‘Being the Ricardos’: Lucille Ball’s Friend Says Nicole Kidman ‘Got Her Down’

by Allison Hambrick

Michael Stern, friend of Lucille Ball and author of “I Had a Ball: My Friendship with Lucille Ball,” praised Nicole Kidman in Being the Ricardos. Stern and Ball met when he worked as a production assistant on Life With Lucy in 1986. The two became unusual friends, and Stern remembers Ball fondly. That’s why Kidman’s portrayal of her in Being the Ricardos mattered to him.

“There were a lot of people who said, ‘What a mistake,’” Stern said in an interview with Fox News. “But Nicole Kidman is a fantastic actress. And they weren’t looking for look-alikes. They were looking for someone who could portray Lucille Ball, not Lucy Ricardo.”

In fact, that was the one condition given by Ball’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, for the film to be made. She told producers that she wanted an honest depiction of her parents.

“We Are Not Doing a Remake of I Love Lucy”

Director Aaron Sorkin and producer Todd Black were more interested in capturing the “essence” of Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz.

“You’re never going to duplicate Lucile Ball and Desi Arnaz,” said Black. “It’s never going to happen. They were one of a kind, that’s it.”

For her part Arnaz wants fans to understand that the film is“the story of Lucille Ball, [her] actual mother, not Lucy Ricardo and her husband Desi Arnaz, [her] dad, not Ricky Ricardo.” She has no time for critics of Kidman, who she felt “became [her] mother’s soul.”

Additionally, Stern approved of the casting. Though he had known Ball during a different era than that of Being the Ricardos, he felt Kidman “got her down.”

“Lucille Ball looked different from Lucy Ricardo,” Stern explained. “She acted differently from her. Yes, Nicole played Lucy Ricardo for a few seconds here and there. But she was really playing Lucille Ball. I thought she did a really great job. I think she could be up for some major awards.”

Kidman Considered Dropping Out of Being the Ricardos

Unfortunately, Kidman’s casting did draw some criticism. In spite of support from Arnaz, the ire of fans was almost enough for Kidman to leave the project.

“I went, ‘What have I said yes to?’ — to which I then went, ‘Oh no, I’m not right. Everyone thinks I’m not right so I’m going to try to sidestep this,’” the actress said. “And the producer Todd Black and Aaron Sorkin were both like, ‘Absolutely not.’ I was in Australia and they were like, ‘No.’ And thank god, because then I was so grateful because I got to fall in love with her.”

However, Stern was not among these detractors, either.

“I was one of the few people who was not a naysayer from the very beginning,” he explained. “From day one, I knew that this would not be the story of Lucy Ricardo. She embodied Lucille Ball, the actress. She really did. And I think if people see this film for pure entertainment, they will enjoy it.”

Lucille Ball Was “Very Motherly”

Though he had to “step away from knowing her,” Stern felt it was “an honor” to see Ball portrayed in Being the Ricardos. He did, however, recognize that because he knew her at a different point in her life, the Lucille Ball he know differed slightly.

“Lucille Ball the person was very motherly,” he explained. “If I ever had a problem with anything, she would listen to my issues. And if it were ever serious, she would always ask, ‘Did you talk to your parents?’ And if I said, ‘no,’ she would say, ‘You need to talk to them.’ She always knew she was not my second mom, but she wanted to guide me in the right direction.”

Additionally, Stern said she offered him advice. Though he wanted to be an entertainer, Ball “knew right away that [he] was not cut out to be an actor.” Her advice to him was “to learn everything, no matter what job” he had in the industry. Stern remains grateful for the friendship they shared, and he hopes that Being the Ricardos will allow fans to see the Ball he knew and loved.

“Losing her was like losing a mom or a best friend,” Stern explained. “If you saw her on the street, you would immediately go, ‘Hi Lucy!’ She was in your house every single day. She was a friend to everybody. It was a dark cloud in Los Angeles when we lost her. And there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of her. Everyone will always love Lucy.”