“Lucy, I’m home!” is one of the many I Love Lucy homages evident in Being the Ricardos, a biographical drama about one of Hollywood’s most powerful couples during a time of intense public scrutiny. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, this film follows Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) as they persevere through a particularly stressful week of work filming their sensational comedy series I Love Lucy. The show and everyone’s reputations are on the line when it’s revealed that Lucy is a registered Communist. Despite Lucy’s insistence that she is in no way a practicing Communist, the press runs with the revelation, which jeopardizes the future of the show and her career.
The film gives viewers a beautiful look into the writers’ room while capturing the palpable fear and anger that permeated every aspect of production. Tensions were high and allegiances were questioned as the cast of the show, which also included Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) and William Frawley (J.K. Simmons) dealt with uncertainty and Lucy’s strict temperament.
Grab some popcorn, it’s time to take a closer look at who plays who in Being the Ricardos.
Lucille Ball/Lucy Ricardo (Nicole Kidman)
Emmy-winning actress, comedian, producer, and model Lucille Ball was the main attraction in the long-running hit sitcom I Love Lucy in which she starred with her real-life husband Desi Arnaz. In the series, she played Lucy Ricardo, who was always getting herself into messy situations often with close friend and neighbor Ethel. Ball became known for her physical comedy and the precise comedic timing she brought to her characters. She was heavily involved in the production and writing of the show, and would always consider the audience’s intelligence and the characters’ motivations.
She was discovered by Jess Oppenheimer of CBS for her performance in his hit radio program My Favorite Husband. Oppenheimer approached her about starring in her own television series (I Love Lucy) with Richard Denning, but she demanded that her real husband Desi Arnaz played the part of her husband, as it would be both a great fit and a chance for them to see each other amidst Desi’s busy life on the road as a musician. Ball had a reputation for being strict and hard-nosed, but if it wasn’t for her dedication and commitment to her craft, the series likely wouldn’t have been as successful as it was.
Nicole Kidman is an Oscar-winning actress for her performance in The Hours and is known for her work in Eyes Wide Shut, Moulin Rouge!, Lion, and Big Little Lies. She recently starred as Masha in the Hulu limited series Nine Perfect Strangers, and as Grace Fraser in HBO’s The Undoing with Hugh Grant. Next, she can be seen in Robert Eggers’ The Northman, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and the series Roar and Expats.
Desi Arnaz/Ricky Ricardo (Javier Bardem)
Desi Arnaz was a Cuban-American bandleader-turned-actor and comedian who starred as Ricky Ricardo alongside his real-life wife Ball in their hit sitcom I Love Lucy. He played a musician in the series who was regularly perplexed by his wife’s elaborate schemes and efforts to become a Hollywood star. In addition to his comedic talents, Arnaz had a busy life as a musician, which forced him to constantly be on the road and away from his wife when they weren’t filming. Despite their imperfect marriage filled with high-stakes pressures and infidelity, Arnaz and Ball were a devoted couple who revolutionized television with their production company Desilu Productions while also being the unofficial inventors of syndicated television.
Javier Bardem won an Oscar for his performance in No Country for Old Men and is known for his work in Mother!, Before Night Falls, Skyfall, Biutiful, and the recently critically praised epic Dune. He will play King Triton in the live-action The Little Mermaid and is also set to star in Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile based on the children’s book of the same name, Dune: Part Two, and as Frankenstein’s Monster in Bride of Frankenstein.
William Frawley/Fred Mertz (J.K. Simmons)
The Emmy nominated William Frawley is best known for playing Fred Mertz, friend and landlord of the Ricardos and husband of Ethel in I Love Lucy, as well as Bub in My Three Sons. He got his start performing in vaudeville with his wife Edna Louise Bloedt as the comedy duo “Frawley and Louise” for over a decade. He was also the star of multiple Broadway productions including Bye, Bye, Bonnie, She’s My Baby, and Tell Her the Truth as well as silent films for Paramount Studios. Being the Ricardos depicts his stoic and jaded demeanor behind the scenes of the series as well as his dependence on alcohol.
Actor J.K. Simmons is one of the busiest actors working today. He won an Oscar for his haunting performance as Fletcher in Whiplash in 2014 and has impressed us with his range in projects including Juno, Oz, Spider-Man, Palm Springs, and BoJack Horseman. He can currently be seen reprising his role of J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man: No Way Home and heard as Nolan Grayson in the animated series Invincible. Some of his upcoming projects include Little Brother, Batgirl, the fantasy series Lightyears, and comedy thriller My Only Sunshine with John Cusack.
