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- Cuban-born American musician, actor and television producer (1917-1986)
- American actress, comedian and businesswoman (1911-1989)
Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, NIna Arianda and writer/director Aaron Sorkin talk about bringing the (at times surprising) lives of power couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz to the screen.
- Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy the show.
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- I had no idea it was gonna be a hit.
KEVIN POLOWY: Some of the most illuminating biopics tend to be those that focus on a specific event or more narrow time frame in someone's lives. Here, you're following a really tumultuous week in the lives of Lucille and Desi. How do you think this story builds on our collective, historical public perception of Lucille Ball in particular?
AARON SORKIN: Well, that's an interesting question. Yes, first of all, this isn't a biopic in the sense that it's not a cradle-to-grave story of a person-- this happened, then this happened, then this happened, the "greatest hits" album version of a biopic. Takes place during one production week of "I Love Lucy"-- Monday table read to Friday audience taping, when a tremendous amount of pressure is being put on Lucy, Desi, and the whole show.
Our perception of these people versus the reality couldn't be more different. And I've found that people have a very difficult time separating Lucille Ball from Lucy Ricardo and Desi Arnaz from Ricky Ricardo and so on. And they are completely different people.
KEVIN POLOWY: Nicole, your filmography is just full of emotionally challenging, sometimes physically transformative roles, but how uniquely daunting was playing an icon like Lucille Ball? And did you have any reservations going in, given whoever was cast was naturally gonna draw some extra attention?
NICOLE KIDMAN: I didn't initially. I was like, oh my God, what an incredible gift of a role and an opportunity. And then, it was like having to climb the mountain and going, am I actually gonna be able to climb it? And so that was what I was grappling with.
Then, I just started to absorb her and watch her and fall madly in love with her and what her talent and what she was able to do.
When I first read the screenplay, I couldn't believe the story. And I said to Aaron, is it true? And he's like, well, it's all true. It didn't all happen in one week, but it's all true. And I was shocked.
And I think that's the strength of this story. Yes, there's the "I Love Lucy" show and all of that and the icons, but there's also just an amazing story here.
KEVIN POLOWY: I think Nicole's casting surprised people in part because she's not particularly well known for comedy, though she has flexed those chops in things like "To Die For." What made you zero in on her from the beginning for this role?
AARON SORKIN: Well, I had a big advantage over the people who didn't think that she was right in that I had read the screenplay and knew what the movie was about. She's not playing Lucy Ricardo. She's playing Lucille Ball. And in this iteration of Lucille Ball, you need to be a very strong dramatic actress with a dry sense of humor and a facility for language. And that's why I wanted Nicole.
KEVIN POLOWY: Javier, we've never seen you in a role quite like this. What considerations do you take in mind when deciding whether or not to play a historical pop icon like Desi?
JAVIER BARDEM: No consideration at all. I just wanted to do it. I was chasing the role for many years, since I knew it was going to happen before Aaron Sorkin wrote it, actually.
I heard about it, and I was like, who is this Desi Arnaz guy? Because I knew about her, but I didn't know about him. And I started to read about him and see the shows for the first time, and I was immediately drawn into what he meant.
Then, the offer went to some other actors, and then it came back to me. And I was like, I'm ready. I want to do it. I was scared, but I was very much motivated to try to make it.
KEVIN POLOWY: In terms of the scrutiny that you guys have faced, is that frustrating for you that there seem to be stricter and stricter restrictions, at least in some courts of public opinion, on who can play whom now?
AARON SORKIN: It's not frustrating. I hear a little bit of that noise, not much. It's silly, but I find that it's nice to surprise people. They think that a movie is going to be one thing, and it turns out to be something else, and that's what's happening now.
KEVIN POLOWY: I wanted to ask you guys about Nicole Kidman, 'cause I just could not take my eyes off her in this film. Amazing performance, amazing transformation. How much easier does that make it for you as scene partners when the actor opposite you just seemingly disappears like that in front of your eyes?
