Lucy and Ricky, Fred and Ethel. Seven decades on, and the world is still on a first-name basis with characters made famous by Lucille Ball, her husband Desi Arnaz, William Frawley and Vivian Vance.
Which is why expectations are high as a movie about the real people behind "I Love Lucy" is about to hit the big screen.
Correspondent Mo Rocca asked the cast of "Being the Ricardos": "There are many people who feel very strongly about these characters, like they're family."
"Yes," laughed Nicole Kidman.
"Can you assure the public that you've done your best to do justice to these characters?"
"Yeah," said Nina Arianda.
"Look at our faces – I guess," said Javier Bardem.
"I mean, done everything that was in my ability to, yeah," Kidman said.
Kidman and Bardem have the awards and box office clout to headline Hollywood's biggest movies. But along with co-stars Arianda and J.K. Simmons (who have an Oscar and a Tony between them), they've felt intense pressure to get their roles right.
Bardem said, "I don't know we did our best, but we were absolutely obsessed with it. All of us, the four of us, in our own ways. Also, I had to learn how to sing and play the congas."
"You got to sing 'Babalu'!" said Rocca.
And with the driving cadence of an Aaron Sorkin script, "Being the Ricardos" races through a frantic week in which Lucille Ball is accused of being a Communist … Desi Arnaz is accused of cheating on Lucille … and the couple announces Lucy is pregnant, all against the high-stakes production of an episode of "I Love Lucy."
Rocca asked, "I'm guessing that there are many things that surprised you, but what are sort of the top things that surprised you learning about Lucille Ball?"
Kidman said, "I mean, all of it. All of it. They way [she and Desi] built a production company, how they were such a team. I didn't know how clever she was, how she'd always say she wasn't funny. So, I mean, you name it, I didn't know it!"
"Was she a great actress?"
"She actually was, yeah, yeah," Kidman replied. "She was a great dancer, too. She moved beautifully, which makes sense when she's doing physical comedy. But she was a beautiful dancer. And I always say she had the most beautiful hands. She used her hands all the time, particularly when she'd talk. But she was so smart, which I love. And that's really depicted. And she and Desi, it was a love story."
Bardem said, "I think the deep love they have for each other is still alive."
"Do you think the comedy between the two would've worked if they didn't love each other?" asked Rocca.
"I don't think they would've been able to withstand the stress," said Kidman. "I mean, it was an enormous amount of stress when you're doing a show, and also the perfectionism, which Lucille had, which was, like, it's gotta be great."
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Bardem said, "It's a powerful love story. It's what the movie's about, the powerful love story."
Kidman added, "They'd fight."
"And then what?" asked Simmons.
"Make a lotta love," Kidman laughed.
"Between these two people that created this amazing show, and the price you have to pay for that in some ways, they were exposing themselves in a way," Bardem said.
"They're exposing themselves," said Rocca. "And speaking of which, that balcony scene, I mean, that's the kind of Lucy and Desi you never saw, obviously, in the sitcom."
"They both have this sensual energy," Bardem said. "I mean, you can tell on the show. You can tell when they're talking. They have this force. They embody this sexual energy, which doesn't mean that you have to have sex continuously. It means, like, there's a force, like, that's unstoppable. That it's not rational. It's something that it's more animal. And I think one put the fire into the other."
If Lucy and Ricky Ricardo were fire, downstairs neighbors Fred and Ethel Mertz were ice. In fact, J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda discovered that the Mertzes' on-screen bickering was no stretch at all for actors Bill Frawley and Vivian Vance.
Simmons said, "I was really surprised that Bill and Vivian just couldn't stand each other. I thought that was characters, you know? I thought that was the Mertzes."
"What was the source of that animosity?" Rocca asked.
Arianda said, "Rumor has it that before they even set eyes on each other, Bill had overheard Vivian complain that she's gonna be paired up with this 'old man,' that '"You're marrying me to my grandfather.' And that did not go over well with Bill."
The age difference between the two actors was 22 years. "Not unlike Nina's age difference to me, I think," Simmons laughed. "Art very closely imitating life here."
In real life, of course, Lucille and Desi divorced three years after the series ended.
Rocca asked, "Why didn't the marriage work? Javier?"
"Oh my God. I knew that this moment was coming," Bardem laughed.
Kidman asked, "Can you explain to me why you couldn't stay home?"
"I don't know. What do I know? I mean, it worked. I mean, it worked. It worked. They were together for a long time. And they loved each other …"
"Two kids," Kidman interjected.
"Exactly. I mean, that's a success in itself. But then something went wrong. And if you want to know, you have to go to watch the movie. That's a good sell!"
Simmons said, "One of my favorite things just learning about them as a couple was, long after they were not a couple anymore, every time you would hear them speak about each other, whether in their books, in public appearances, they had such regard and respect and love for each other as artists, as human beings, as parents. Whatever was incompatible about them as a couple, they were both very generous with each other."
And it's their unmistakable bond that's forever recorded in black-and-white.
Rocca asked Kidman, "Why did she insist on Desi as her husband in the sitcom?"
"Because they had great chemistry. They were fantastic together. And he's the perfect person for the job," she replied.
"That was the pitch," laughed Simmons.
"Oh, my God. I sound like her," Kidman laughed. "Lucille, go away!"
To watch a trailer for "Being the Ricardos" click on the video player below:
For more info:
- "Being the Ricardos" opens in select theaters December 10, and begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video December 21
Story produced by Ed Forgotson. Editor: Carol Ross.
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