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It’s no easy task to tell Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s story. The Supreme Court justice has become an icon in recent years, earning the moniker “Notorious R.B.G.” But her nephew Daniel Stiepleman wanted to tell the story of her rise, before she became a bona fide celebrity.
“I said to her, ‘I really want to write about this case,’ and she said ‘Why that case? […] I had these bigger cases,’ [and I said,] ‘This is the only one you ever did with Uncle Marty. It’s the two of you fighting in court for what you also created at home, which was real equality,’” recalled Stiepleman to The Hollywood Reporter at the New York City premiere of the Ginsburg biopic On the Basis of Sex. “Her response was, ‘If that’s how you think you want to spend your time.’ Maybe she was a little skeptical.”
But now that Ginsburg has become a larger pop culture figure than she was back in 2011, when Stiepleman began working on the screenplay, the film shows a different side to her that not many know about. “Everyone has sort of their own Ruth Bader Ginsburg, right?” he said. “For some people she’s a superhero, and for some people, lest we forget, she’s a demon. But for me, she’s just Aunt Ruth, and I think that’s the crucial thing to remember, that she is not a superhero. She’s a woman who changed the world, but she did with her brain and she did it with her intellect, and she did it with the support of her family and she did it with hard work, and we can all do it if we also have those things.”
The film’s director, Mimi Leder, told THR why she felt her own personal connection to this project. “One of the reasons I took the film was because I really felt a commonality with the story in so much, as we’re both Jewish, we’re both mothers, we both have and had long-standing narratives and both have broken the glass ceiling for other generations in our own way,” she said. “It was extremely important for me to tell her story because I understood it on a very personal level. I know what it’s like to be the only woman in the room, and she certainly does too, in every possible way, and uses her smarts and intellect and her power of persuasion and civility to persuade others.”
The film follows Ginsburg as she faces numerous obstacles at the beginning of her career, unable to find a position at a law firm due to her gender. Ginsburg becomes frustrated with the lack of opportunities available to her but ultimately lands on a groundbreaking tax case that challenges views of gender discrimination. The film may not capture her biggest accomplishments, including joining the Supreme Court, but it’s meant to show how much Ginsburg fought for before becoming the powerful figure she is today.
To Felicity Jones, it meant a lot to portray the trailblazer for women’s rights. “Justice Ginsburg managed to completely change the system, and she did it through her hard work, her determination, her beliefs and her integrity, so I have enormous respect for her on every level,” Jones said.
Armie Hammer, who plays Ginsburg’s late husband Martin “Marty” Ginsburg, spoke about what makes the Supreme Court justice so admirable to him. “She recognized a problem and an issue and used her brain to make a difference. She was able to convince people who disagreed with her, as opposed to treating them like an enemy, and she was able to change the landscape of the world that we live in. She’s a wonderful example for anyone who recognizes an issue in the world that they want to change.”
Hammer mentioned in a previous interview that Ginsburg seemed very happy with him being cast as her late husband. He assured THR that this was a huge honor. “It made me wonder if I ever have to pay for another speeding ticket again, or if I can just send them to the Supreme Court,” he joked.
Prior to the screening, producer Jonathan King introduced the special guests in attendance: Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem. Clinton’s surprise appearance was greeted with a standing ovation, with Clinton taking time to shake the hand of an excited child who was standing in front of her.
After the screening, NPR’s Nina Totenberg, a longtime friend of Ginsburg’s, interviewed her about her thoughts on the film and her health.
“I’m going to ask the question that everybody here probably wants to know the answer to. You broke your ribs about a month ago. There are people who have been offering you their ribs and anything else you might need. How are you doing?” asked Totenberg. Ginsburg assured everyone that she’s feeling a lot better, and continuing her regular workout routine.
Ginsburg also revealed that she edited the third draft of Stiepleman’s script, making sure everything was accurate, but allowed him to take some creative liberties in the story, including the rebuttal in the pivotal court scene. “It was a divided argument and my husband had the first 12 minutes, and I had the rest. It’s true that the judges were interested, so I continued beyond the half hour that was allotted.”
She also shared her thoughts on Jones’ portrayal of her, saying: “The most remarkable thing is to hear Felicity Jones, who speaks the Queen’s English, sounding very much like she was born and bred in Brooklyn.” As far as Hammer’s Marty, she noted that the scene where he is cooking for the family reminded her the most of her late husband. But she did say there was one small inaccuracy in the casting: “I found that when I first met Armie he was rather taller than Marty. And his answer was, ‘You are rather shorter than Felicity Jones.’”
After the interview, attendees made their way to Lincoln Ristorante for the afterparty. Guests were greeted with wineglasses as Grateful Dead music blasted from the speakers. The room was adorned to look like a courtroom, with each VIP table having a gavel as its centerpiece (Hammer was seen taking one of them for himself). Guests were offered hors d’oeuvres including tuna tartare, shrimp and squash risotto balls, and dined from a buffet featuring a selection of salmon, steak, pasta and more.
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