female-only Virginia Slims tennis circuit after objecting to the disparity between male and female prize money — also has clear reverberations for Hollywood's own issues in compensating men and women equally.