Throughout awards season, Javier Bardem has generously given credit to six coaches in six disciplines — acting, conga, Cuban, English, guitar, singing — who helped him transform into Desi Arnaz for “Being the Ricardos,” a feat that’s earned him an Oscar nomination.
“Preparation is what I love the most,” he says over a video call a little more than 12 hours after the SAG Awards — at which he was a lead actor nominee — and one day before his birthday. “I knew it would be a hard one to achieve. And again, I gave credit because I’m 53 years old tomorrow, and as we get older, we all know we are nothing without the other. … My job in this movie would’ve been absolutely unattainable without the work of everyone I’ve mentioned.”
In that spirit, The Envelope asked Bardem to say something about seven other people who had a hand in helping him bring this role to the screen.
He’s the origin of it all. He’s the man who gave me the images, the words, the circumstances, the details, the layers, the journey — the beginning, the middle and the end — which is everything for an actor. But most importantly, [he gave me] the confidence of letting me know every day, even without speaking to me, because he’s a man of few words — but what words! — that he wanted me to play that role. He trusted me.
Javier Bardem, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Dinklage, Andrew Garfield, Oscar Isaac and Jared Leto gather to talk about their films, their inspirations and ... orchids exploding with blood?
Lucie Arnaz gave me, first of all, the room to find Desi on my own. … Once I did my homework and had very specific questions, I reached out to her and she was so generous in giving me everything I would need, without imposing any point of view, idea, image, detail or opinion on me. Believe me, she knew way more than I did! It was like, “This is your role. This is your character. You are Desi now. I can help you wherever you want, but I’m not gonna disturb your process.”
Lucille Ball gave me the mirror — in her performances, her interviews, her biography — to really see some of the images projected from Desi onto her. But mostly what she gave me is the unconditional love she had for him. Even if they separated, even if they divorced, they were madly in love with each other. That was a major, major role in this movie — the unconditional love.
He gave me his humor. He gave me all these little clues on his performances, on his music numbers, on his voice pitches. What he was telling me — what I think I heard from him when I was talking to him, because I was talking to him every night, thanking him for giving me the chance to be him — is this idea of, “You are me as much as you can be yourself.” Meaning, “Don’t try to achieve being me because you won’t ever be able to do so. Just try to be as much of yourself as you can, and you will find me there.”
She gave me the absolute trust and confidence to really play ball with her. We didn’t know each other. … We met on a Thursday; we were shooting on a Friday. We didn’t have the chance to speak. On the first day, we sat down on a couple of chairs on the studio lot and we expressed our need to connect through the characters. She was so open, transparent, clear, precise on what we had to do. “We have to relate to each other from now on like Lucy and Desi, whatever that means. I trust you and I trust your Desi. I want you to trust my Lucy.” And we were like, yeah, there’s no Javier, no Nicole here. There’s no time for that. Once we were on the set, everything was permitted between us, because if that chemistry didn’t happen, [the movie wouldn’t happen].
She was absolutely taken by the weight, complexity, humor, love and pain of it all [in Sorkin’s script]. … In the original script, the “Babalu” number was not included. She said to me, “You have to put that in the movie, because that energy — his sensuality, his sexuality, his passion — you know how to connect with that.” The second thing she told me is, “Now, go out there and enjoy it because this jewel won’t mean anything unless you enjoy it.”
There was a lot of work [to do] … and I got absolutely blocked by it. Fiona McDougal, who is a great singing voice teacher, was so nice and so relaxed about it. Like, “OK, we need a lot of work, but it’s gonna happen.” I was like, OK, that’s the mantra. What I learned is to be patient with myself. You have to go step by step, line by line, scene by scene, episode by episode. Otherwise, you won’t ever get there.
One last thought
What it would mean for Bardem to win his second Oscar — for lead, this time — after having won his first supporting statuette 14 years ago for “No Country for Old Men”? “It would make me happier to see Penélope [nominated as lead actress for “Parallel Mothers”] receive her Oscar. That is what will make me jump out of my seat.”
From the Oscars to the Emmys.
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