Nicole Kidman on Lucille Ball in “Being the Ricardos”

There are valuable lessons Nicole Kidman learned every time she played a real character: how that person was misunderstood by society at the time. How this time in history looks more like the present than it thought. And, above all, how to maintain your balance while walking barefoot in a vat of grapes.

Recounting his preparations to play “I Love Lucy” star Lucille Ball, Kidman suggested that his methodical efforts to learn Ball’s grape-trampling routine in 1956 were not fully sufficient when it came time to replay it. in front of the camera.

“I had only trained on floor,” Kidman said with gentle seriousness. “The only thing I didn’t count on was that there would be real grapes. They are actually very slippery, just to let you know.

In “Being the Ricardos,” a comedy-drama written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, Kidman plays Ball in a weeklong story to “I Love Lucy,” where she and her husband Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) fight for the role of Ball’s pregnancy. in the series, push back accusations that Ball is a Communist and come to a fateful point in their marriage.

The film, which is in theaters and on Amazon Prime, includes recreations of famous scenes from “I Love Lucy”. But it’s ultimately a story of discovery, for the TV star and for the woman who plays her.

Kidman, 54, is an Oscar and Emmy award-winning actress, and is once again a year-end nominee for her performance in “Being the Ricardos.” But she has a tendency to question herself and said she had little faith in her comedic abilities.

Through her approach to “Being the Ricardos,” Kidman found more connections than she imagined with Ball, another actress who was cataloged and underrated in her time. Their life stories and talents may not overlap completely, but they both understood the need for humor to achieve their individual goals.

As Kidman said, “I must be funny, and it’s hard to have fun.”

On a visit to New York City earlier this month, before the Omicron push, Kidman sat in a living room on the ground floor of a boutique hotel in Soho, her fingers adorned with intricate rings as she sipped a shot of ginger.

Kidman said reruns of “I Love Lucy” were a blurry backdrop of her childhood, and that she leaned toward shows like “Bewitched” and “The Brady Bunch”.

She could point out the occasional comedic performance on her resume, in a dark satire like “To Die For” or a family movie like “Paddington,” even if she needed to be reminded that there was also physical clown in “Mill.” Red “. . (“There were, that’s right!”) Even on a somewhat sardonic series like HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” Kidman said, “It’s Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern who are very funny. I’m just telling them, I’ll be your straight wife.

And she has no illusions that she was the most logical candidate for the role of Ball or even the first actress wanted to play it.

When it premiered several years ago, “Being the Ricardos” was envisioned as a television miniseries, according to Lucie Arnaz, actress and daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and executive producer of the film.

Cate Blanchett was attached, but by the time Sorkin got involved and the project was rolled out at Amazon as a movie, the actress was no longer available. “It just took too long and we lost it,” Arnaz said in an interview. “I was devastated.” (A press representative for Blanchett declined to comment.)

As other stars were being considered, Arnaz said, “None of them made me happy. It was always like, Who’s the Flavor of the Month? Who’s Got the Hot Movie of the Minute?”

But when Kidman emerged as a possibility, Arnaz said, she was intrigued. “I thought it was good – we should only look at Australian actresses for that,” she joked.

Kidman said Blanchett’s previous involvement did not diminish his interest. In show business, Kidman said, “I feel like there’s a holy pact between all of us – whoever gets something, that’s where he was supposed to land.”

She was aware of a backlash online from fans opposing her casting, some of whom wanted the role to go to “Will & Grace” star Debra Messing. “I’m not on the Internet and I’m definitely not on Google myself,” Kidman said. “But things are happening.”

(Arnaz said Messing “just wanted to be that person so badly,” but added, “We weren’t doing that. We weren’t trying to be that person.” A press representative for Messing declined to comment. .)

She wasn’t very familiar with Ball’s life when she was first approached, but Kidman said she could imagine the freedom to portray this burlesque queen: “The way she moves and falls, every part of her physique, you go, oh I can be an absolute doofus playing her.

Still, after signing on “Being the Ricardos” with some enthusiasm, Kidman said she was starting to get cold feet. His reluctance, she said, was partly related to the pace of Sorkin’s dialogue-dense script and partly to directing the film during the pandemic.

But on a fundamental level, Kidman said comedies don’t come easily to him – neither as a genre nor as opportunities to act. “I’m not thrown in,” she said. It could be the result of a career in drama, or, “it could be my personality too.”

Reflecting on his upbringing in Australia, Kidman said, “I was the kid who wasn’t allowed to go to the beach in the middle of the day because I was so fair and was going to burn. So I would sit in a room and not watch TV, I read. A youth spent with Dostoyevsky, Flaubert and Tolstoy “doesn’t necessarily make you an actor,” she says.

If she is to play a role with comedic qualities now, Kidman said, “I need to be pushed and encouraged in this area.”

Sorkin was persuasive, Kidman said, and she was encouraged by past experiences hitting a funny line in plays here and there. “It’s pretty awesome when you say something and a whole theater is laughing,” she said. “I can understand why I am getting addicted to this. “

What the movie really demanded, Kidman said, was that she play Lucille Ball (as portrayed in Sorkin’s script) and not Lucy Ricardo. “Lucy is a character – it’s not Lucille,” she explained. “Lucille is amazing because she was knocked down, got up and stuck with taking care of things.”

The more she thought about the script and learned about Ball’s life, Kidman said, the more she saw a multi-faceted person who gave her so many emotions to act out.

During Ball’s marriage to alcoholic and loafer Arnaz, Kidman said, “She loved someone who loved her but couldn’t give her what she wanted most.” Pointing out the failed film career that ultimately led Ball to “I Love Lucy,” she said, “She was really funny but she wanted to be a movie star.”

Kidman stopped before drawing direct parallels between Ball’s life and his own, but Lucie Arnaz wholeheartedly embraced the comparisons.

Arnaz said that, like her mother, Kidman “had been married before – she understood divorce and was trying to raise her children in the spotlight. She understood a husband who had a drug addiction problem. (Kidman’s husband, singer Keith Urban, has been treated in the past for drug and alcohol abuse.)

Kidman embarked on the physical preparations for the role and worked closely with a dialect trainer, Thom Jones, to develop the voices she would use for Lucille Ball and Lucy Ricardo.

As Jones explained, “Lucy is extreme Lucille. When Lucille played Lucy, she made a large, over-the-top version of herself and sharpened her voice.

Ball’s natural voice was deeper and huskier after years of smoking, although Kidman didn’t necessarily strive to emulate it perfectly. “We wanted her to grab the essence of Lucille and convey it,” Jones said. “If you do identity theft, you are going to be too aware of your exterior and not be able to fill your interior as an actor.”

Kidman ran lines with his mother, a longtime “Lucy” fan, although it’s not clear how helpful this was to his overall process. “She would say, ‘You got that word wrong,’ and I would say, ‘Mom, let me go to the end of the sentence before correcting me.’ Rule n ° 1, do not learn lines with your mother. “

She also studied personal audio recordings which Arnaz shared with her and worked with a movement coach while learning to duplicate several “I Love Lucy” routines, although only a handful appear in the film.

Kidman has already received nominations for several accolades, including a Golden Globe and a Critics Choice Award, for “Being the Ricardos,” but her performance remains an occasional source of insecurity for her.

She seemed surprised to hear about an October trailer for the film that only showed her face fleetingly in the span of about 75 seconds, prompting some viewers to ask why Amazon seemed to be hiding Kidman.

When asked if she was aware of the teaser or the strategy behind it, Kidman replied, “I don’t know how to answer that, you know? I don’t take care of the promotional part. Maybe they were just afraid to show me.

She inhaled before adding, “Bummer.”

No matter what other advice she receives for “Being the Ricardos”, Kidman will always have the experience of standing on a facsimile of the “I Love Lucy” ensemble, performing Ball material from the series. and hearing the laughter of dozens of extras hired to play the show’s studio audience.

Kidman came up with only one word to describe what she was feeling at the time: “Fantastic”. Then, as if to demonstrate some of the skills she had learned on the film, she waited a moment and said, “By the way, they were made for fun.”

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