Lucille Ball’s pal says Nicole Kidman ‘embodied’ the late star in 'Being the Ricardos’: She ‘got her down’

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Lucille Ball’s pal believes Nicole Kidman was the right actress to portray the queen of TV comedy.

Kidman is starring as Ball in Aaron Sorkin’s biopic “Being the Ricardos,” which premieres on Friday. The Oscar winner initially faced backlash from die-hard fans who complained the 54-year-old looked or sounded nothing like the beloved Hollywood redhead.

But Michael Stern, who knew Ball personally, said Kidman hit out of the ballpark.

“There were a lot of people who said, ‘What a mistake,’” Stern told Fox News. “But Nicole Kidman is a fantastic actress. And they weren’t looking for look-alikes. They were looking for someone who could portray Lucille Ball, not Lucy Ricardo. Nicole got her down. Lucille Ball looked different from Lucy Ricardo. She acted differently from her. Yes, Nicole played Lucy Ricardo for a few seconds here and there. But she was really playing Lucille Ball. I thought she did a really great job. I think she could be up for some major awards.”

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Stern, who previously served as Ball’s production assistant in her 1986 series “Life with Lucy,” wrote a book in 2011 about their friendship titled “I Had a Ball.” On Saturday, he’ll be appearing at The Hollywood Museum’s first authors forum and book signing, which will feature several celebrity and bestselling authors.

Stern, who has seen the film four times already, said he’s been rooting for Kidman despite the initial criticism she received.

“I was one of the few people who was not a naysayer from the very beginning,” he explained. “From day one, I knew that this would not be the story of Lucy Ricardo. She embodied Lucille Ball, the actress. She really did. And I think if people see this film for pure entertainment, they will enjoy it.”

Stern admitted that when he first saw the film, he “wasn’t really thrilled” — not because of Kidman’s performance, but because he said it was strange seeing his friend’s life being portrayed on the big screen.

Nicole Kidman stars as Lucille Ball in "Meet the Ricardos."
(Getty Images)

“I did not know Lucille in the ‘40s or ‘50s,” he said. “I wasn’t born until the ‘60s. But it was weird seeing somebody you know on the giant screen being portrayed. I had to step away from knowing her. I saw it a second time and I realized it’s an honor. Here’s somebody I knew. And to be honest, I didn’t realize how big of a star she was until she passed away… She never thought there would be a movie about her life. She always said she was just a working actress. But she means so much to people.”

Stern said he was a fan of Ball before he started working for her. And they became so close that Ball herself described Stern as her “No. 1 fan.”

Michael Stern said he developed a close bond with Lucille Ball.
(ABC via Getty Images   )

“Lucille Ball the person was very motherly,” he explained. “If I ever had a problem with anything, she would listen to my issues. And if it were ever serious, she would always ask, ‘Did you talk to your parents?’ And if I said, ‘no,’ she would say, ‘You need to talk to them.’ She always knew she was not my second mom, but she wanted to guide me in the right direction. She always knew her place and just wanted to take care of me. She was very caring and nurturing. I always wanted to be an entertainer and I think she knew right away that I was not cut out to be an actor. So she would say, ‘You could work in the industry, but you have to learn everything. No matter what job you have, learn everything.’”

Stern said one of his favorite memories of his time with Ball was sitting down with her to watch her iconic ‘50s sitcom, “I Love Lucy.”

Lucille Ball filming "Life with Lucy," circa 1986.
(ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

“It was her birthday and there was an ‘I Love Lucy’ marathon,” he recalled. “What I remember is that she didn’t laugh at herself. She laughed at William Frawley, Desi Arnaz and Vivian Vance. Sometimes she had no clue what the episode was about because at the time, it was 35 years later. But for the most part, she knew each episode by heart. She could almost do the dialogue right then and there. I remember there was one episode in particular that they cut out a major scene beforehand and she was so upset. She almost wanted to call the network, but she knew nothing would come from it. But just watching ‘I Love Lucy’ with Lucy was a real highlight for me.”

“And again, Lucille Ball was not Lucy Ricardo,” he continued. “Her voice was a different pitch. Lucille Ball could do funny things but she was not a funny person. She used to say during rehearsal, ‘I’m not funny today, but by Friday I will be.’ She would rehearse non-stop until she got it down perfectly. She would rehearse a scene maybe 60 times before she felt she got it right.”

Michael Stern said Nicole Kidman wasn’t aiming to be a Lucille Ball lookalike. Here’s Lucille Ball with ‘I Love Lucy’ co-star William Frawley, circa 1953.
(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Stern, who also met Ball’s ex-husband Arnaz, said the pair had a “great relationship” after their divorce.

“They only had one attorney for the two of them and they were splitting up,” he noted. “They worked together even after they divorced. They just couldn’t live together. They would do things together and they were very good to each other. They remained that way until the end.”

Lucille Ball was married to Desi Arnaz from 1940 until 1960. They had two children.
(CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

Arnaz passed away in 1986 at age 69 from lung cancer. Ball’s last show was “Life with Lucy” before she passed away in 1989 at age 77. Stern admitted that Ball’s final years were “sort of sad.”

“Her last series bombed,” he explained. “She really didn’t leave her home afterward. She did a few things, but not a lot. I don’t think she was happy with the way she was let go from ABC. She was fired. And this was an industry she helped create. She went on for 23 straight years and took a year off to do Broadway. She employed over 200 people. She brought on people. And it just didn’t work out. ABC just let her go after like seven weeks on the air. But worse, they fired her. She was really hurt. She thought nobody loved her anymore, which was not true. Everyone loved Lucy and they still do even now. But that firing really hurt her.”

Stern hopes that Sorkin’s new film will make audiences appreciate the real woman behind the iconic character. 

Michael Stern said there’s not a day that goes by where he doesn’t think of Lucille Ball.
(Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images      )

“Lucille Ball used to always say, ‘I’m a great babysitter’ because her show was always on,” said Stern. “Losing her was like losing a mom or a best friend. If you saw her on the street, you would immediately go, ‘Hi Lucy!’ She was in your house every single day. She was a friend to everybody. It was a dark cloud in Los Angeles when we lost her. And there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of her. Everyone will always love Lucy.”

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