LOS ANGELES (AFP): Landing a top A-lister should be welcome news for any movie, but “Being the Ricardos” producers faced a furious backlash when Nicole Kidman was unveiled as the star who would play legendary comedian Lucille Ball.
Fans of the seminal 1950s sitcom “I Love Lucy” railed against the Australian Oscar-winner’s casting as the US national treasure with such venom that Ball’s daughter even posted a video imploring them to “stop arguing.”
“‘She doesn’t look like her.’ ‘Her nose isn’t the same.’ ‘She isn’t as funny.’ Blah blah blah blah blah,” said Lucie Arnaz in January. “Just trust us. It’s going to be a nice film.”
Kidman and director Aaron Sorkin stuck to their guns, and audiences will soon make up their own minds as the film — which had its premiere in Los Angeles Monday — hits US theaters Friday.
The original “I Love Lucy” followed the wacky exploits of the Ricardos, a young interracial couple living in New York City, and was watched by up to 60 million viewers at its peak.
“Being the Ricardos” takes place largely behind the scenes during one week of production on the sitcom in 1952, during which Ball — the show’s lead actress — was very publicly accused of being a Communist.
Javier Bardem plays Desi Arnaz, Ball’s husband both in real life and on-screen in their hugely successful series.
While the casting of a 52-year-old Spaniard to play a more youthful Cuban stoked further controversy among devotees, Sorkin told his actors that he had no interest in replicating the hugely influential sitcom itself.
“He was just so not interested in the carbon copy impersonation — and that’s bold,” said Kidman at a recent preview screening.
“I had massive trepidation about a month prior, and Aaron had to get on the phone and send me some emails saying ‘you got this’… it was frightening but incredibly exciting,” she said.
– ‘Terrifying’ –
Ball, who died in 1989, appeared regularly on US television for nearly three decades.
After “I Love Lucy,” which ran from 1951 to 1957, she went on to star in “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour,” “The Lucy Show” and “Here’s Lucy.” She also appeared in more than 70 movies.
The film highlights her trailblazing work as a female star who called the shos on set, and Arnaz’s impressive influence over suited executives and sponsors despite his previous status as a bongo-playing bandleader from Cuba.
As the week unfurls, tensions also bubble in the real-world couple’s frequently tempestuous marriage.
While the focus is on the real people behind the show, Kidman is occasionally called on to recreate moments from the series, including a famous comedy set-piece in which Lucy stomps grapes in an Italian vineyard.
“It was my obsession to get it absolutely accurate,” recalled Kidman. “It was (Sorkin’s) obsession to have the human beings portrayed.”
The original “I Love Lucy” remains popular on US television reruns even today, although Bardem and Kidman admitted it was “not as well known” to them growing up in Spain and Australia.
But Lucille and Desi’s daughter Lucie was a regular and “terrifying” presence on set, said Kidman, with Sorkin and his cast “on the receiving end” of her advice about her parents’ depiction.
“I emphasized to each of them that I am not looking for an impersonation of these characters… ‘Play the characters in the script. You’re fully equipped to do this,'” recalled Sorkin.
“I didn’t want either of these two to freak out, to feel that burden that it’s an impersonation. The impersonation is just smaller than what we were doing.”
After its debut in theaters, “Being the Ricardos” will be available to stream on Amazon Prime from December 21.