‘Being the Ricardos’ Stars J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda Talk ‘Daunting Task’ of Portraying ‘I Love Lucy’ Icons

by Josh Lanier

Portraying a real person is difficult for an actor. Playing someone who is a member of one of the most beloved television shows of all time has its own set of problems. J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda said they learned that when taking on the roles in Being the Ricardos.

The movie stars Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz. Simmon and Ariana play their always bickering TV sidekicks William Frawley and Vivian Vance. Watching I Love Lucy gave them hours of footage to watch to study their mannerisms and intonations. But it also set audience expectations high.

J.K. Simmons has been an actor for decades, and he thought Being the Ricardos would be like any other job. But shortly after settling into William Brawley’s Fred Mertz, Simmons realized he had a lot to learn.

“When I realized how frightening, daunting a task this movie was going to be, particularly for the four of us, I realized that I haven’t done everything. I haven’t been everywhere,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “I do still have things to learn about how to be a better and more well-rounded actor.”

Both had watched episodes of I Love Lucy before, but this time they approached the show with new eyes, Arianda said.

“A producer had sent me a clip [of] Desi introducing Vivian to the studio audience before taping. It really blew my mind, because out comes this woman who saunters down, her shoulders are back, her spine is long, she moves like a dancer and is completely in ownership of her own body. And then that same woman goes backstage and her shoulders drop a bit and she plays Ethel. I found that to be fascinating, and it was kind of an in to explore both these women.”

Aaron Sorkin: Defends Casting Choices in ‘Being the Ricardos’

Aaron Sorkin, who wrote and directed Being the Ricardos, said it would be impossible to recreate Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in a lab. He couldn’t do it on the page or the screen and told the actors that they weren’t beholden to what audiences remember from the classic show.

“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.”

Sorkin admits he fudged the couple’s timeline and mixed events that happened years apart. But he didn’t want to do a straight biopic. And, despite her initial complaints, Luci Arnaz, the daughter of Ball and Des Arnaz, the movie. And she thought Kidman was perfect casting.

“… Nicole Kidman became my mother’s soul. She crawled into her head,” Arnaz said in an Instagram video. “I don’t know how you do that.” Arnaz saw the movie in October and said it’s “freaking amazing.”

Being the Ricardos released in theaters on Dec. 10. It will stream on Amazon Prime beginning Dec. 21.