The internet erupted in disbelief back at the start of 2021 when Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem were cast as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the power couple behind “I Love Lucy.” Criticisms included that Kidman didn’t exactly resemble Ball and that Javier Bardem is a Spanish actor playing a Cuban-American character. And while early screenings (the film hits Amazon Prime Video on December 21) have ushered Kidman and Bardem into the awards conversations for the Aaron Sorkin–directed film, it was never such a sure bet.
In a sprawling new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Bardem and Kidman admitted that the enormity of what they’d taken on didn’t quite hit them until they agreed to be cast.
“I wasn’t aware of how big it was,” Bardem said of “I Love Lucy,” which once drew as many as 60 million viewers a week in the U.S., while adding that he mainly knew Arnaz as a musician who worked with Spanish entertainer Xavier Cugat. There was a subtitled version in Spain — ‘Te Quiero Lucy’ — but Bardem never saw it. “When I really started digging into him, the deeper I got, the more I knew how iconic [the show] was … it was like, ‘Shit.’”
“Shit, what did we do?” said Kidman. “I got frightened.”
Per the story, Kidman and Bardem initially dispatched their agents to try to get them out of the film. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this whole thing’s falling apart,’” said producer Todd Black, who eventually talked the clients’ reps out of letting them jump. The actors then set up a Zoom meeting with Sorkin and begged him to push the movie for a year. Because of the $40 million price tag, and Amazon’s need for new content during the pandemic, the distributor wanted to move forward quickly.
When Sorkin got back to his actors to say that shooting was indeed starting on March 29, “then it was like, ‘Oh, no. Oh, no. We actually have to do this,’” Kidman said. (Kidman has previously said the reality didn’t hit her until after being cast, and that she herself felt at one point, “I’m not right. Everyone thinks I’m not right.”)
While Sorkin has defended his actors, they are also still defending themselves. Further in the Hollywood Reporter interview, Bardem addressed the question of his nationality and criticisms over his not being Cuban.
“I’m an actor, and that’s what I do for a living: try to be people that I’m not,” Bardem said. “What do we do with Marlon Brando playing Vito Corleone? What do we do with Margaret Thatcher played by Meryl Streep? Daniel Day-Lewis playing Lincoln? Why does this conversation happen with people with accents? You have your accent. That’s where you belong. That’s tricky. Where is that conversation with English-speaking people doing things like ‘The Last Duel,’ where they were supposed to be French people in the Middle Ages? That’s fine. But me, with my Spanish accent, being Cuban? What I mean is, if we want to open the can of worms, let’s open it for everyone. The role came to me, and one thing that I know for sure is that I’m going to give everything that I have.”
“Being the Ricardos” is now playing in select theaters.