“It’s almost similar to if you’re doing an Oscar Wilde play or a Shakespeare play, you have to honor the rhythm of it or it just doesn’t work,” she tells Gold Derby. “You have to honor the ellipses, the commas, because it won’t work otherwise, because it’s musical. Same thing with this. It’s similar to music in the sense where, when you’re singing something, you have to make sure you know where to take a breath or you won’t be able to continue. It’s the same thing energetically with an Aaron Sorkin script is you have to earn your pauses because they’re just as loud as what you’re saying. It’s music. And know your lines.”
Arianda, an acclaimed stage actress who has appeared in supporting parts on several series and in feature films, has perhaps her most high-profile screen role yet with “Being the Ricardos.” Written and directed by Sorkin, the film focuses on the backstage drama on the set of “I Love Lucy” during a particularly fraught week of production. Arianda plays famed “I Love Lucy” star Vivian Vance, who memorably embodied Ethel Mertz on the sitcom.
“Embarassingly I didn’t know much about Vivian Vance,” Arianda says of her familiarity with the actress. But through Sorkin’s script and her own research — particularly a short video of Vance in real-life — Arianda was able to find the heart of the actress, who was miles away from the put-upon housewife she played on television.
“It was a tiny couple of seconds, and it was Desi [Arnaz] introducing Vivian to the audience before they started taping,” Arianda says of a key piece of footage that helped her unlock Vance’s essence. “She comes downstage and it really was a game-changer for me. Out comes this woman with the longest spine you’ve ever seen, she sashays like a dancer downstage and her shoulders are back and she’s so confident in her body and she takes this graceful bow and goes back. I just thought to myself, ‘Wow, that woman is going backstage to play Ethel.’ I said, ‘Oh there’s a lot more to this,’ and so off we went.”
It was the dichotomy, Arianda says, that helped shape her performance. “Vivian is playing a character she knows. Vivian knows exactly what she’s doing. Nina has to tune into the physically the two differences,” she says. “Vivian is confident in her body, Ethel has a slightly more weighed down quality. Her spine is more collapsed and she’s very aware of her feet. There’s a heaviness, there’s a grounding there. That was really fun to do.”
Vance and actor William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz on “I Love Lucy,” were at loggerheads almost from the first day they met. Their shared disdain for each other never wavered, as Arianda says she found out.
“This is a rumor, I don’t know, but upon hearing of William Frawley’s death, apparently Vivian Vance said, ‘Champagne for everyone,’” Arianda says. “That’s so intense. That just says it all right there, and it’s like, way to hold a grudge.”
But while Vance and Frawley didn’t get along, Arianda and J.K. Simmons, who plays Frawley, were fast friends. “The hardest part was having to have this cantankerous onscreen relationship because it’s scientifically impossible to not love J.K. Simmons,” she says.
“Being the Ricardos” is out in theaters now and is available via Amazon Prime Video on December 21.
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