J.K. Simmons appeared on a single episode “The West Wing” in 2006 and hoped he’d get another chance to work with the series’ creator, Aaron Sorkin. When the opportunity presented itself, he accepted. “Being the Ricardos,” Sorkin’s film about one nightmare week in the life of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1952, the Oscar-winning actor wasn’t sure that it was the right project. Sorkin wanted him to play William Frawley, the vaudeville veteran who incarnated Lucy and Ricky’s grumpy neighbor Fred Mertz for six seasons on “I Love Lucy.”Simmons got stage fright at the thought.
“When I was first confronted with the idea of playing William Frawley, it was terrifying,”Simmons spoke in the video series’ latest episode “How I Did It.” “Despite my desire to work with Aaron again, I was leery of it.”He read the screenplay but Sorkin (or “the maestro,”Simmons, as the actor affectionately called him), wrote that he had a change in heart. He thought to himself: “I think maybe it’s time for me to do something that scares me.”
Simmons discovered how to become Frawley through studying the physical gestures Fred used to use: he folded his hands over his stomach and crossed his arms across his chest. He also placed his hands in his pockets. “Once he was placed, he just sort of put down roots and lived there,”Simmons stated. “That combination of things was very grounding, literally and figuratively, for me in terms of a base to begin to try to inhabit that character.”
Nina Arianda is Vivian Vance’s actress. “Being the Ricardos,” the key to unlocking the woman who played Ethel Mertz, best friend/partner-in-crime to Lucy and long suffering wife to Fred, was studying old photos of her. “I do kind of visual work where I just take images and I put them up, almost like a serial killer wall, in my office and I’ll just stare at them,”She said. Vance was seated with her knees bent and a long rope wrapped under her feet. Her expression shows the slightest hint of sadness.
“There was something in her eyes that just really got me,” Arianda said. “And it got [at] this inner life that we’re exploring in the story as well. … Part of what’s happening in the film with Vivian is that we find her at a place where she’s really wrestling with the fact that she is no longer who she wants to be or ever will be. She’s kind of mourning her past self, who was an ingénue and a leading lady, and she’s now Ethel and she’s known as Ethel for the remainder of her life. She never gave into her sadness, and she said, ‘I’m a professional, I show up.’”
Sorkin also took the photo after it made its way to him. Arianda says he only took one glance at the photo and then told the actress. “Play her.”
Arianda had to push past her jitters like Simmons. “That’s fearless to me: As unhappy as she might have been at times, it didn’t stop her from giving 100% of herself,” Arianda said. “What I got from it was: Be as fearless as possible.”