Nicole Kidman said recently that the initial blowback to her playing late American comedy legend Lucille Ball in the new biopic Being the Ricardos was so worrying that she considered leaving the project before writer-director Aaron Sorkin convinced her to stay.
In a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment (watch above), the Oscar winning Australian recounts her initial reaction to being offered such an iconic role, admitting she didn’t have many reservations despite the fact that her casting (or anyone’s casting, really) was bound to elicit a strong reaction.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, what an incredible gift of a role and an opportunity.’ And then it was like having to climb the mountain and going, ‘Am I actually going to be able to climb it? So that was sort of what I was grappling with,” Kidman says.
“And then I sort of just started to absorb her and watch her and fall madly in love with her and her talent and what she was able to do. And I mean, when I first read the screenplay, I couldn't believe the story … Yes, there's the I Love Lucy show and all of that, and the icons, but there's also just an amazing story here.”
Based on real events but compressed into a briefer time period, Being the Ricardos follows a tumultuous week in the lives of Ball and her husband/Lucy costar Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) — whom she suspects of cheating — as the comedienne informs her producers she’s pregnant, and unfounded reports of Ball’s connections to the Communist Party threaten to sink America’s most watched television show. It all plays out in tense but funny fashion, presenting an intimate portrait of the strong-willed Western New York native Ball with the type of acerbic, razor-sharp dialogue Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) has become so well-known for over the years.
The No Country for Old Men Oscar winner Bardem says he chased the role of Arnaz for years, prior to Sorkin’s involvement in the project.
“I knew about [Ball], but I didn't know about [Arnaz],” Bardem says. “And I started to read about him and see the shows for the first time. And I was immediately drawn into what he meant. Then the offer went to some other actors, and then it came back to and it was like, ‘I'm ready. I want to do it.’ I was scared, but I was very much motivated to try to make it.”
Sorkin was matter-of-fact when reflecting on the initial criticism lodged at Kidman, who is now considered a favorite to land her fifth Academy Award nomination for her dazzling, transformative performance as Ball.
“I had a big advantage over the people who didn't think that she was right in that I had read the screenplay and knew what the movie was about,” he said. “She’s not playing Lucy Ricardo, she's playing Lucille Ball. And in this iteration of Lucille Ball, you need to be a very strong, dramatic actress with a dry sense of humor and a facility for language. And that's why I wanted Nicole.”
Ricardos has also drawn criticism for Sorkin’s casting of the Spanish-born Bardem as the Cuban-American Arnaz, which the filmmaker has also vehemently defended.
“It's not frustrating,” Sorkin says of the continually hot-button debate over who is “allowed” to play whom these days when it comes to an actor’s ethnicity, gender or sexuality. “I hear a little bit of that noise, not much. It's silly. But I find that it's nice to surprise people. They think that a movie is going to be one thing and it turns out to be something else. And that's what's happening now.”
Being the Ricardos is now in theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime.
—Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo