‘Before filming any scene, I’d dance rumba, conga, I moved my hips and I’d go into the scene with the music inside.’
By Leila Cobo
Before being cast to play Desi Arnaz in the riveting Being the Ricardos, Javier Bardem had never seen an episode of I Love Lucy.
“The show wasn’t popular in Spain,” says Bardem, speaking in Spanish on a recent Saturday morning from his home in Spain. It was only when Bardem began to dig into the history that he fully understood the vast scope of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, her Cuban-born husband and business partner.
“The more I read, the bigger and the more iconic the man became,” Bardem says. “This man brought Cuban flavor to popular American culture. He took what he knew, made a remix, presented it to the American public — and the American public went crazy with the conga. And that’s only one thing. What he did production-wise is beautiful and very epic. The fact that such a strong production company was led by a woman and an immigrant in the 1950s and 60s says a lot about both of them, and their quality and capacity to deal with so much adversity.”
Although Bardem is based in his native Spain, his ascent to the pinnacle of his profession (three times nominated for Academy Awards, Bardem won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for best supporting actor for 2007’s No Country For Old Men) as a foreign actor with an accent in some ways mirrors Arnaz’s remarkable immigrant story.
The Cuban-born bandleader also forged his way into film and television, marrying up-and-coming actress Lucille Ball, with whom he would eventually create production company Desilu and the sitcom I Love Lucy, where he played her also Cuban bandleader husband. The show became America’s most successful sitcom, watched by over 60 million every week in the 1950s. Arnaz single-handedly ushered Cuban music into the American mainstream.
Being The Ricardos, produced by Amazon Studios and directed by Aaron Sorkin, is a multi-layered and nuanced look into the complex professional and romantic relationship between Arnaz and Ball, played by Nicole Kidman (who already won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama).
In playing Arnaz, a part he got after producers auditioned several other actors, Bardem does his own remix. In an astounding six weeks time, he adopted a Cuban accent and took voice, guitar, conga and dance lessons in order to render his version of Arnaz on screen.