Here’s why J.K. Simmons was reluctant to take ‘Being the Ricardos’ role

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J.K. Simmons teaming up with Aaron Sorkin should be a no-brainer, right? Yet, writer/director Sorkin had to convince the Academy Award-winning actor to join the cast of his latest film.

Being the Ricardos is Sorkin’s third feature film as a director and 10th as a writer. Much like most of his biopics, Being the Ricardos tells a snapshot of I Love Lucy stars and real-life married couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz during the course of one contentious week of their lives.

Simmons plays actor William Frawley, who is best known as Fred Mertz in I Love Lucy. When Simmons was first approached to portray Frawley, he was apprehensive due to Frawley being a real-life figure. As Simmons told Variety, “I wasn’t all that interested, despite Aaron’s involvement. I’ve always been reluctant to portray real people, especially 20th century people who have been in the public eye.” Sorkin then explained his vision to Simmons, saying, “We’re not interested in mimicry; we’re interested in who these people are.”

That was all the reassurance Simmons needed to get over his initial fears. “It was a scary prospect for all of us to play these iconic people,” he said. “Obviously I’m very glad I did the film.” Being the Ricardos also stars Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball, Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz, and Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance.

As part of his preparation for the role, Simmons jumped into a research phase to truly understand Frawley as a person. “I wanted to honor William Frawley — who he was and wasn’t. So it was a different kind of preparation than I usually do. To me, the inner life is what’s paramount. I worked on that, and it was important to get at the heart of who he was.”

Simmons had nothing but praise after working with Aaron Sorkin. “He’s such an actor’s writer. Everyone knows him as a giant intellect, but they sometimes oversimplify it and say ‘Oh, yeah, all the characters will be super-smart and talk fast.’ We all know his brain. But as an audience, and as an actor working with him, it’s also his heart that makes him a great writer.”

As the Oscar race heats up, Simmons’ portrayal of Frawley is getting some awards buzz. Voting began on Jan. 27 and concludes on Feb. 1, with the nominee announcement taking place on Tuesday, Feb. 8. Having previously won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Whiplash, only time will tell if Simmons’ work in Being the Ricardos will put him in the running for more Oscar gold.