This article was originally published Dec. 20, 2018.
Daniel Stiepleman didn’t have a tough time arguing his case before Ruth Bader Ginsburg. After all, the imposing Supreme Court Justice, who died Friday of cancer at age 87, was simply his Aunt Ruth — and he was petitioning her to let him write a movie about her.
“In fairness to her, I had never gotten a movie made. This was my first screenplay, so I’m not really sure she believed I would get a movie made,” Stiepleman said of approaching Ginsburg with his idea for a biopic. “What she actually said, ‘If that’s how you think you want to spend your time…’” he recalled, laughing.
Stiepleman did of course get the movie made: 2018’s On the Basis of Sex, directed by Mimi Leder, follows a young RBG (Felicity Jones) through Harvard Law School (which both she and her husband, Marty, played by Armie Hammer, attended) up until her first major case.
“I always knew it was this case, this was the story I wanted to tell,” recalled Stiepleman of the 1972 sexual-discrimination case that Ginsburg believed would empower women to contest the raft of inequitable laws still on the books at the time. (Spoiler alert: She was right.)
“Her reaction was, ‘Why this case?’ She’s like, ‘I argued bigger cases. I argued cases in the Supreme Court. I argued landmark cases,’” Stiepleman continued. “And I said, ‘Yeah, but this is the only one you ever argued with Uncle Martin.’ Because for me, this was always the story of a marriage, it was them fighting in court for what they had also found at home, which was real equality.”
The screenwriter believes filmmakers found the perfect RBG in Jones, the Theory of Everything Oscar nominee and star of the Star Wars prequel Rogue One.
“Ruth has a very particular alchemy for her personality, that you really get to see when you see her in private moments with people who she loves and trusts. Because on one hand, she’s that tough, steely, precise woman that we all know. But under all that is just this joy and this humor and this optimism. And I can’t think of anybody who would’ve brought that together the way Felicity did.”
RBG agreed. “When the lights came up and Ruth saw the movie for the first time, she looked at me and said, ‘I’m so glad it’s Felicity,’” Stiepleman shared.
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