Battle of the Sexes, actress Jessica McNamee’s new film, is the true story of the infamous 1973 tennis match between the world’s No.1 female player, Billie Jean King, and ex-champion and proud male chauvinist Bobby Riggs, who made headlines bragging that “women’s tennis is so far beneath men’s tennis.”
If you don’t know what happened, we won’t ruin it for you. But this much we can say: In the film, McNamee plays Australian tennis legend-turned-pastor Margaret Court, aka “the Arm,” a 24-time Grand Slam winner after whom the Australian Open stadium in Melbourne is named. And, man, has she stirred up some shit lately.
We called McNamee, 31, at her home in Bondi, Australia, to ask how she feels about the Court controversy, why her next co-star is a giant shark, and which Hemsworth she likes best.
What did you have to do to turn yourself into Margaret Court?
First, I had to wear a ridiculous wig, which was hilarious. And we all had to learn an older style of tennis. I have a double [two-handed] backhand in my game, but I had to play without it. And the old wooden rackets—so hard to use.
How was it, working with Emma Stone [Billie Jean King] and Steve Carell [Bobby Riggs]?
Great—so crazy and surreal. They’re two of the most down-to-earth actors of that caliber I’ve ever worked with. Sitting in the makeup trailers when we were transforming into our 1970s selves, we had some great laughs.
Are you a big tennis fan?
It’s my favorite sport. We all grew up with it. At this year’s Australian Open, I even got to sit on the court—like literally on the court, you’re like three feet away from the line—to watch Roger Federer. I could have definitely gotten a racket in the teeth.
Court has made some controversial comments lately, saying tennis is “full of lesbians” and transgender kids are of “the devil”. There’s even been talk of stripping her name off the stadium. Your thoughts?
Well, in terms of changing the name, she’s still arguably the best tennis player of all time, so I think she deserves to keep her name up there.
But you don’t share her beliefs?
No, mine are very different. I have a lot of gay and lesbian friends, and it’s insane we still don’t have marriage equality here. I can’t wait for that day.
Is it true that in your next picture, you star with…a giant shark?
It is! The film is Meg, and I play a submarine driver exploring the ocean depths who’s confronted with this giant prehistoric Megalodon shark. We shot in New Zealand for four months—it was freezing cold.
Jason Statham’s your “other” co-star. He seems very intense. Is he?
He is, but he’s also just a really funny English dude. He’s very professional—takes his job very seriously. But he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
When you’re at home, do you live a really clean, healthy life?
I do, yup. You never know when you’re gonna get that call and have to be running on a beach in a string bikini the next day. That’s my worst nightmare.
No crazy diet-breaking splurges?
Oh, yeah. My guilty pleasures are really carby. I’ll have a whole cheese plate, a bottle of wine, and I’m done.
You’re an Aussie, so let me ask something really stereotypical: You hang out with the Hemsworths?
Ha. I’ve met a couple of them, but no. It wouldn’t be a bad day if I had to, but…
If you had to choose just one, which would it be?
Oh, man. I don’t know, that’s a tough one.
So we’ll call it a tie.
Yeah, a triple tie. Or what about their dad? Yeah, I’m gonna choose their dad!