BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz are among the giants when it comes to the television world. Their impact on the medium when it was still in its infancy ranges from how TV shows could be shot in front of a studio audience to opening doors to formally taboo topics like pregnancy.
At the same time, the pair had a passionate and volatile relationship away from the cameras. This added to them being one of Hollywood’s first major power couples.
Such complicated people created a challenge for Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem in portraying Lucy and Desi in the new feature film “Being the Ricardos” scheduled to be available on the streaming service of Prime Video starting Dec. 21. Bardem describes trying to play these characters as a very complex situation.
“It really reunites lots of aspects of them as a couple, as artists, as colleagues. Everything is so well put together. That makes it more exciting to perform it but also to watch it as an audience,” Bardem says. “It is full of lots of details to give you an idea of who they were and what they were doing back in the day.”
The complex story that tested Bardem and Kidman – as written by Aaron Sorkin (“West Wing”) – looks at a week during the filming of the TV series “I Love Lucy.” The events actually happened over a longer period but were condensed by Sorkin for dramatic impact.
Not only is Lucy (Kidman) obsessed with getting every detail right in each scene but she is dealing with charges of being a Communist. At the same time, Desi (Bardem) is fighting with executives over whether or not the Ricardos can have a baby. The top brass wanted to hide Lucy’s real pregnancy because they didn’t even want to hint at anything sexual on the show.
Originally, Kidman had her doubts about being part of the project because she was concerned that it would be a typical biopic. Once she started reading the script, Kidman could not stop. Kidman finally decided she wanted to be part of the project because of how much Sorkin reveals about Lucille Ball and Dezi Arnaz.
“I think what this film does is pull back the curtain to show that it is not the ‘I Love Lucy’ show but how it was made and who was this person that was capable of that genius,” Kidman says. “What was her story? What was her life?
“It’s not from birth to death. It’s not that kind of storytelling. It’s Aaron Sorkin telling the story where he compresses a number of things into a week. And then by flashing forward and back is able to show you the essence of who this woman was and who these people were.”
Kidman admits that when she decided to take on the task of portraying Lucille Ball, she didn’t completely understand completely what that meant. A week after saying yes, it hit her so hard as to how difficult it was going to be to play the role. Kidman became convinced that she didn’t have the talent to handle the acting job.
The fact she was cast months before filming started gave Kidman time to meticulously decipher how to play the role. She finally became comfortable when Sorkin told her that he didn’t want her to do an impersonation of Lucy. And, she should not freak out about the role.
Sorkin’s script doesn’t just examine Lucy and Desi but also pulls back the curtain to look at the other two major actors from the “I Love Lucy” series – William Frawley as played by J.K. Simmons and Vivian Vance as portrayed by Nina Arianda. Their characters were Fred and Ethel Mertz on the show.
It is Simmons’ performance as Frawley that is one of the most revealing. Fred is shown as a lovable grump on the show but behind the scenes, he shows real contempt for Vance. And, he was a heavy drinker.
Both Arianda and Simmons had plenty of footage of Frawley and Vance as their characters on the show to study but there was very little material to show the actors what they were like off screen.
Arianada was sent a very short clip of Desi introducing Vance before a taping. She saw how the dowdy Vance of Ethel Mertz was very different from the strong and confident Vance. That helped Arianda play both Vance and Ethel as different characters.
Simmons didn’t even have a few seconds of tape to use in determining the most honest way to play Frawley. Books were written about Lucy, Desi and Vivian Vance but none dealing with Frawley.
“All of my research was through the perspective of Vivian and Lucille and Desi,” Simmons says. “In a way I found that to be sort of freeing in terms of how I portrayed off-camera Bill. The gift we got from Aaron Sorkin was the detailed layers. We got to see multiple aspects of all these characters as they relate to each other.”