Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti are about to hit the courts. The actors have signed on to play tennis legends Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in an upcoming HBO film that will chronicle the duo’s famous 1973 match, often dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, both Banks and Giamatti are in negotiations with the premium cable network to star in the developing project, although no deals have been closed just yet. The still-untitled movie will reportedly center on the pivotal match in which the then 29-year-old King defeated former Wimbledon Champion Riggs.
At the time, Riggs was 55 years old and had just beat Margaret Court in another “Battle of the Sexes” match. King initially declined his invitation to play, but reconsidered after Riggs began putting down Court and other female players. About 100 million people ended up tuning into the revolutionary gender showdown, which became a major feminist moment after King’s win.
“I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match,” King once memorably said to ESPN of the match. “It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self esteem.”
In addition to starring in the film, THR reports that Banks is expected to executive produce via her Brownstone Productions. Actor Tom Hanks and producing partner Gary Goetzman will also executive produce via their Playtone Entertainment banner. Meanwhile, playwright David Auburn (Proof, The Lake House) will reportedly pen the script for the upcoming film.
This isn’t the first time that King’s legendary encounter with Riggs has been brought to screen. The match was previously dramatized in the 2001 TV movie When Billie Beat Bobby, starring Holly Hunter and Ron Silver. Last year, directors James Erskine and Zara Hayes also created a documentary about the famed face-off between the two athletes.
Now, Hollywood has expressed newfound interest in their story. HBO’s project with Banks and Giammati is actually one of two upcoming movies centering on the “Battle of the Sexes” match. Will Ferrell is also set to play Riggs in the feature film Match Maker. It has been described as “sports-themed comedic drama” based on the ESPN Magazine article “The Match Maker: Bobby Riggs, The Mafia and The Battle of the Sexes.” Since no release date for either project has been confirmed yet, it’s unclear which of the movies will premiere first.
For HBO, the developing film seems to fit right in line with the feminist theme that the channel has been exploring lately. Aside from the Briggs and Riggs-focused project, the network also recently green lit the George Clooney-produced miniseries Ms., starring Marisa Tomei and based on the real-life story of social and political activist Gloria Steinem.
The film will also re-team Banks and Giamatti, who previously starred together in Fred Claus and have only recently come off another collaboration, the Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy. Both actors have a busy year ahead. Giamatti is starring in the action-adventure film San Andreas and the biographical drama Straight Outta Compton. Meanwhile, Banks is set to appear in Pitch Perfect 2 (which she also produced and directed), Magic Mike XXL, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.
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