Aaron Sorkin defends casting Javier Bardem and Nicole Kidman in 'Being the Ricardos': 'I'm very comfortable with it'

Aaron Sorkin is confident that he cast the right actors — Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem — in his upcoming movie about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Being the Ricardos, despite the criticism he's received.

People were upset, for example, that Bardem, who's Spanish, is playing Arnaz, who was Cuban.

"First of all, Amazon's casting department had a Latina casting consultant [who was focused on all Latinx casting] on board," Sorkin said during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "I found out, for instance, because there was an actor who I was considering who's Brazilian, and I was told by the casting consultant that Brazilians aren't considered [Hispanic] because they speak Portuguese. So, Javier is Spanish and the casting consultant was fine with it."

Writer and director Aaron Sorkin responds to backlash over casting Javier Bardem and Nicole Kidman in <em>Being the Ricardos</em>. (Photo: Amazon Prime Video)
Writer and director Aaron Sorkin responds to backlash over casting Javier Bardem and Nicole Kidman in Being the Ricardos. (Photo: Amazon Prime Video)

However, he said he didn't want to blame the casting consultant.

"I want to tell you my opinion on this and I stand by it, which is this: Spanish and Cuban aren't actable, OK? They're not actable," he said. "By the way, neither are straight and gay. Because I know there's a small movement underway that only gay actors should play gay characters. Gay and straight aren't actable. You could act being attracted to someone, but most nouns aren't actable."

Still, Sorkin said productions should avoid being "demeaning."

"We know that blackface is demeaning because of its historical context, because you're making ridiculous cartoon caricatures out of people," he said. "We know that Mickey Rooney with the silly piece in Breakfast at Tiffany's and that makeup, doing silly Japanese speak, we know that's demeaning. This is not, I felt. Having an actor who was born in Spain playing a character who was born in Cuba was not demeaning. And it wasn't just the casting consultant who agreed, Lucy and Desi's Cuban American daughter didn't have a problem with it. So, I'm very comfortable with it."

In fact, Lucie Arnaz, who's a producer — along with her brother, Desi Arnaz Jr. — has endorsed the choices. "Just trust us, it's gonna be a nice film," she said in a January post on Facebook. She noted then that some critics on social media were insistent that actress Debra Messing or someone else should have been selected to portray the late sitcom star and the first woman to lead a major TV studio.

Sorkin spoke highly of Kidman in his new interview.

"The fact of the matter is when Nicole, as Lucille Ball, plays Lucy Ricardo [Ball's I Love Lucy character], I think she does an incredible job of mimicking Lucy. Same with Javier, Nina [Arianda, who plays Vivian Vance] and J.K. [Simmons, who plays William Frawley]. But there is, in total, less than three minutes of I Love Lucy in this film, and the only reason the I Love Lucy material is there is because we're in Lucy's head and we're seeing that she is a comedic chess master, that she can project ahead to what [the show] is going to look like on Friday night, and how the audience is going to react and whether this joke is going to work. So, finding an actress who looked like Lucille Ball wasn't important to me, especially because I was excited by the idea that Lucille Ball doesn't look like Lucille Ball — and that every time we're seeing Lucille Ball not as Lucy Ricardo, she should both literally and metaphorically let her hair down. Let her be what she's not allowed to be on TV in 1952 on CBS. Let her be a woman. Let her be sexy. You weren't allowed to be sexy on TV."

He explained that Oscar winner Kidman, who is Australian, was initially attempting to capture Ball's voice. But Sorkin directed his lead actors to focus simply on playing the characters in the script, which is set over one week and shows the production of one episode.

"As far as audience anticipation, that's something I'm just not worried about," Sorkin said. "I'm certain that when people see the movie, they'll leave feeling that Nicole has made a very solid case for herself, but moreover, I've found that you can really leverage low expectations. I learned that with The Social Network. People assumed it was going to be a romantic comedy, where, like, Paul Rudd 'friends' Drew Barrymore and they fall in love. And I just thought, 'Great, they're not expecting what they're about to see.'"

He said he thinks the same will be true of this film.