Recreating I Love Lucy without Lucille Ball is like replicating the Mona Lisa with finger paints. It’s just not going to work. Aaron Sorkin, the writer/director of Being the Ricardos, said he realized that early on. That’s why he didn’t want to remake many scenes from the show in the movie.
“I wanted to make sure that it didn’t feel like we were an I Love Lucy cover band doing the greatest hits,” he told Variety. “The movie just isn’t about that.”
Instead, he reverse-engineered some iconic moments from the show to showcase how Ball’s comedy mind works. Nicole Kidman plays ginger-haired comedienne in Being the Ricardos, and Javier Bardem plays her husband and collaborator, Desi Arnaz.
“We’re understanding that she’s a comedic chess genius, and at a table read, being pitched a story in the writers’ room, in rehearsal, she is able to see a joke on the page, project ahead to show night or it’s air date, whether it’s going to work or not in front of an audience,” Sorkin said.
Being the Ricardos follows Ball and Arnaz through a busy production week of I Love Lucy. But that’s just the framework for the film as Sorkin is more interested in their lives off-camera. He smashed several major scandals from their personal lives into the film’s single week. In real life, they happened years apart.
Sorkin said he wanted to tell a truthful story but not necessarily an accurate one.
“There is a difference between what we do and journalism,” he explained. “One is a photograph and the other is a painting.”
Sorkin Didn’t Want ‘Being the Ricardos’ Cast to Do Impersonations
Aaron Sorkin said he told his cast to avoid trying to imitate the mannerisms and speech of the people they were playing. That road led to disappointment.
“I’d make it very clear to [the cast] that I am not looking for a physical or vocal impersonation of these people. Leading up to the first rehearsal, I’d write to them every day, ‘Just play the characters who are in the script,’” Sorkin told The Hollywood Reporter. “I know that Nicole was working on Lucy’s voice for a while, and I wanted to relieve her of that.”
Nicole Kidman, though, said she wanted to get as close to the real thing as possible.
“It was my obsession to get it absolutely accurate,” Kidman said. “It was [Sorkin’s] obsession to have this human being portrayed — what’s behind the creation of Lucy Ricardo, and who is the woman behind this character?”
And she got a huge endorsement from someone who knew Ball intimately: her daughter, Luci Arnaz. She saw an early screening of the movie in August and called Kidman’s performance “astounding.”
“It’s been a huge, huge relief because it’s her parents, and we wanted to honor them but we wanted to show them with their flaws,” Kidman said of Luci Arnaz. “Javier had his own conversations with her. She was very supportive of us. She wanted us to play the roles.”