Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem Both Tried to Back Out of Starring in 'Being the Ricardos'

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Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem hit the panic button a month before they were scheduled to begin filming Being the Ricardos. Their cause for alarm -- triggered after realizing the magnitude of the iconic characters they were set to portray -- was so intense, that when their efforts to back out of the film was essentially rebuffed, they then "begged" director Aaron Sorkin to push production for a year.

It's an astonishing tale captured in the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter, where the actors talk about, among other things, coming to terms with the high expectations that came with a film about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, whose I Love Lucy sitcom, at its height, drew a whopping 60 million viewers each week. Not to mention the wave of criticism they faced after being cast in the biopic.

But before any table readings or wardrobe fittings, Kidman and Bardem wanted out, stat. Kidman, who grew up in Australia, and Bardem, raised in Spain, tell THR they had no idea I Love Lucy had a cult-like following that transcended generations. Bardem says he knew only of Arnaz as a musician who worked with the Spanish entertainer Xavier Cugat, and says he knew of the subtitled version in Spain, Te Quiero Lucy, but never watched it. 

"I wasn't aware of how big it was," Bardem shares. "When I really started digging into him, the deeper I got, the more I knew how iconic [the show was] ... it was like, 'S**t.'"

Kidman couldn't have agreed more. "S**t what did we do?" she admits. "I got frightened."

A month before production was set to begin and after realizing the monumental task ahead of them, Kidman and Bardem dispatched their agents to get them out of the film. 

"I was like, 'Oh my god, this whole thing's falling apart,'" says producer Todd Black, who also told THR he talked Kidman and Bardem's agents off the ledge. When their efforts to back out failed, Kidman and Bardem tried stalling.

THR reports Kidman and Bardem scheduled a Zoom meeting with Sorkin and begged him to push production for a year. Sorkin made a valiant effort but Amazon, the film's distributor, ultimately said no, citing multiple reasons that included potential scheduling conflicts down the road. Kidman recalls, "So then it was like, 'Oh, no. Oh, no. We actually have to do this.'"

And while Kidman and Bardem are now earning critical acclaim following their deft portrayal of the lovable, yet complex, I Love Lucy characters, their casting selection was not a popular one despite their star power and box office magnetism.

The criticism ranged from Kidman not having the comedy chops to meet Ball's high standards to Bardem wasn't Cuban nor did he look like Arnaz. Bardem swung back at those critics. 

"I'm an actor and that's what I do for a living, try to be people that I'm not," he explains. "What do we do with Marlon Brando playing Vito Corleone? What do we do with Margaret Thatcher played by Meryl Streep? Daniel Day-Lewis playing Lincoln?' Why does this conversation happen with people with accents. You have your accent. That's where you belong. That's tricky."

The film is set during one week of production as the couple films an episode of I Love Lucy. It also focuses on three episodes partially recreated onscreen, while also diving into Ball's pregnancy, accusations that she was a communist and Arnaz's cheating scandal.

“You see the pressure of a marriage and working together at that time and all of the things that happened being compressed into a week, which is the one dramatic license Aaron Sorkin took,” Kidman explained to ET, adding that everything that happened to them at the time was “riveting.” 

Despite severe uneasiness early on about the role, Kidman said she enjoyed the entire experience, especially when it came time to filming the iconic scene in which Lucy learns how to stomp grapes to make wine.

“It was all fun. When I look back at it, I think the grape scene was very freeing,” Kidman said of getting to do the physical comedy bit. “What she was able to accomplish with nothing and the idea of stomping some grapes is so, so funny. It still holds up.” 

She added, “To have a chance to work on that was freeing for me as a person.”  

Being the Ricardos is in theaters now and will begin streaming on Amazon Prime on Dec. 21. 

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