NINA ARIANDA: I think when the other person disappears, they enable you to disappear. And that's the greatest gift that any actor can give you.
JK SIMMONS: Yeah, I find that absolutely-- whether it was Nina, Javier, Nicole, it was like stepping into my grandparents' old black-and-white TV, and all I had to do was listen and respond.
KEVIN POLOWY: Feels like we get to really know the real Lucille Ball in this film in all her acerbic wit and glory. Nicole, what were you most surprised to learn about her through this experience?
NICOLE KIDMAN: I didn't know that much about her. I didn't know they had a production company. I didn't know she was so smart. I didn't know she was such a good businesswoman.
I didn't know that when she was pregnant on the show, they were like, you can't be-- I didn't know pretty much anything. I didn't know she was accused of being a communist. I really did not know much of it. So that's what made it so powerful for me.
At the same time, there's so many things that I think are relevant right now that correlate to what's going on today. And I also think that there's just a compelling love story about a marriage-- that ultimately, they don't stay together, but it's a beautiful creation, and what their marriage gives to the world is gorgeous.
KEVIN POLOWY: I think it also shows how progressive she was for her time, insisting on Desi's casting, fighting against that racism, battling to include pregnancy on TV, all these things.
NICOLE KIDMAN: Oh, yeah. And up against it and resilient. I think she was extraordinarily resilient. And even when she decided, well, that's it-- and there's a scene when they first really meet. She's like, I'm done. I went as far as I can go, and I haven't become a movie star.
She wanted to be in films, and she's like, I'm always cast second fiddle kind of thing. And he's like, no, you're gonna be a movie star, or you're gonna get what I think you deserve. And I think in a weird way, that was his pledge to her at that time. He was like, I'm gonna help you, and I'm gonna get you there. And that's just gorgeous.
And then, you have her going to bat for him, going, this man is so talented, and you guys haven't given him what he deserves.
KEVIN POLOWY: Javier, what surprised you most about Desi after spending so much time with him as a character?
JAVIER BARDEM: He was relentless. He wouldn't give up. He was a person who, really, was very secure in his own skin. And he loved her. He adored her. He wanted to protect her and the show.
And he was not ashamed of showing his skills to the world and also including everyone into it. He was very much making sure that everybody will be very well taken care of and being part of the process rather than being just a selfish person who wanted to reach the top by himself.
KEVIN POLOWY: One of the more fascinating aspects of that show is the behind-the-scenes lore that the couple behind Fred and Ethel, William and Vivian, didn't actually much care for each other, and now that's represented here in the film. Were you guys aware of that dynamic prior to this project? And also, is that more fun to explore as actors versus two folks that just are enjoying each other behind the scenes?
JK SIMMONS: One of the many things that the maestro, Aaron Sorkin, did so brilliantly-- obviously, everyone knows his dialogue is genius. But for our first scene together to be at that table read where she's just infuriated by how obtuse and obnoxious I'm being-- that really sets the tone for the audience who didn't know that they had this kind of contentious relationship.
And I tried to at least have a little bit of an element of having fun with it. I'm not sure if fun is the right word, but that's the one I'm going with. Because at the end of the day, they played these characters together for a long time, and they were part of the most successful comedy in the history of television. So there was a lot of good news along with the bad news of having to actually work with each other.
NINA ARIANDA: I think as much as they disliked each other at the end of the day, they did respect each other, I think, at the end of the day.
KEVIN POLOWY: How challenging were the comedic aspects for you guys? I feel like this might be one of the funniest films on both of your resumes now.
JAVIER BARDEM: Well, I think it's all in the story. It's a great comedy timing thing, because it's beautifully written that you don't have to be funny. You just have to be present and real and organic.
NICOLE KIDMAN: And he knows comedy. Aaron obviously knows comedy, and he's very much about timing.
Every single thing is written. He doesn't leave any of it to chance. He knows what he wants, and it's very musical in a way.