Aaron Sorkin got Nicole Kidman over those early casting doubts
When it was first announced that Nicole Kidman would play Lucille Ball in Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos, many I Love Lucy fans were more than skeptical and demanded a replacement for the “miscast” Kidman. But shortly after the first public preview of the fictional Amazon Studios biopic in mid-November at a packed Westwood theater, the tone began to change. Kidman’s name in the credits drew a thunderous round of applause, and her entry into a post-screening Q&A was greeted with a standing ovation.
“I’m not recommending that anyone read Twitter under any circumstances,” says writer-director Sorkin shortly after the screening.
“And I don’t,” Kidman points out. “Neither do I have Twitter, so me not Read it.”
“If you were reading it this morning,” he continues, “you would think I wrote the tweets — from people who were there last night, industry folks, award promises, et cetera — and everyone was like, ‘How stupid was I to doubt Nicole would be great? That’s what Nicole does.’”
Kidman admits she was disheartened but also encouraged by the public reaction to her casting, calling it a “scary prospect” to move on knowing that so many people don’t want to see her play ball. “But at the same time,” the actress notes, “her daughter [Lucie Arnaz, an executive producer on the project] said, ‘I want you to play her.'”
Kidman also trusted Sorkin to have her utmost trust. “A lot of me leaned on Aaron and said, ‘You do? Yes, really Do you think I can?’ And he would say: ‘Yep!’ He sends the most incredible emails when you need them. You just say, ‘OK, OK. keep it simple Don’t think too much because you have to keep doing it day after day.’ It’s a great way to approach something that is completely overwhelming.”
Kidman also eventually understood that Sorkin wasn’t asking her to pose as a ball. “I would say, ‘How about a nose? Can I have a chin?’” she recalls. His answer was always “No”. “Eventually I just had to say, ‘Okay, I’ll just embody her inside out and hope everything else works out.'”
“And that’s okay,” adds Sorkin, “it’s something a lot of actors can’t — or don’t want to.”
Sorkin’s intent in eliminating knockoffs as an option for his cast – which, alongside Kidman, also includes Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz, JK Simmons as William Frawley, and Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance – was to allow them to not only play the iconic “I Love Lucy” characters, but also the actors who portrayed her on this phenomenally successful television sitcom, which aired Monday nights on CBS from 1951 to 1957.
“Most people can’t separate them,” says Sorkin of the “Lucy” cast and their fictional counterparts, adding that it was an enlightening experience to see Ball in her earliest Hollywood films and in Lucie Arnaz’s home videos, her performance was so different from Lucy on TV. “She was gorgeous, a movie star on the Rita Hayworth level.”
While “Being the Ricardos” is a love story embedded in comedic workplace drama set during a single week of production of “I Love Lucy,” there are few reenactments of scenes from the show. Sorkin created his screenplay by combining three momentous true events — Ball being accused of being a communist, her suspicions about Arnaz’s infidelity, and news of her pregnancy with their second child — that didn’t happen in the same year, let alone on a Monday to Friday spread. “I had the idea that if I compressed time and space,” he says of his artistic freedom, “I could create a drama that reveals interesting things about Lucy — and Desi, too.”
It’s this complex yarn – hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time – that Kidman immediately donned for the role. “I can name maybe two other writers working today, and that’s it,” she says of modern Hollywood talent working at Sorkin’s high level, noting that her Academy Award-winner “wrote and directed with passion and love.” led”.
For the few glimpses of Kidman as Lucy on the sitcom, she and Sorkin did felt it crucial that it reflected these as accurately as possible.
“There was Things I asked of Nicole—and Nicole asked of herself,” says Sorkin, pointing to Kidman’s contrasting vocal inflections, which he has mastered thanks to working with her longtime voice and dialect coach, Thom Jones. “Lucy Ricardo is about an octave above Lucille Ball.”
When it comes to Ball’s Emmy-winning comic book choreography, such as that classic grape stomping scene, Kidman studied long and hard and rehearsed repeatedly.
“I would put it on my iPhone and send it to him from Australia, saying, ‘Aaron, look!'” she says.
“I remember getting the first one you sent me where you did the scene with Vivian Vance off the real show,” Sorkin recalls. “It blew my mind. I sent it to [producer Todd Black] right away and said, ‘She’ll be good.'”
“She was crying,” Kidman reveals when Lucie Arnaz sees the finished film for the first time. “It’s a big deal for Javier and me. We are them parents. Part of me says, ‘It’s your mother. You have property.’”
Not only was Arnaz deeply moved by the cast, she embraced the film wholeheartedly and openly.
“It’s incredibly satisfying on a personal level,” notes Sorkin. “It means a lot that we touched her. That’s a big deal. On a business level, on a professional level, it was a big deal too. I think we could have survived without their support. But if she didn’t like the movie, the fact that she didn’t like the movie surfaced in every story about the movie. So I’m grateful she was as effusive as she was.”