In Aaron Sorkin’s Being The Ricardos, Nicole Kidman (pictured) and Javier Bardem portray legendary comedy couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Nicole Kidman was positively overjoyed when she learned that her new leading man was going to be Javier Bardem. She joked that the first thing she asked the ruggedly handsome Spaniard was: ‘Can we touch?!’
It’s not that the 54-year-old Oscar-winner was thinking of running off with Penelope Cruz’s husband. It was strictly professional.
In Aaron Sorkin’s Being The Ricardos, Kidman and Bardem portray legendary comedy couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
At the time, Ball was billed as the world’s most famous redhead — a boast that was not hyperbole.
From October 1951, she had an unbroken 23-year run on CBS, in I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy.
Her fame was at its height, with 60 million viewers watching her programs. Millions more watched her shows around the globe.
Lucy was my favorite child. Als a cub reporter I was able to sneak into the Press Conference for Mame’s film musical.
Ball glared at my question when I tried to ask a nonsensical one. I was put in my place for the first time by a huge star.
‘She was huge!’ Kidman agreed, as we chatted over Zoom. She was in Nashville with Keith Urban, her husband, and Faith, their daughters, Sunday and Faith. We’d been scheduled to meet in London, but Omicron scuppered that reunion.
Kidman said the first question she put to Sorkin after being cast was: ‘Who’s playing Desi?!’
He was an entrepreneur and party boy bandleader who became a superstar. Ball had been told by him that his career had diminished to radio jobs.
‘He believed in her when she’d been counted out,’ Kidman agreed. ‘And she gets back up again. She’s crazily in love with Desi: this sexy, sensual man. They had a great time together — romantically, too. They had two kids.’
Bardem and Kidman began work last fall on the project at Hollywood. ‘I was like, “I don’t really know you, Javier.” But we just collided at the height of the pandemic.
Pictured: Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem star in Being The Ricardo, as legendary comedy couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Pictured are Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz, a legendary comedy duo
‘We had to learn to dance together — that was one of the first things we did. To help us, we channelled Lucy and Desi. It was a time of abandonment between us. I was like: “Let’s get tactile!”
‘I’m vaccinated and tested; and I said to Javier: “Can we please touch?” And we committed to it. They were this sexy couple — they had to be able to touch!’
At the time, there was a strong anti-Latin American prejudice in America. Arnaz, a Cuban-born man was frequently dismissed as a bongo-playing Lothario. These perceptions couldn’t have been further wrong. Arnaz was a brilliant businessman and technie, a charismatic personality and a wealth of talent.
Ball was able to get back on her feet professionally, and she did the same by insisting that the studio forget its biases and hire him as her husband for I Love Lucy.
The bold, but genius move was made by the couple. It was obvious that their chemistry even on a sitcom was strong. ‘Hey, it was a great love story,’ Kidman said. Arnaz loved Lucy. There were also other women.
Their 20-year marriage ended in dissolution. They divorced in 1960. Later on, in interviews, Ball was frank about Desi’s cheating.
Thinking of celebrity couples — Ball and Arnaz, Kidman and her former husband Tom Cruise (though I didn’t name him specifically) — I asked her if artistic couples could ever work together, and survive. ‘Yeah, sure they can!’ came her immediate response.
Lucille Ball was a household name at the peak of her popularity. Her programmes had 60 million viewers, with many more watching around the globe.
‘They can create incredible things together. But eventually you’re going to have a problem. All relationships can end. It’s just how it is,’ she said, shrugging her shoulders.
Kidman was determined to portray Lucy and did a lot of research in order to be perfect for Sorkin from day one.
I’ve watched countless YouTube videos of Ball in action — and Kidman’s portrayal is remarkable. Which is lucky, because Kidman told me the first time she watched the completed film was at a screening … where Ball’s daughter Lucie Arnaz was one seat away from her.
‘Thank God Keith was next to me, because what if she hadn’t liked it?’ she said. ‘Javier was there, and I was like: “What if they boo!” ’
But there were no complaints from Arnaz, who during pre-production had allowed Kidman to listen ‘to these secret recordings of Lucy talking to her kids; and talking to Desi’.
She promised Lucie that she wouldn’t reveal what was on the tapes. But she did say they showed that Ball ‘wasn’t a natural funny lady. She could be sharp; and she wasn’t the Lucy you see in the shows.’
Ball’s true talent was her ability to visualise comedic scenarios, and devise the physical choreography from which extraordinary comedy moments emerged.
Nicole Kidman attended the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon Studios ‘Being The Ricardos’ at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Los Angeles on December 6, 2021.
Kidman watched video of Ball watching various scenes and skits. ‘Talk about knowing what she wants,’ she said, admiringly. But Lucy and Desi were unable to control their behavior. The studio kingpins derided her to start with, referring to her as ‘the little lady’.
It wasn’t long, though, before the ‘little lady’ and her husband owned the studio. ‘She’d been slapped down, told she wasn’t good enough — and that she was too old,’ Kidman said. ‘I can relate to Lucille Ball, where you’re told: “You’re past it now. You’re over.”
‘I’ve been in this industry for decades now; and I’ve been “finished” more than once,’ she said, grimly.
A couple of weeks ago, George Clooney told me how it’s easier for older leading men than for female stars as they age. ‘But it’s changing,’ he added, citing Kidman as an example of someone who re-ignited her career with success on the small screen — in her case, smash hit Big Little Lies.
‘I was “relegated” to TV,’ the actress agreed. ‘But the irony is that TV came through. It changed the trajectory of my career. Reese [Witherspoon]It was my first TV show, and it led me to a lot of things. The same for Lucille Ball when she moved to TV.’
Clooney was absolutely right that Kidman should be at the top once more.
Her performance in Sorkin’s film puts her right in the centre of the awards season mix, in a year dominated by women … Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter, Lady Gaga in The House Of Gucci, Kristen Stewart in Spencer, Rachel Zegler in West Side Story, Jessica Chastain in The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, Frances McDormand in The Tragedy Of Macbeth — and Javier Bardem’s wife, Penelope Cruz, in Parallel Mothers.
- Becoming The Ricardos can be seen in theatres right now, and will stream live on Amazon Prime beginning December 21.