‘Being the Ricardos’: Nina Arianda Discusses How Vivian Vance Was ‘Boxed in’ as Ethel

by Anna Dunn

Being the Ricardos actress Nina Arianda recently discussed the ways that Vivian Vance was “boxed in” as her role as Ethel on I Love Lucy her whole life. Arianda stunned in Being the Ricardos as Lucille Balle’s co-star, Vivian Vance. Vance and Ball were incredibly close friends throughout their lives. But Vance’s I Love Lucy part came with some complications.

The new film starring Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, Nina Arianda, and JK Simmons follows a week behind the scenes of I Love Lucy. It pays close attention to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s complicated marriage. But Arianda really stood out as Vivian Vance.

Vance played Ethel Mertz on the hit series. Initially, she and Lucille Ball didn’t get along at all. And in the film, Vance really struggles. She had all these talents and abilities, but would likely be seen as Ethel Mertz for the rest of her life.

‘Being the Ricardos’ Shows a Woman of Many Talents Reduced to One Part

“I realized she was a famous torch singer, an ingénue mostly. Further on, she had her own line of beauty products. She was a very established theater actress. It only built up the idea that this was a woman who was so desirable and beloved. Her voice, the way she moved,” Arianda said of Vance in a Variety interview.

Knowing Vivian’s abilities, which never became as widely known as she would have liked, really helped Arianda play the role she was given.

“Knowing all of that helped me contextualize the fall — and by that I mean, her being boxed in for the rest of her life as [her character Ethel]. We find her at a place in this movie where she’s almost in a mourning stage. A bit in denial that this part of her is gone. She’s so desperately fighting to keep it alive,” Arianda said.

Being the Ricardos had a short theatrical release before becoming available to Amazon Prime subscribers on Tuesday. The film has so far been met with mixed reception. But there’s nothing mixed about the critical response to Nina Arianda’s performance.

One of the more impressive scenes shows Vivian and Lucille fighting. It’s over whether or not Ethel can wear a dress that actually suits Vance’s figure. It’s a heart-wrenching scene pulled off well by Vance, who brings what feels like real pain to the part.

In the film, Vivian Vance also has to deal with her very toxic relationship to her on-screen husband, William Frawley, and her difficulties in her real-life marriage at home.

The film, now available on Amazon Prime, is a definite watch for those interested in Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, and how I Love Lucy was made.