By Kurt Anthony Krug
However, Oscar-winning writer/director Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing) allayed his fears.
“The main attraction was an opportunity to work with the maestro, Aaron Sorkin,” said Simmons. “I refer to him as the maestro and with good reason. Aaron is not only arguably the greatest screenwriter of his generation – in addition to being a brilliant playwright – but now has a very thorough understanding of all aspects of filmmaking, and he’s become one of the better directors around. As with all my favorite directors, he’s not only brilliant but is a real collaborator with his cast and crew.”
A History-Making Sitcom
Opening Friday, Dec. 10, Ricardos gives a behind-the-scenes look at the 1951-57 sitcom – considered one of television’s greatest and influential – which starred Lucille Ball and real-life husband Desi Arnaz as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Their neighbors and best friends are Fred (Frawley) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance).
Lucy was one of the first TV shows to be filmed in Hollywood at a time when many were filmed in New York. It pioneered the use of three cameras simultaneously. It was the first show to feature a pregnant woman (although couldn’t say “pregnant”). Many Hollywood stars appeared: John Wayne, Bob Hope, William Holden, Harpo Marx, Eve Arden, among others.
Despite being a trail-blazing show, it had its share of behind-the-scenes drama, something Sorkin chronicles in Ricardos. The movie also stars Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours) as Ball, Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) as Arnaz, and Nina Arianda (Richard Jewell) as Vance.
One problem was Frawley, who had a history of alcoholism and being cantankerous. CBS executives were reluctant to cast him, but Arnaz advocated for him. However, Arnaz informed Frawley that if he came to work intoxicated or missed work without having a legitimate excuse, he’d be written off Lucy. Frawley never came to work drunk or hungover. This is addressed in Ricardos.
“It’s brilliantly covered in a scene that takes place in a bar, of course,” said Simmons.
Frawley didn’t get along with Vance, despite their exceptional chemistry, comedic timing, and musical prowess. Frawley was also 22 years older than Vance, which explains the nearly 30-year age difference between Simmons and Arianda.
“Aaron does a wonderful job as does Nina of showing and revisiting the friction and bickering between those two,” said Simmons. “As with most of the cast, I read books by and about Lucy, Desi, and Vivian. (Frawley) was a bit less of a public figure… and had no kids, so there was less material about him; mostly, I learned about him through other people’s perspectives, which can be more valuable than autobiographical research.”
Simmons also stars in Dec. 10’s National Champions, based on Adam Mervis’ play of the same name and directed by Ric Roman Waugh (Snitch), portraying Coach James Lazor. The plot follows a star collegiate quarterback igniting a players’ strike hours before the biggest game of the year in order to fight for fair compensation, equality, and respect for the athletes who put their health at risk for their schools.
“(I was attracted by) the subject matter and the characters at first,” said Simmons. “Then after talking to (Waugh), it was his passion for the story and for filmmaking.”
“I Love (Jameson)”
On Friday, Dec. 17, Simmons reprises his most famous role: tyrannical media mogul J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man: No Way Home. He portrayed Jameson in Royal Oak native Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy before the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) began with 2008’s Iron Man. Simmons made his MCU debut as Jameson in a cameo in 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home.
“When (filmmakers) first approached me to reprise the character, we did negotiate a bit about how different and ‘modernized’ he might be,” said Simmons. “I think the final compromise is great. He’s a modern media mogul, using – misusing? – his platform to rant about his personal opinions, just like he did when The Daily Bugle was an old-fashioned newspaper.”
He had no trouble reprising this role.
“Playing JJJ is like slipping into some comfy old clothes that were left in the bottom of a drawer,” said Simmons. “I love that guy.”