Being the Ricardos is a true labor of love that takes audiences inside a frantic production week of I Love Lucy, in which Ball and Arnaz – America’s most famous TV couple — face a series of personal and professional crises that threaten their mega-hit show, their careers, and their marriage.
These included newspaper rumors that Arnaz was cheating on Ball and the couple’s announcement to the network brass that Ball was pregnant with her second child and wanted to use the pregnancy in the storyline, something that was taboo in that era; a time when TV couples slept in separate beds.
Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Newsroom, and The Trial of The Chicago 7), Being the Ricardos is a revealing look at the couple’s complex romantic and professional relationship. Viewers are given a peek inside the writers’ room, and behind the closed doors of America’s beloved sitcom.
After sifting through the historical documents, Sorkin began to visualize a unique structure for the film. He proposed going back some 70 years to chronicle one workweek in the life of Ball and Arnaz, interspersed with flashbacks that give the audience a glimpse of the couple’s history.
The much-anticipated movie streams on Amazon Prime Video on Tuesday, December 21, making it the perfect holiday fare.
I Love Lucy aired for 180 episodes and ran from October 15, 1951, to May 6, 1957. The memorable sitcom was the most-watched American show in four of its six seasons and is still viewed by 40 million U.S. TV watchers.
The sitcom centers on Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball), her Cuban singer/bandleader husband Ricky Ricardo, and their best friends/landlords, Fred Mertz (William Frawley) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance); played by J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda.
Oscar winners Kidman and Bardem not only play iconic performers Ball and Arnez, but they are also tasked to play their TV-alter egos Lucy and Ricky Ricardo; no small feat which they have mastered with great true artistry.
Kidman’s acclaimed acting ability was essential for the multifaceted character she plays in Being the Ricardos, says Sorkin.
“Nicole is playing Lucille Ball. And Lucille Ball is, at times, playing Lucy Ricardo. It takes a great deal of subtlety,” Sorkin adds. “Nicole also has an imposing strength. Like Lucille, Nicole owns the ground she stands on.”
Do you believe that the Lucy-Desi love story essential to their phenomenal work success?
Nicole Kidman: Yes, I didn’t think they would have withstood the stress of doing a show without the great love that they had for each other. They fight and make up a lot.
Javier Bardem: It is a powerful love story between these two people who created this amazing show and the price you have to pay for that. They were exposing themselves. They also had this force; a powerful sensual energy. It’s an unstoppable force. One put the fire into the other.
Please talk about how this movie is not just about Lucy and Desi as trailblazing business partners, but also shows them as a married couple grappling with their personal lives.
Nicole Kidman: I think the film sort of pulls the curtain back. 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. [Simmons] said, ‘Aren’t you glad it’s not [a story] from birth till death?’ It’s not that kind of storytelling.
It’s Aaron Sorkin’s storytelling where he compresses a number of things into a week and then flashes forward and back to show you the essence of who this woman was and who these other people were.
Javier Bardem: That’s the exquisite complexity of the screen. It really goes to different places without abandoning anyone specific. It reunites lots of aspects of them 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 are going to give you a good idea of who they were and what they were doing back in the day.
Did you feel that you were doing your best in honoring the legacy of these beloved characters?
Nicole Kidman: Yes, I did everything that I could to the best of my ability.
Javier Bardem: We were obsessed with the characters and the material, and also, I had to learn to play the Congas and sing Babalu.
There were not many women studio heads during Lucille Ball’s time.
Nicole Kidman: There weren’t any. Yes, she was the first of her kind and truly one-of-a-kind.
Nicole, what surprises did you discover in playing Lucille Ball?
Nicole Kidman: There were many. I really knew nothing about Lucille Ball except that she had done I Love Lucy. I fell in love with the woman and the way Aaron wrote about her, as well as with Lucille and Desi Arnaz as a couple. You could tell Aaron loved them too, and he loved their fractious and passionate relationship.
I didn’t know how they built a production company, how they were such a team and how clever she was. She was a great actress and a beautiful dancer. She moved beautifully and used her hands a lot. She was also a perfectionist; the work had to be great! She was also very smart, which is depicted in this love story.
How did you see the role of Desi Arnaz/Ricky Ricardo as Sorkin wrote this gem?
Javier Bardem: Sorkin’s script is a love letter to two resilient, creative human beings dealing with serious problems and trying to remain united through them. It is a journey of pleasure and joy and laughter — a lot of laughter. There are great comic moments in it. But there are also dramatic, emotional moments that show that these people who were so loved and admired were just a couple of human beings with flaws — as we all are.
Nicole, what was your reaction when you first read Aaron’s script?
Nicole Kidman: That was what was so unusual about it actually. It wasn’t a biopic. When the script was originally sent to me, I couldn’t put it down. I read it and this screenplay is extraordinary. I would ask anyone to read the screenplay because it’s such a good read.
Javier, what struck you the most when you were doing your research to play Desi Arnaz? What were your entry points to playing Desi?
Javier Bardem: His absolute confidence in himself and how supportive he was of his wife and the whole show. How to overcome the obstacles with his strong sense of humor. He was making fun of everything. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t take it seriously, but he didn’t get stuck in the drama of it all.
Nicole, in terms of preparation to play Lucille Ball, it involved more than just a preparation, but more like a responsibility that you feel 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!’ Also, it was in a pandemic, so it was like this is an extraordinary thing to sit on a Zoom with Aaron Sorkin and him to say, ‘I want you to play Lucille Ball.’ Especially 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 work on just getting the little baby steps into her voice. It was nowhere within reach and I was like, ‘Oh no, what have I done? I wish I had the talent to do this, but I don’t.’ 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. The inside of it was almost already there just because I could relate to her, I could feel her, it was so beautifully written.
I would challenge him on that at different points throughout the thing going <gasp>, and he would never waver. 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 was like, ‘I don’t care! “I’m not interested.’ I think it was frustrating for him. He saw how he wanted it and it took me time to give over to that. And when I did, I went, ‘Okay.’
When I first signed on, I said to Aaron, ‘okay let’s get the prosthetics and the wigs. And Aaron said ‘no, no, no’ — that’s not what we’re doing. You’ll have the red hair, but I am not interested in creating a facsimile. He told me he was interested in seeing Lucille’s humanity and in the storytelling, not in a visual recreation.
But in the process, I was able to work on the actual Lucy part of it, which was all of the things I could hang my hat on and go, ‘Well, I’m going to have the hair, and the lips, and even though it’s a sliver of the movie, I’ll have that.’ Out of Lucy Ricardo came Lucille Ball and Lucille Ball is very different from Lucy Ricardo. Lucille Ball created Lucy Ricardo.
Being the Ricardos premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Tuesday, December 21.
For more on Amazon Prime check out, Get your popcorn ready: Season 4 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is just around the corner.