Academy Award winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin said he wanted to make a movie about Lucille Ball for a long time, but that he wanted to be sure it was at the right time.
“It was about a year-and-a-half before a yes,” the prolific screenwriter said to The Hollywood Reporter about the movie Being the Ricardos, which he wrote and is also directing.
When he finally signed on, he said there were only a few actors in the world who could play the role.
“I couldn’t cast Desi until we had our Lucy. What I needed was someone who absolutely owns it. And you’re going to choose from a small pool of world-class actresses. This isn’t for beginners, as Lucy says. This was going to be a kind of tour de force performance.”
That’s why, Sorkin said, he chose Nicole Kidman to play the role. And once he had his Lucy he cast Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz.
There was immediate backlash about Kidman. Many fans said she shouldn’t be playing the iconic female comedian, known for her timing, quirky looks, and zany act-outs. Also, many said they just don’t look alike.
There was also blowback for hiring Bardem since he’s a Spaniard and Arnaz was a Latin man.
Sorkin responded to the controversy by saying he wasn’t looking for facsimiles of Ball and Arnaz.
I’d make it very clear to them 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.” I know that Nicole was working on Lucy’s voice for a while, and I wanted to relieve her of that. As far as audience anticipation, that’s something I’m just not worried about. I’m certain that when people see the movie, they’ll leave feeling that Nicole has made a very solid case for herself, but moreover, I’ve found that you can really leverage low expectations.
When asked whether it was OK to hire Bardem for a role that isn’t his own heritage, Sorkin put that on a casting consultant.
First of all, Amazon’s casting department had a Latina casting consultant [who was focused on all Latinx casting] on board. I found out, for instance, because there was an actor who I was considering who’s Brazilian, and I was told by the casting consultant that Brazilians aren’t considered [Hispanic] because they speak Portuguese. So, Javier is Spanish and the casting consultant was fine with it. But I don’t want to use the casting consultant as cover. I want to tell you my opinion on this and I stand by it, which is this: Spanish and Cuban aren’t actable, OK? They’re not actable.
Being the Ricardos comes out on December 10 in limited theaters and then streams on Prime Video on December 21.