Javier Bardem was ‘obsessed’ with doing justice to Desi Arnaz in ‘Being the Ricardos’

Sometimes when “Being the Ricardos” star Javier Bardem reads through a screenplay that truly excites him, he can’t bear to stay stationary. “When I read a good script I have to stand up and turn around and walk around the room and move the body because the body is reacting emotionally and physically to what you’re reading, to the images that the author has put into words and that you have to recreate on set,” he tells Gold Derby. So it’s maybe no surprise how Bardem reacted to Aaron Sorkin’s latest film, about Hollywood legends Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

“I was standing up every 10 minutes saying, ‘Wow, this is on fire. This thing is so well put together,’” Bardem says of the “Being the Ricardos” script. He was so enthralled with Sorkin’s words and the part of Arnaz that when Bardem spoke to the writer-director, he was rendered speechless. “I didn’t know what to say. I was so mildly obsessed,” Bardem remembers. “The only thing I said was, ‘I will die to say those words, can I?’”

Set during a turbulent week in the life of the “I Love Lucy” stars, as the television titans navigate a variety of scandals — including allegations that Arnaz has committed adultery — “Being the Ricardos” is a backstage drama that provides the Oscar-winning Bardem with arguably his most complicated role yet. “I was so overwhelmed by the number of things I needed to achieve,” he says of the part, citing not just Arnaz’s accent and physicality — as well as Sorkin’s signature rapid-fire dialogue — but numerous music performances that meant Bardem had to learn to play the congas and credibly sing in a short amount of time. All that plus having to play Arnaz, one of the most famous Cuban entertainers of the 20th century.

“Back in the day, they were looking for other actors who have Cuban origins — which is absolutely fine, I totally support and understand and that’s the way it should be,” Bardem says of being cast as Arnaz. “But for whatever reason, that didn’t happen and they came back to me and I was like, ‘Well, I’ll do it. Of course, I’ll do it. And I’ll put all my effort and respect and the hard work that is needed to worship who he was and what he meant for so many people.’”

One of the people who knew Arnaz best is the late star’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz. She’s an executive producer on the project and has praised Bardem for his performance. “They have a different profile and body shape and stuff, but he has everything that dad had,” she said in October. “He has his wit, his charm, his dimples, his musicality. He has his strength and tenacity, and you can tell from the performance that he just loved him. And that’s what you needed.”

“She was so respectful to our process,” Bardem says of Lucie. “She was like, ‘Guys, do your job, do your thing, you do your approach and I’m here if you need anything.’” Bardem says after his initial preparation for the part, Lucie shared some private audio recordings of her father with the actor. “You can tell the energy, you can tell that was the way to go, the way we decided to go, and it matches perfectly with the way he was,” he says.

“Being the Ricardos” is one of three massive awards contenders featuring Bardem this year, following his supporting turn in Denis Villeneuve’s blockbuster “Dune” and a lead role in “The Good Boss,” Spain’s selection to represent the country in the Best International Feature category at next year’s Oscars. 

“I’m overwhelmed that three different movies in three different times have come together at the same time because of the COVID situation,” he says, before joking, “It’s a great exposition of what I can do and what I cannot do.”

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