Ruth Bader Ginsburg on What the Movie About Her Life Gets Wrong

Photo: Rebecca Gibian/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave her nephew a fair
amount of creative leeway to adapt her life story for the forthcoming
movie On the Basis of Sex. But at a Sunday night screening, with
Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem looking on from the audience,
Ginsburg set the record straight on one thing.

That scene where “Ruth,” played by Felicity Jones, flubs a crucial
oral argument before a panel of federal judges? “I didn’t stumble,”
said Ginsburg.

This is not news to screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman, who previously
told me, “I’m reasonably certain that RBG was born a fully formed
human being out of the head of Zeus.”

But unlike a character in a film, expected to have an arc and show
vulnerability, RBG seemed more interested in showing her continued
strength — just weeks after broken ribs landed her in the hospital.

On the Basis of Sex portrays the grueling period in Ginsburg’s life
when she juggled Harvard law school, parenting a 3-year-old, and
caring for a cancer-stricken husband. A typical day, Ginsburg told
NPR’s Nina Totenberg onstage, would span class, hospital visits for
radiation, childcare, cooking dinner for her husband, and typing up
his papers until around two in the morning, at which point she would
start her own class work.

“So that accounts for why you think you can still exist on three hours
of sleep a night,” said Totenberg.

“I can,” RBG replied defiantly.

In the film, Ginsburg’s late husband Marty is played by Armie Hammer,
who, Ginsburg said, had captured the precise way in which her husband
chopped vegetables. “I commented when I first met Armie that he was
rather taller than Marty.” said Ginsburg. “And the answer [from
Hammer] was you are rather shorter than Felicity Jones.”

But it’s not all vegetable chopping and oral argumenting. Totenberg
pressed Ginsburg about how she felt about the sex scene near the
beginning of the film. “My children are in the audience,” Ginsburg
replied. “I think they probably would agree with me that their daddy
would have loved it.”

RBG on What the Movie About Her Life Gets Wrong