NY loves Lucy.
Nicole Kidman, the star of the upcoming Lucille Ball biopic “Being the Ricardos,” in theaters Dec. 10 and on Amazon Prime Video Dec. 21, and her co-stars spoke to an enthusiastic group of New York Screen Actors Guild Award voters after a screening in Midtown Manhattan on Thursday.
And Kidman, 54, revealed that she tried to quit the “I Love Lucy” movie after initially accepting the role because of the daunting task of playing such a revered Hollywood icon.
“I actually sent [director] Aaron [Sorkin] an e-mail saying, ‘I think I’m actually the wrong person now. I know I said “yes,” but I’m now saying “no,”’” the Aussie actress said. “To which he said, ‘You don’t get to say “no” now!’ I’m really glad that he pushed me.”
Sorkin’s bold casting choice caused backlash online, at first, because the Oscar-winner isn’t known for her comedic chops, but buzz and Oscar chatter has built in recent weeks. Viewers are impressed with how committedly she immersed herself in Ball’s voice and body.
“I started with the grape stomping,” Kidman said of her prep, referencing the classic 1956 “Lucy” episode “Lucy’s Italian Movie.” “And that was my way into her, and I loved doing it. I loved doing the clown work and all of that.”
She added: “I worked with actually a movement coach as well, because the physicality of her — [I’m a] 5-foot-11 kind of gawky woman who’s not used to, you know, she was a beautiful dancer and had such a command of her body. So I had to really work on that.”
Kidman also had to master Ball’s unique, smoky-but-silly voice, which she tested out on her famous spouse, singer Keith Urban.
“Vocally, I started with the Lucy voice, and it was so far out of reach that it was terrifying,” she said. “I was, like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ And I’d do it for my husband, who has a great ear, cause he’s a musician, and he’d be, like, ‘Hmmmm.’ Kinda scary.”
When Javier Bardem, 52, who plays Ball’s husband and collaborator Desi Arnaz, was asked how he captured Arnaz’s explosive charisma, he said, “Born that way!,” before quickly adding, “Joking.”
Also on hand were J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda, who respectively play Fred and Ethel Mertz actors William Frawley and Vivian Vance.
Simmons, 66, was surprised to discover that Lucy and Ricky’s neighbors loathed each other off camera.
“We all learned in our research that William Frawley and Vivian Vance were not the best of friends, for fairly complicated reasons involving two large egos,” he said. “Shockingly among actors.”
And Arianda, 37, found that lithe and athletic Vance was nothing like her on-screen housewife persona.
“I found one clip, and it was when Desi introduces the characters onstage before the show starts,” she said. “And it blew my mind that this dancer came out, and she genuinely saunters onto the stage.”
Kidman, who will likely net a fifth Oscar nomination next year, said she was always keen to rehearse with her fellow actors. But when Arianda sent out e-mails begging co-stars to practice, she never got a reply from her most important scene partner, Simmons.
“It was baseball season,” he said.