Being the Ricardos: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, JK Simmons and Nina Arianda Interview

Being the Ricardos Cast
Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, and Nicole Kidman star in ‘Being the Ricardos’ (Photo: GLEN WILSON © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC)

Oscar winner Nicole Kidman, Oscar winner Javier Bardem, Oscar winner J.K. Simmons, and Nina Arianda each play dual roles in writer/director Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos. Nicole Kidman stars as comedy icon Lucille Ball as well as the beloved character created by Ball, Lucy Ricardo. Javier Bardem plays the “I” part of I Love Lucy, channeling Cuban bandleader/actor Desi Arnaz and his sitcom character, Ricky Ricardo.

J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda co-star as I Love Lucy’s Fred and Ethel Mertz and the actors who brought those characters to life, William Frawley and Vivian Vance.

Sorkin chose to examine the lives of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as a couple during a very narrow window of time. Being the Ricardos focuses on what’s happening behind the scenes during one especially fraught week of filming on I Love Lucy. The relationship between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz is at a precarious point and Ball’s facing potentially career-ending backlash after being accused of being a communist. And all of this is taking place while the network and their major sponsor expect the couple to turn out yet another hilarious episode of their popular sitcom.

Together (via Zoom) for a special Critics Choice Association press conference, Kidman, Bardem, Simmons, and Arianda discussed Sorkin’s screenplay and how they approached their characters.

Was part of the appeal getting to portray not just the personal but also the business aspects of Lucy and Desi’s relationship?

Javier Bardem: “Well, that’s the exquisite complexity of the script, that it really goes to different places without abandoning any one in a specific. It really unites lots of aspects of them as a marriage, as a couple, as artists, as colleagues. Everything is so well put together that it makes it more exciting to perform it but also to watch it. As an audience, it’s very full of different details that will give you an idea of who they were and what they were doing back in the day.”

Nicole Kidman: “She wasn’t running the studio but they had Desilu, the production (company), and no actors had that at that time. She was the first of her kind; she’s one of a kind. I think though the thing that this film does is it sort of pulls the curtain back on it’s not the I Love Lucy show, it’s how was that made and who was this person that was capable of that genius. What was her story? What was her life?

As J.K. has said, aren’t you glad it’s not from birth till death? It’s not that kind of storytelling. It’s Aaron Sorkin storytelling where he compresses a number of things into a week and then flashing forward and back is able to show you the essence of who this woman was and who these people were, and that was what was so unusual about it actually. It wasn’t a biopic.

When I was sent it originally, I’m like, ‘Okay, let’s have a look,’ and I couldn’t put it down. This screenplay is extraordinary. I would ask anyone to read the screenplay because it is a good read.”

What was your entry point into playing Desi Arnaz?

Javier Bardem: “His absolute confidence in himself and how supportive he was of his wife and the whole show, and how he overcame the obstacles by a strong sense of humor. He was making fun of everything. That doesn’t mean he didn’t take it seriously, but he didn’t get stuck in the drama of it all.”

What was your initial reaction to Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay?

Nina Arianda: “It was such a brilliant first read and then it was even more fun to dissect. I think the thing that right away jumped off the page for me was just how relentless the stakes are. Everything you could possibly want – it’s almost a thriller for me. But the stakes never leave you. It’s just continuous to the end of the story.”

J.K. Simmons: “First, I’m wishing I had done what Nina had done and actually read the script more than once. I was so blown away by it the first time. Obviously, Hollywood knows Aaron Sorkin the writer and has known for decades now. This is the third film he’s directed. It’s the first film that he wrote intending to be the director because the other two times it came together for different reasons.

He’s gotten to a point now in his career as both writer and producer and knows every aspect of filmmaking so thoroughly that it was a very collaborative process with everyone, and I mean all of us in front of the camera as well as behind the camera. He also had a sort of supreme confidence in himself and from those of us working with him as a guy who knows every aspect of what this story is and how to tell it.”

You were all giving two performances in this film: your characters and the characters in the show. How did you approach that?

Nina Arianda: “I think for me it was really important to honor the physical differences between the two women because they were so extreme. Vivian was a wonderful dancer. She was a leading lady. She was an ingenue. And Ethel was Ethel.

