Javier Bardem did his homework to play Desi Arnaz in Being the Ricardos. The actor said he watched nearly all of the show’s 180 episodes of I Love Lucy to prepare for the role, and it seems to have worked. The Golden Globes nominated Bardem for Best Actor.
The 52-year-old said he didn’t grow up watching I Love Lucy in Spain. So, after Being the Ricardos writer/director Aaron Sorkin cast him to play Arnaz, Bardem obsessively researched the role. That included a serious binge of the classic TV show.
“I was absolutely obsessed with Ricky Ricardo and trying to get as close as his mannerisms and energy and voice as I could,” he told NPR.
Nicole Kidman, who plays Lucille Ball in the movie, said also became fanatical about nailing her part.
Bardem had the added problem of learning how to sing and dance for Being the Ricardos. Arnaz was a world-renown band leader whose Cuban heritage bled into his performances. Bardem took singing and bongo lessons to try and capture his zeal for music. Though, he lied about his abilities when Sorkin approached him about the role.
“As a very good actor would ever do, when they ask you if you can ride a horse, you say yes. If they say — if they ask you, do you sing — me? Oh, man, you should listen to me. And then comes the moment when they say, OK, the job is yours, and you go, oh, my God, what do I do now? I felt it’s very exposing. To sing a song, it’s one of the scariest things.”
Bardem got so confident with the instrument and performing that he pushed Sorkin to let him sing “Babalu,” one of Arnaz’s signature songs, in the movie.
Sorkin: ‘Being the Ricardos’ Couldn’t Be an ‘I Love Lucy’ Cover band
Aaron Sorkin didn’t want to recreate many moments from I Love Lucy in Being the Ricardos. He worried fans would see it as a cheap imitation since no one could replicate the talents of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
Sorkin uses the show as a framing device to explore the couple. In one scene, writers for the show pitch the idea for the grape stomping episode. Ball envisions it in her mind and starts punching up the premise on the fly.
“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.
The movie hit theaters on Dec. 10. It will be available on Amazon Prime Video on Dec. 21.