Aaron Sorkin interview: ‘Being the Ricardos’ writer/director
Aaron Sorkin is one of the most accomplished screenwriters of the last four decades, an Oscar and Emmy winner whose screenplay for “The Social Network” was recently deemed the third-best of the 21st century by the Writers Guild of America. But starting in 2017 with “Molly’s Game,” Sorkin has also received acclaim as a director, with last year’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” earning multiple Oscar nominations and this year’s “Being the Ricardos” already in the thick of the awards conversation. With three films under his belt, does Sorkin think he’s getting better behind the camera?
“I think it’s probably for others to decide that not for me,” Sorkin tells Gold Derby. “I can tell you I’m feeling more confident. More confident and yet the more you learn the more you discover you have to learn.”
Set during a tumultuous week in the life of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem), as the Hollywood legends try to overcome numerous crises — including accusations that Ball is a Communist and Arnaz has been unfaithful in their marriage — “Being the Ricardos” starts at full-speed and never lets up until the closing credits. “I like to parachute the audience into the story that’s already going 60 miles-per-hour,” Sorkin explains. “If you can make them just sit forward just a little bit to try and catch up to where we are because we’re running out ahead of them, that excitement will be part of their experience.”
The result is script loaded with rapid-fire dialogue and sharp debates — something fans of his previous work, particularly the early seasons of “The West Wing,” will certainly notice — but with an added effort to stretch the filmmaking beyond what Sorkin achieved in his previous films. While Sorkin reunited with multiple past collaborators for “Being the Ricardos” — such as composer Daniel Pemberton and editor Alan Baumgarten (both Oscar nominees for “The Trial of Chicago 7,” who filled those same production roles on “Molly’s Game”) — he sought out cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth to shoot the project to help expand the visual scope. (Cronenweth, who has worked with David Fincher on several films, was an Oscar nominee for “The Social Network.”)
“[Aaron’s] such a smart guy and complete storyteller that he understands we can bring so much more to it if he allows the photography, light, camera movement, blocking, actor movement, all to embellish his words,” Cronenweth told Gold Derby in a previous interview. “That was our goal and the hurdle we had to overcome: break some of his old habits and comfort zones and bring this to some new life he hadn’t really gone for. He said he really wanted to bring some of the visual styles Fincher and I had done over the last few movies we had done together.”
“I love working with Jeff Cronenweth and his team of camera operators,” Sorkin says now. “He did what I asked him to do which was have a better idea than mine. I’ll show my cards first and beat them; have a better idea. I told him I didn’t want any gimmicks. I didn’t want to pretend the movie was made in 1952, it should feel like we’re making it today.”
Sorkin’s disinterest in stunts during the production process is mirrored onscreen by Ball, who, as played by Kidman, doesn’t suffer fools and pushes the “I Love Lucy” staff to treat their massive viewing audience with respect. During one key scene early in the film, she admonishes the writers for crafting a hoary set-up that insults the intelligence of the audience.
“I think anyone who doesn’t respect the intelligence of the audience is making a big, big mistake. I couldn’t agree with her more,” Sorkin says of the moment and his own personal philosophy. “If you treat them like they’re dumb, they’re not going to like you very much. Frankly, I don’t think the people who make movies are any smarter than the people who watch movies.”
“Being the Ricardos” is out on December 10 in theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime Video on December 21.