Here’s How ‘Being the Ricardos’ Helped Nicole Kidman Become Lucille Ball

by Taylor Cunningham
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Nicole Kidman spent countless hours studying Lucille Ball before perfecting her lead role in Being the Ricardos. But her iconic transformation wasn’t complete until the costume designers nailed down Lucy’s signature fashion sense.

In a PEOPLE exclusive, Costume designer Susan Lyall described the tedious attention that she put into Nicole Kidman’s Being the Ricardos look.

“I might have watched the Fred and Ethel Fight episode, in its entirety, maybe 15 times. And then [I] kept freezing the frame and moving in closer and trying to suss out every detail of the costume,” Lyall said. “I watched the grape stomping [scene] over and over and over again, to get every detail correct in order to recreate it exactly.”

But honing in on Lucille’s 1950s and 60s style wasn’t as easy as watching old episodes of I Love Lucy. The biopic follows Lucille’s off-screen life, not on. So Lyall needed to understand who the actress was when she wasn’t behind the cameras.

‘Being the Ricardos’ Costume Designer Put in Months of Work to Transform Nicole Kidman

To do so, Susan Lyall read Lucille’s autobiography Love, Lucy cover to cover. And she painstaking recorded every detail of Lucille Ball’s style preferences. By the time she was done, the book was “covered with Post-its.”

“Every time there was a mention of something that was related to her clothing or her hair, or her preference in interior design or anything like that, I would flag. “I mean, she wrote about how much she hated photos of birds,” Lyall shared. And I thought that was such an interesting detail. She didn’t want paintings, photographs, any artwork, any wallpaper, anything that had birds on it. A lot of hats from that era would have feathers or bird themes and I would just avoid that. It informed my design without making a statement.”

Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie was Lyall’s final step in recreating Lucy. The documentary created by Lucille’s daughter Lucie Arnaz captured her parents’ personal life. And it proved to be a gold mine of inspiration for Lynall.

“That was very useful to me. I watched that a lot,” said Lyall. “There’s a lot of home movie footage, and there are stills and family photographs and so on. They were candid and they weren’t these beautifully staged glamor shots from the ’40s and ’50s.”

The documentary showcased Lucille Ball’s true personality—not her celebrity persona. Lucy and Desi includes clips of the family “hugging and making funny faces thing… that reflect a real person,” Lyall said.

“So that was kind of the interesting part for me, was finding that person.”

And as she shared with PEOPLE, Lyall wanted to properly portray Lucille Ball as a strong woman who was “ahead of her time,” which meant she dressed the part of many real-life roles.

In the end, Susan Lyall is certain that she did proper justice to a woman who she sees as an inspiration.

“I thought about it a lot. But it’s so hard for me to figure out what she was like. I can’t believe anyone else can do more than I am right now,” she admitted. “So, I feel like people who think they know Lucille Ball in fact are talking about a character she played named Lucy Ricardo and that’s really different. And that is important.”

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