Seventy years after I Love Lucy’s debut, Lucille Ball’s impact is as pronounced as ever. The legendary actress and comedian’s talent has influenced generations of performers after her, including the cast of Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos.
“She was a visionary, she was a revolutionary, she was a woman that really made a lot for women in the industry,” Javier Bardem told A.frame at the film’s Dec. 6 premiere, held at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.
“We’re talking about the ’50s, the United States and a show that was seen by millions every single week, run by a woman and a foreigner,” he added of Ball and Desi Arnaz’s I Love Lucy. “That’s a lot. And both of them really deserve a lot of recognition for that.”
Bardem plays Arnaz to Nicole Kidman’s Ball in Being the Ricardos, which dives into the pair’s complex romantic and professional relationship during one critical production week of I Love Lucy. The groundbreaking sitcom aired on CBS from 1951 to 1957, and was the most-watched show in the U.S. for four of its six seasons.
That undeniable success—coupled with turmoil behind the scenes—made for a compelling exploration of Ball and Arnaz in Being the Ricardos. J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy and Clark Gregg also star.
“Lucille Ball, I think, is … the most iconic person in the history of American television,” said Simmons, who plays William Frawley in the movie. “I mean, 16 million households were watching I Love Lucy every Monday night in the ’50s. It’s something that has never been replicated and never will be, and the show has never been off air.”
“And more importantly, behind the scenes, she and Desi were such a power couple in Hollywood in the 1950s, a woman and an immigrant who speaks English as a second language, running a studio and becoming the power couple in Hollywood, they broke a lot of barriers,” he noted.
Hale, who plays I Love Lucy producer and head writer Jess Oppenheimer, recalled how Ball’s “organic” comedy influenced his own career.
“My favorite scene growing up was the chocolate factory where the chocolates were going to the conveyor belt, it gets out of control, she starts popping them in her mouth,” he remembered. “I mean, I watched that over and over and over and over.”
Scenes like that classic one from “Job Switching,” the first episode in season 2 of I Love Lucy, remain among Ball’s most memorable performances, alongside the “Vitameatavegamin” scene from season 1’s “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” (a favorite of Simmons) and the season 4 episode “Harpo Marx” (a standout for Bardem).
“I think what she did with Harpo Marx, that episode … I heard that she didn’t have any time to rehearse, because he didn’t want to rehearse,” Bardem marveled. “So she kind of did it like, in the moment. Like, when you see that, you’re like, ‘How do you do that?’ They were geniuses in physical comedy.”
Being the Ricardos celebrates Ball’s comedic legacy while offering insight into what went on when the cameras weren’t rolling, offering a “new appreciation” for the icon, Hale said.
“Here she is, giving all this joy, but really feeling a lot of stuff behind the scenes,” he shared, detailing Ball’s turbulent relationship with Arnaz and the show’s near-cancellation even as it broke barriers, like showing pregnancy on TV. “That’s crazy!”
“She was a huge trailblazer,” Hale said. “I have a whole new respect for her.”
Being the Ricardos is now in select theaters and will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video starting Dec. 21.