A full trailer for Being the Ricardos has arrived, and it is…still not convincing. Seeing more of Nicole Kidman in motion as Lucille Ball isn’t making me feel better about the casting, it’s just doubling down on the initial impression that she’s the wrong type of actress for the role. It’s not that she doesn’t look or sound like Lucy that matters, it’s that she’s got the wrong physicality and isn’t expressive in the way that defined Lucy on camera. Worse, this trailer is making me think Javier Bardem is similarly miscast, because he isn’t striking Desi Arnaz vibes, either. Desi, at least on camera, had an impishness, a playfulness that leavened his exasperation and frustration with his wife. Bardem can get at the latent sexiness of a performer, but the playfulness particular to Desi Arnaz? Not seeing it.
Maybe it’s time we just admit that Aaron Sorkin isn’t good at casting. I can feel you wanting to throw The West Wing in my face, but television is a different beast than film, especially network television, especially network television before the digital revolution. Back then, Sorkin would have had to go through many layers of people right up to and including top network brass to get a cast approved for air. He’s not a lone wolf calling shots in that environment. And he’s not really that in film, either, because despite what many filmmakers would like us to think, film is a collaborative medium and no filmmaker is an island. But on a film, as a director, he has a much bigger voice and much less opposition to executing his ideas.
Of the two films Sorkin has previously directed, Molly’s Game and The Trial of the Chicago 7, the casting is a mixed bag. Molly’s Game is well cast, though the chemistry of Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain is a lot sexier than a legal drama warrants (and goes nowhere because it’s not the tone Sorkin was casting for), but Chicago is a mess. The casting is straight up bad. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale is the only piece of casting in that film that is interesting and fruitful. And now with Ricardos, maybe we should just acknowledge Sorkin is going for Big Name Celebrity over the kind of casting that would lead to more authentic representation.
Which he basically says in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Speaking to Lacey Rose, Sorkin says of the casting: “And you’re going to choose from a small pool of world-class actresses. This isn’t for beginners, as Lucy says. This was going to be a kind of tour de force performance.”
There’s a lot of ground between “not a beginner” and “wrong for the part”. There are big-name actresses better suited to Lucille Ball, and again, it has nothing to do with looking just like Lucy, which Sorkin keeps harping on as if that’s why people are objecting, and not that Kidman is physically incapable of the expressiveness that defined Lucy. Ricardos was originally supposed to star Cate Blanchett, who is much closer to the kind of mobility that was Lucy’s trademark. As for Bardem, a Spaniard, playing a Cuban icon, Sorkin says it’s okay because the Latina casting consultant at Amazon signed off on it because Bardem speaks Spanish, and Cubans speak Spanish, so that’s fine, I guess? Maybe the point isn’t to put the burden on ONE PERSON signing off on it, but to understand the larger cultural context of the lives and stories you’re representing?
But wait, it gets worse! Sorkin goes on to say, “Spanish and Cuban aren’t actable, OK? They’re not actable. 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.”
At this point, anyone in the industry not understanding the casting debate just doesn’t want to get it. I wish filmmakers would just say, “I don’t give a sh-t, I’m casting who I want,” and stop trying to explain themselves, because they just sound increasingly ridiculous. Of course, “nouns” are actable. Every character starts with a noun. But the wider context isn’t that people think “only gay actors should play gay actors”. It’s that gay actors should be empowered to tell their own stories, to embody their own experiences, in a way that has been largely denied to them up till very recently. People aren’t questioning Javier Bardem’s casting because of a hyper-literal interpretation of the craft of acting. It’s because Desi Arnaz is an important Latinx figure in entertainment history, and maybe the Latinx community would like to tell his story themselves.
But the whole interview is full of stuff like that. Aaron Sorkin has a great ear for dialogue, but he’s also a scold who likes to scold the younger generations for not doing things the way HIS generation did it, which is the better way (something he has in common with Amy Poehler). His thoughts on cancel culture—which doesn’t exist—go in a similar direction, talking past the actual issue for the perceived inconvenience. I would like Aaron Sorkin to tell me one thing he used to be able to do that he cannot do now because of cancel culture, and I will wait here until my skeleton turns to dust because that hasn’t happened.