Plus: The writer-director tells EW what drew him to the behind-the-scenes story.

Aaron Sorkin has got some 'splainin' to do — and luckily, he was all too happy to do it for us.

EW can exclusively debut the teaser trailer for Being the Ricardos, Sorkin's behind-the-scenes look at one fraught production week during the making of I Love Lucy. Coming to theaters on Dec. 10 and Prime Video on Dec. 21, the film stars Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz while the iconic couple face extreme challenges in their marriage and business partnership.

As glimpsed in the teaser, the drama chronicles a tumultuous five days in September 1952 as the cast and crew ready an episode, "Fred and Ethel Fight," about Lucy's efforts to reunite the Mertzes when they look headed for a split. In the midst of production, Ball and Arnaz deal with three major crises off screen, including Ball's investigation by the House of Un-American Activities Committee for ties to Communism and Arnaz's cover story spread in tabloid Confidential titled "Desi's Wild Night Out."

In many ways, Being the Ricardos will show a side of the famous couple that most viewers aren't familiar with. "The only thing better than a story people don't know is a story that people think they know but they're wrong," Sorkin tells EW.

While Sorkin wrote and directed the film, Lucie Arnaz, daughter of Ball and Arnaz, was directly involved with the production, including input on the casting and script. Arnaz has seen the film and calls the viewing experience "very emotional," particularly because of its re-creation of some of the more difficult aspects of her parents' marriage. "There are some moments that were harder for me to experience than they likely will be for the general public," she says. "But those moments were handled with such compassion that it wasn't as depressing as it could have been."

Below, Sorkin opens up about what attracted him to this story, why he's intrigued by the Hollywood blacklist, and what it was like combatting the popular image of Ball and Arnaz as Lucy and Ricky.

being the ricardos
Poster for 'Being the Ricardos'

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You've written a lot of behind-the-scenes stories in different genres of television. What inspired you to tell a story going behind the scenes of perhaps the most famous and influential TV show of all time?

AARON SORKIN: The only thing better than a story people don't know is a story that people think they know but they're wrong. The producer Todd Black spent over a year having meetings with me to tell me stories about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz that I'd never heard. For instance, that Lucy was accused of being a Communist. There were plenty of points of friction, and that's what I look for when I want to tell a story. I had this structural idea that appealed to me. I like claustrophobic spaces; I like claustrophobic segments of time. So I thought if I could tell the story during one production week of I Love Lucy — Monday table read through Friday audience taping — and tell it mostly on that soundstage, that there might be something good there. So I tried writing it.

What surprised you most about the real Lucy and Desi during this process?

Very early on, I had a chance to talk to Lucie Arnaz, Lucy and Desi's daughter. And she encouraged me to really take the gloves off. Lucy wasn't an easy person. Their marriage, Lucy and Desi's, wasn't the same as Lucy and Ricky. It was considerably more complicated. These were two people passionately in love with each other who just couldn't make it work for interesting reasons.

The story is about these three major events in one week of production. Why did you choose those three moments to dig into? Did you ever consider maybe only doing one, or some different combination?

You want to pile as many obstacles in front of your protagonist as you can. That's what's going to show us who they are. So if one thing would have been good, two things are better, three things great. And I chose these three things. Everything that happens in the movie happened, it just didn't all happen in one week. I made it happen in one week.

What made you choose this particular episode, "Fred and Ethel Fight," to be the one in production during the story?

I read a bunch of episodes, a bunch of I Love Lucy scripts. Why did I choose this one? I'm trying to say it without giving anything away… There's a problem with the script that Lucy keeps returning to throughout rehearsal, and I liked that so I just kind of grabbed that one, thinking, "Well if this doesn't work, I'll choose a different one." But it did.

Because this core quartet is so familiar to audiences, casting was always going to generate a lot of conversation. Why were Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem the right choices for you? And J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda?

That's easy: When Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, and Nina Arianda say they want to do a movie, your casting search is over.

A lot of people are probably surprised by Javier and Nicole's casting because we haven't seen them do a lot of comedy, and they might be expecting that from the film based on the show. Why were they the right choice in that regard?

First, just let me remind you that we're not doing I Love Lucy. Throughout the film we see shards of I Love Lucy as they're rehearsing it, but mostly we see shards of I Love Lucy because we're going into Lucy's head during rehearsal, or during the table read, or while the writers are pitching something. We are able to see that she is a genius. In her head she schemes out what it's going to end up looking like, what's going to work, what the audience response is going to be. Those are just quick shards of I Love Lucy. I wasn't casting Lucy and Ricky, I was casting Lucy and Desi. And Vivian Vance and Bill Frawley. Also, Nicole and Javier are very funny. But the movie isn't a comedy.

This trailer, we really barely get a glimpse of Lucille Ball's face. Why did you want to take that approach in cutting it?

