Awards Daily chats with Academy Award-winning actor J.K. Simmons about what you might not have noticed about his performance as William Frawley in Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos.
Early on in Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos, the cast and crew of I Love Lucy have gone through their first table read after rumors swirl that their leading lady Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) might be a communist. Post table-read, the tough-nut William Frawley, played by J.K. Simmons, has a chat with Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem).
“You’re not fond of communists,” says Desi, who is surprised that William, or “Bill,” had stayed through the reading.
“I’m less fond of the committee,” Bill says.
This scene says so much about the real-life character of Bill Frawley in such a small amount of words, played to perfection by J.K. Simmons.
“Aaron is so brilliant and so concise and that’s a good example,” says Simmons about this particular moment in the film. “Bill Frawley, and even Fred Mertz, is a character you could see as one-dimensional, and yes—he is decidedly anti-communist and rah-rah America. But he recognized Lucille’s involvement and victimization by McCarthy’s committee. That’s one of the many little things added to give the character additional depth.”
In the film, Simmons had the challenge of not only playing essentially two different characters (Bill Frawley and Fred Mertz), but also playing a real-life actor who didn’t leave behind many interviews or footage to study. So Simmons had to take info about Frawley, like his proclivity to drink A LOT, and inform it into building this character.
“I learned that Bill was a big drinker. His hands tended to shake. As I watched film of him, he’s always protecting himself, so I put my hands in my pockets and on my hips in order to hide my hands.”
Frawley’s tendency to drink comes into play during another important scene when he and Lucille escape to a nearby bar for a conversation about Desi and his manhood, with Frawley basically defending Desi’s actions to Lucille.
“There’s an aspect to their relationship that Bill didn’t have many friends, but he and Desi had become very close friends and remained so for their rest of their lives. To Lucille, Bill was like the cranky but kindly favorite uncle. He sees her behaving in a certain way, but he’s not sure she understands all the effects she’s having on her husband.”
But while Frawley gets along fine with Lucille and Desi, his on-screen wife, played by Nina Arianda, is a different story. Strangely enough, Simmons and Arianda had wrapped on the Amazon series Goliath when they learned that they would be playing famous TV couple Fred and Ethel.
“Our last day of work on Goliath, we probably spent more time talking than the entire season. We never really crossed paths [on the show]. To me, she’s the one I’m most excited for audiences to see [in Being the Ricardos].”
With podcasts like The Plot Thickens and Sundance documentaries tackling the story of Lucy and Desi, Simmons believes that interest in I Love Lucy has lasted because of how great it was, in addition to the creative forces behind it.
“You look at the impact. A woman in the ’50s in a male-dominated industry. Desi as an immigrant who speaks a second language. It’s an absolutely remarkable achievement.”
Being the Ricardos is streaming on Amazon Prime.