Spadea Serves Stars In 'Battle Of The Sexes'
'Hollywood Vince' discusses role in movie, working with A-List stars
Former Top 20 American Vince Spadea had already managed to parlay success on the tennis court into success in the business world. But his star is truly on the rise after his pivotal role in 'Battle Of The Sexes,' Hollywood's take on the 1973 epic showdown between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
In addition to his role as advisor to Oscar winner Emma Stone, who plays Billie Jean King, and actor/producer Steve Carell, who plays Bobby Riggs, Spadea also doubled as Riggs during on-court scenes. During one such scene, Spadea traded shots with Stone’s stunt double dressed as Riggs one minute, and fed balls to Stone in ball boy attire the next.
“There was a scene where the ball boy wasn't getting the ball toss right; his rhythm was off,” Spadea said. “At Emma's request, I stood in for the shot. “I had to get dressed up as the ball boy and throw her the ball.”
During his lengthy career (1993-2011), Spadea gained attention both on the court - 311 wins, a career-high ranking of 18, the 2004 Scottsdale title, 21 Top 10 wins, including over Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick - and off the court, as one of the game's most colourful personalities. He dabbled in rapping, coining the phrase, 'Spadea, I'm not afraid of ya'. So it should come as little surprise that the 43-year-old now finds himself in Hollywood.
Apart from that, Spadea stuck to his main job: to prepare Stone for her role as King before filming got underway. To do so, Spadea, an 18-year-veteran of the ATP Tour, studied tape of the match in order to pick up the nuances of King's style and game, and to get a feel for the milestone event in general. Stone, who won the Academy Award for “Best Actress in a Leading Role” for her performance in 2016's "La La Land,” was quick to pick up King's mannerisms and overall on-court demeanor.
"I worked with Emma on things like King's walk, where she put her head, rested her racquet during that match," Spadea said. “We also worked on her grip and stroke production: her rotation, stance, swing and follow-through technique.
"It really was an artistic project. Emma was a super-hard worker and a great student. She transitioned into King quickly. You could see the differences from the first week to the fourth, sixth through the eighth, 10th to the 12th. It was great to synchronise [Stone's] body; she doubled as King."
During one of their training sessions, King dropped by to provide feedback and a few pointers.
"King wasn't on set, but we did work together one time before production started," Spadea said. "She demonstrated some technical things; the ball toss, where her eyes were on the ball, her slice [backhand]. She felt [Stone and I] worked well together and was happy with how things were turning out."
Spadea was also instrumental in getting Carell into tennis form. With Spadea also serving as his understudy's stunt double for some on-court scenes, the player paid visits to Carell’s house to iron out match sequences.
"Carell has a lot of confidence and already had a lot of tennis talent before we met," Spadea said. "He was all business and we got along great. We practised lobs, slices, a wide range of shots that we'd use during filming.
"The production team wasn't sure how much of Carell or me they were going to use during the shots of match play, so I had to be Riggs theatrically and work on getting Carell to be Riggs."
Spadea, who credits his success running his talent agency, Vince Models, based in Beverly Hills, as the reason he was hired for the job, wasn't restricted to transforming the actors into their tennis counterparts and a Los Angeles movie set into the Houston Astrodome. In addition, his role as "tennis choreographer/technical advisor" meant he was tasked with replicating the atmosphere and ambiance of the event.
"We paid a lot of attention to detail," Spadea said. "I had some third party counseling, to get the right umpire, the right crowd, the right attire, to make it all look authentic. We had to find the same court surface, the same material that was used during that match, things like that.
"We found some private locations to work on scenes to get the feeling right. We wanted everything to be relevant, from where the umpires were standing to how they were standing."
Besides the aesthetics, the velocity of the game itself has changed over the 40-plus years since the "Battle of the Sexes" showdown. Spadea analysed those aspects to give the on-court action scenes the perfect fit and feel.
"We had to assess how the players hit, served and moved," Spadea said. "How big were their biggest shots? Hardest serves? We had to calibrate all of that. Obviously, we had to slow things down a bit, pull back a little bit, to replicate the times since the movie is set in 1973. Don't get me wrong, Billie Jean hit hard, and Bobby played with some finesse; he was very fast. We had to take all that into account."
In the 40 days Spadea was involved in shooting, work hours often stretched from early morning into the late evening. During that time, the player made friends and enjoyed some lighthearted moments, both on and off the set.
"I mingled with the actors during the shooting and I went to one of Emma's charity events," Spadea said. "It isn't often you get to work with Oscar-winning talent, and my years of experience as a tennis pro was embraced by the Hollywood set.
“I ran into some of the cast at a preview of the movie in Los Angeles. That was interesting. You make a movie and it doesn't come out until a year and a half later, but it was nice to see everyone again."
Vince Spadea in action on set, standing in for actor Steve Carell. Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/FOX Searchlight