I had all the research I could possibly want for Ethel but for Vivian it was a little tougher. A producer had sent me a clip that was a couple of seconds long and it was simply Desi introducing Vivian Vance to the audience right before they were taping. And it was really eye-opening for me because out came this woman with a long spine, her shoulders back, and she kind of sashayed downstage and took a graceful bow and left. I just saw a completely different woman and I became so obsessed with her background. How did this spine develop? I guess for me it was really kind of trying to be as respectful as I could to these two very different women.”

J.K. Simmons: “As Nina said, we all had plenty of footage from I Love Lucy to watch and so for those few moments when we were expected to mimic aspects of the show itself – the play within the play – that was very clear. About Bill Frawley there was much less, well, zero video that I could find outside of his films and his appearances on I Love Lucy. No talk shows, not anything on video, and not even a book.

Desi famously wrote a book called A Book. There were plenty of books about Lucille Ball and even about Vivian Vance, but much less about Bill Frawley. So all of my research was through the perspective of Vivian and Lucille and Desi, and Jess Oppenheimer in some audio interviews.

In a way I found that to be sort of freeing in terms of how I portrayed off-camera Bill which, again, is 98% of the movie. He was honestly not all that dissimilar from the cranky landlord Fred Mertz. But the beauty of, again, the gift that we all got from Aaron Sorkin in this script and in his direction along the way, there was so many beautifully detailed layers for all of us. We got to see multiple aspects of all of these characters as they relate to each other at different times. The scene at the bar that I have with Lucille, the scene after the table read that I have with Desi, the kvetching back and forth that Vivian and Bill have. All of it was not easy but it was clear how to lift that off the page.”

Being the Ricardos
Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem star in ‘Being the Ricardos’ (Photo: Glen Wilson © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC)

How did you handle the responsibility of playing Lucille Ball?

Nicole Kidman: “Initially when I said yes to it I did not realize what I was saying yes to. I was saying yes to an Aaron Sorkin script and a great opportunity. I was like, ‘Wow!’ And it was in a pandemic so it was like this is an extraordinary thing to sit on a Zoom with Aaron Sorkin and for him to say, ‘I want you to play Lucille Ball.’ And having read the screenplay I was like, ‘It’s magnificent.’

Then it was like maybe a week later it hit me and I was trying to get just the little baby steps into her voice and it was nowhere within reach. I was like, ‘Oh no, what have I done? I wish I had the talent to do this but I don’t.’

And so then it was like, ‘Help!’

Luckily I had a couple of months so I could work on it slowly, meticulously, methodically, watching the show, listening to the voice, doing all of the preparation which is very unusual for me because a lot of times I’ll start really inside. But the inside of it was almost already there just because I could relate to her, I could feel her.

It was so beautifully written. Then it was like how do I actually create Lucille Ball? But Aaron was fantastic because when I freaked out – which I did – he’s not as good on the phone…he’s like, ‘Yeah,’ and he wants to get off the phone – he’s not a big talker like that. But he sent an email that was just basically, ‘You’ve got this. You’re just going to have to take it day by day. I don’t want an impersonation. I want you to do the work that you can do that I know you will do, and I want you not to freak out because I believe you can do it.’

I would challenge him on that at different points throughout the thing and he would never waiver. He was so consistent in his belief. I’d be begging for some sort of nose or a chin…at one point I was like, ‘I’ve got to change my jaw. Her jaw is different.’ He’s like, ‘I don’t care!’

I mean, it was frustrating for him I think because he saw how he wanted it and it took me time to give over to that. And when I did, I went, ‘Okay.’ But in the process I was able to work on the actual Lucy part of it which was all of the (physical aspects). I could hang my hat on that and go, ‘Well, I’m going to have the hair and I’m going to have the lips. I’m going to have all that. I can do all of this and even though it’s a sliver of the movie I’ll have that.’

And then out of Lucy Ricardo came Lucille Ball. And Lucille Ball is very different to Lucy Ricardo. Lucille Ball created Lucy Ricardo.”

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Amazon Studios’ Being the Ricardos will open in theaters on December 10, 2021 followed by a release on Prime Video on December 21st.