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While most of the historical figures who appear in Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton's Battle of the Sexes are portrayed by actors doing some degree of impression, that can't be said for famed sports announcer Howard Cosell. Rather than finding a performer to mime Cosell's game calling for the match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, the film instead uses archive footage and some CGI wizardry to get the job done, and the results are rather impressive. As I recently learned from the directors, however, the challenge of manipulating Howard Cosell's likeness was nothing compared to getting the likeness rights so that they could use the footage:
The Battle of the Sexes domestic press junket was held in Los Angeles this past weekend, and it was during a sit-down with Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton that I learned how Howard Cosell found his way into the new movie. Curious about the inclusion of the famed broadcaster, I asked about the challenge of bringing that part to life, and they explained that it took an impassioned letter to Cosell's family urging them to lend their legendary relative's legacy to the new film. Clearly this was enough to move the members of the estate, given what we see in the finished cut (if not, they certainly must have some explaining to do).
During the Battle of the Sexes tennis match in 1973, Howard Cosell called the game alongside tennis star Rosemary Casals. Unlike Cosell, Casals is played by an actress in the movie -- specifically Natalie Morales -- which where the digital wizardry became involved. Watching Battle of the Sexes, your brain reminds you that Howard Cosell is definitely dead, but the film still does a good job blending the fiction with the reality.
Jonathan Dayton also spoke to the role that Howard Cosell plays within the larger themes of Battle of the Sexes, specifically the fact that much of his commentary heavily favored Bobby Riggs and dismissed Billie Jean King (which Rosie Casals did her part to course correct in her responses). The director noted that some of what Cosell says during the match may sound sexist, but the reality is that his mindset and what he was saying is perfectly representative with common discourse at the time. Said Dayton,
Battle of the Sexes, which stars Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Elisabeth Shue, and a litany of fantastic character actors, arrives in theaters this Friday, September 22nd. Between now and then stay tuned for more from my interview with Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton!