Nicole: ‘This is a lot harder than I thought’

Nicole Kidman jumped in head first on her latest role, and later realised it was going to be much harder than she initially thought.

Nicole Kidman isn’t the first person you think of to play American comedy legend Lucille Ball.

Other than the red hair – and red isn’t even Ball’s natural colour – no striking similarities immediately come to mind.

But Kidman’s performance as Ball in Being the Ricardos is gaining notice for its complexity and nuanced portrayal of a woman whose fame couldn’t eclipse the turmoils in her personal and professional life.

Aaron Sorkin’s film takes place over a week, set behind-the-scenes of an episode of the I Love Lucy show. It’s a dramatic week in which Ball will be challenged by the toxic political paranoia of McCarthyism as well as her relationships with co-stars, the network and, most significantly, her own husband and creative partner.

Kidman talked to about taking on the role, working with Aaron Sorkin and why she would love to do more comedy.

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There were reports that you had some fears in accepting this role. Can you tell me about that?

I didn’t have the fear initially. I was just absolutely thrilled. ‘Yes, I would so love to do this’. I so want to work with Aaron Sorkin, he’s never offered me anything before. And Javier, to work with Javier Bardem was glorious, as was the whole cast. J.K. [Simmons], Nina [Arianda], everybody in it.

And then as we started, because I was in Australia when I said yes and I had to start prepping here, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is a lot harder than I thought, I hope I’m going to get there.

What was harder than you thought?

I worked with a movement coach, I worked with a dialect coach, I started doing a lot of the preparation here and had to do a lot of it over Zoom. And it was difficult. But when I finally got to the States, we had a couple of days of rehearsal, and we started shooting.

Wow, that’s fast.

‘Just got for it.’ That’s what Aaron Sorkin said to both of us. He said, ‘I want you to find the humanity in these two people. This is about a marriage, it’s about a partnership, it’s about so many other things than doing an impersonation of Lucille Ball.

I can definitely see that.

It’s not about, ‘OK, now let’s watch the I Love Lucy show’ because that doesn’t interest him.

His mind is so facile and interesting. What interests him is dynamics and the politics of the time and the creating of comedy, which of course he knows how to do because he’s done The West Wing for so many years. So, he has some similarities to Lucille and Desi.

I thought Being the Ricardos was going to be a comedy, but when I watched it, I realised it was actually a drama about a comedian.

Yes, which is what Aaron kept emphasising. Every time they’d put the I Love Lucy theme song on he’d be like, ‘Please, can we not do that? We need to focus first of all on the story of this couple at this time’.

I think people were initially like, OK, well, why would you be doing it, and why would I do be doing it? But hopefully when people see the movie, they’re entertained by a story because the story itself is very compelling.

You’re watching a woman navigate really new terrain for somebody at that time and hopefully delving into what it takes to do comedy and be an actor and have a relationship.

And then I had no idea that was accused of being a communist and dealing with McCarthy. There were so many things that I had no reference for.

What you were saying about people getting an idea into the process of comedy, of being a comedian, I’ve always loved your comedic performances. I love To Die For, it’s one my favourites. I always wondered why you don’t do more comedy?

I don’t get asked to do them! It was so nice being in a theatre and hearing people laugh at this, as much as this is not a comedy, hopefully it’s still got big laughs in at different times because the dialogue is so sharp and so quick.

I heard an audience laugh and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s fun!’. And when we were shooting, we had a studio audience.

I was doing the grape stomping and they would laugh. But then I realised they were being told to laugh.

I’m sure some of it was real.

I was like, ‘Oh, that’s right, they have to laugh on cue, they’re in the film’.

Are you hoping you will get asked to do more comedic roles after they see you in this?

I’d like that! I definitely like it, it feels good, it definitely feels really good.

I’m willing to go where my life takes me. I think there’s a certain place where you reach, and which I’ve always tried to stay actually, is going with the flow. That kind of feeling. I don’t come up with big plans for the next or anything.

I’m just like, OK, let’s see what comes my way.

Edited for clarity and length.

Being the Ricardos is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video

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