I want to give all credit to Molly Albright and her team at Amazon, who created the teaser. Molly tells me that she got the idea of not showing Nicole — we only see her from the back, we see her in the distance but she's shrouded in light — she got it from the way I do the opening of the film. There's a prologue where Lucy and Desi are fighting but the camera is focused on the radio, which is about to give us some big news. And they come in and out of frame: They're out of focus, we'll see a hand, we'll see pieces of them, we'll see none of them. She got the idea from that to conceal Nicole's Lucille Ball.

In terms of directorial choices and opening the film in that way, were you motivated to do that because of this disconnect between what audiences think Lucy and Ricky are and the Lucy and Desi that you're showing us?

It was a writer's choice, as opposed to a directorial choice. This is the third film I've directed. I've directed the last three movies I've written, but I still haven't written a movie knowing that I was going to be the director. Here was my feeling about that slow reveal of Nicole and Javier as Lucy and Desi: When we think of Lucy and Desi, we tend to picture Lucy and Ricky. That's what we know them best as. And Lucille Ball does not look like Lucy Ricardo. Lucille Ball was a knockout. She looked more like Rita Hayworth than Lucy Ricardo. And I just felt like if I could tease the audience for a moment, if I could take a moment before we see her, it would help.

I love how you've incorporated the iconic I Love Lucy logo and theme song. Was there any debate about using that or how to implement it?

First of all I want to go back to the previous question and say I made it clear to everyone, but particularly Nicole and Javier, that I didn't need them to do a physical impersonation of Lucy and Desi. When Lucy and Desi had to play Lucy and Ricky, I needed some kind of nod toward those characters that are very familiar to us, but makeup or prosthetics, we weren't going to do any of that. I didn't want it to be how good an impersonation they were doing. I wanted them to play the characters in the script. So the I Love Lucy theme song, I had said at the outset of the initial marketing meeting, "Don't lean into I Love Lucy. I know there's going to be a big temptation to use the music, to use the logo that we're so familiar with. But we've got to prepare people for the fact that they're not seeing an episode of I Love Lucy." And then it was a few weeks ago they showed us the material, and I'm glad they ignored my note.

You get into one of the most fascinating aspects of Lucille Ball's life, which is this brush she had with HUAC — and anyone who knows your work knows that free speech is a topic near and dear to your heart. Were you surprised to learn this about Lucy, and what made you want to dig into that?

What made me want to dig into it was that I was surprised. Like I said, the only thing better than a story we don't know is a story we think we know. And I didn't know that about Lucy. And the consequences — it's pretty clear in the movie that I Love Lucy could have been canceled any minute and Lucy and Desi's careers would have been over. They'd have been radioactive. If you can show the audience what a character wants instead of telling them who the character is, you'll be doing yourself a favor. The way to do that is to just keep putting obstacles in front of them; the tactics they use to overcome those obstacles that's what shows you the character.

And then there is Desi showing up on the cover of Confidential magazine, a very popular tabloid at the time, a picture of Desi with another woman. The headline was "Desi's Wild Night Out," chronicling an affair that Desi was having, [which was] obviously very upsetting to Lucy.

You also sort of indirectly reference the Hollywood blacklist in Molly's Game with a callout to The Crucible. Do you think you'd ever tackle that story directly in a film?

It wouldn't surprise me. It was a very dark time when people were losing their careers, losing their lives, going to prison, being forced to tell on each other. And it wasn't ancient history, it wasn't that long ago.

You said on TCM the film has these musical numbers as part of their characters' lives, and you actually majored in musical theater. How much did that influence your direction of them?

You're right that the numbers are organic. Nobody's skipping down the street. Desi and his orchestra would sell out Ciro's every night. We see Desi doing a couple of numbers. There are flashbacks, and we flash back to when Desi and Lucy met, which was on the set of the first movie they did together, called Too Many Girls. It's not a great movie. It won't be in the Criterion Collection. There are two musical numbers there.

As someone who has produced a lot of great television, what do you think it was about this entire team and I Love Lucy that made it so enduring?

People are passionate about I Love Lucy. When it was announced that I was doing this, I got calls from everywhere, including a call from Ron Howard. He's not someone who calls me a lot. [But it was] because he was shooting The Andy Griffith Show on a soundstage next to I Love Lucy [when he was a kid]. He said he just had great memories, and he would go over to the I Love Lucy table reads, because he loved hearing what the new episodes was going to be. And he really liked hearing the grown-ups curse — that didn't happen on the Andy Griffith set. For me, my relationship to I Love Lucy is when I was home sick from school, there'd be four reruns on in a row. I remember watching that. But there are people who really have a much deeper connection to it. They love that marriage between Lucy and Ricky, they love the friendship between Lucy and Ethel. It's going to be interesting for those people to see what those relationships were really like when the cameras stopped rolling.

Being the Ricardos opens in theaters on Dec. 10 and on Prime Video on Dec. 21.

Related content:

Being the Ricardos (Movie)

Writer-director Aaron Sorkin's biopic offers a behind-the-scenes look at Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz during a week of production of I Love Lucy that sees their careers and marriage put at risk.

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