Vivian Vance/Ethel Mertz (Nina Arianda)
Actress Vivian Vance started her career by pursuing stage work in the early 1930s, landing a role in Oscar Hammerstein’s Music in the Air in 1932. Following that show, she understudied for Ethel Merman in Anything Goes, and got her first big break starring alongside Ed Wynn in Hooray for What! when she replaced Kay Thompson. As with her other co-stars, she’s most known for her work in I Love Lucy, where she played Ethel, the wife of the grumpy Fred Mertz and Lucy’s best friend. She won an Emmy for her performance in the sensational sitcom and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2012. Despite some tension and disagreements between Vance and Ball off-screen, the two remained very close after the series ended. Vance went on to star in both of Ball’s following series The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy. Frawley and Vance, however, never got along too well.
Nina Arianda, who plays Vivian Vance, is known for her recurring roles on Hannibal, Billions, and Goliath. She’s also appeared in Florence Foster Jenkins, Stan & Ollie, and Richard Jewell. She can next be heard as the voice of Fancy in the animated comedy The Adventures of Drunky, alongside Steve Coogan, Jeffrey Tambor, John Leguizamo, and Sam Rockwell.
Jess Oppenheimer (Tony Hale)
Radio powerhouse Jess Oppenheimer was first introduced to the medium while attending Stanford University. He spent as much time as he could in the San Francisco radio station KFRC, and started writing radio comedy scripts and routines, some of which he would perform himself. He wrote for Hollywood legends Fred Astaire, Jack Benny, James Cagney, Joan Crawford, and Judy Garland, among others. In 1948, CBS approached Oppenheimer to write for the radio show My Favorite Husband, which starred Ball. Fortunately, he accepted the position, and shaped Ball’s character to fit her comedic strengths. Following the program’s newfound success, CBS teamed up again with Oppenheimer to develop the television series I Love Lucy, of which he served as creator, producer, head writer, and overall mastermind.
Actor Tony Hale won two Emmys for playing Gary Walsh on the hit HBO comedy series Veep, where he played Vice President Selina Meyer’s (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) right-hand man. He also played loveable oddball Buster Bluth in Arrested Development, Archibald in the animated series Archibald’s Next Big Thing, and Forky in Toy Story 4. He currently stars in the Disney+ series The Mysterious Benedict Society with Kristen Schaal and as the villain Tieran in Clifford the Big Red Dog. He’s set to star in Blind Psychosis and Hocus Pocus 2 with Sarah Jessica Parker, Hannah Waddingham, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy.
Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat)
Comedy writer Madelyn Pugh remains one of the most influential people in television. She helped write and shape the character of Lucy Ricardo and was responsible for many of the sight gags and messy situations that Lucy got involved in. Pugh would even test the proposed stunts out herself with Ball’s talents in mind. It wasn’t commonplace for a woman to be in a writer’s room or any area of production, making Pugh’s accomplishments all the more impressive. She met Bob Carroll Jr. writing for My Favorite Husband, and the two worked as writing partners for 50 years. In the film, she’s portrayed as a confident and resilient writer who has a close working relationship with Lucille.
Actress Alia Shawkat is known for playing Maeby Fünke in the comedy series Arrested Development as well as Lila in Transparent. She currently stars in HBO Max’s dark comedy series Search Party, with its fifth and final season set to premiere on January 7.
Bob Carroll Jr. (Jake Lacy)
Along with Pugh, Bob Carroll Jr. was a writer during the early days of television and wrote every episode of I Love Lucy. It was he, Pugh, and Oppenheimer who wrote the first four seasons of the show, with Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf filling out the writers’ room for the rest of the series. In his later years, he wrote a book with Pugh titled Laughing With Lucy: My Life With America’s Leading Lady of Comedy. The eager and headstrong writer is played by actor Jake Lacy, who’s known for his work in The Office, How To Be Single, Fosse/Verdon, and most recently The White Lotus.
Howard Wenke (Clark Gregg)
Actor Clark Gregg plays the bowtie-wearing CBS executive Howard Wenke, who, like everyone else who works with Lucille and Desi, is terrified of what the fate of I Love Lucy will be when Lucille is branded a Communist. Riddled with uncertainty and trepidation going into the upcoming week of production, he tells a nervous Lucille, “If you tape the show Friday night, it means you still have a show.” Gregg’s known for his role of Agent Phil Coulson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as The West Wing and The New Adventures of Old Christine with Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Being the Ricardos is available in theaters and to stream on Amazon Prime.