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Ethel Steps Out of Lucy’s Shadow Thanks to Nina Arianda in ‘Being the Ricardos’



Being the Ricardos Vivian Vance

Following a limited theatrical release and a well-received bow to awards voters,”Being the Ricardos” finally dances its way to Amazon Prime Video subscribers on Tuesday.

While Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem topline the Aaron Sorkin drama, one of the major takeaways in both critical reviews and early audience reaction has been the unexpected potency and drama of Vivian Vance — portrayed by “Goliath” and “Billions” star Nina Arianda.

Vance was best friend to Lucy Ricardo (and her real life counterpart Lucille Ball, for that matter) on the formative TV show, portraying the long-suffering neighbor Ethel Mertz. In Sorkin’s telling, though, Vance’s daily struggles were not simply relegated to mounting housework and a curmudgeonly husband.


Arianda’s Vance is a formidable stage and screen star struggling to find her place in the orbit of both Lucys: the searing physical comedian and the steel-toed creative executive running the show.

Warning: Minor spoilers for “Being the Ricardos” ahead. 

While Arianda contends with a toxic relationship to her on-screen partner Fred (William Frawley, played by JK Simmons), she also confronts an unexpected foe in her shrinking waistline. A dancer in her earlier years, Vance’s sudden weight loss in the film poses problems for Ball, who maintains the character of Ethel must be frumpy and relatable to the show’s 60 million weekly viewers. Vance thinks Ball is threatened by the competition, and both stars hash it out in one of the film’s more memorable sequences.

Variety caught up with Arianda to discuss the real Vivian, her showdown with Kidman’s Ball, and the beauty of a Sorkin script.


What did you know of Vivian Vance before this, and how did you dive into the character?

The biggest thing for me, off the bat, was that Aaron Sorkin told us strictly: “no impersonations.” That’s a gift, to be told that you have no obligation to perform in that sense. That being said, we had 3-4 minutes of “I Love Lucy” show footage that we had to study and recreate, so honoring Vivian’s physicality was super important. I wanted to find everything I could on her. There was so little it was maddening to me. Finally somebody sent me this clip, it was only seconds long, and it was Desi Arnaz introducing the cast before one of the original show tapings. What I saw was a woman that is head-to-toe a dancer, a seductress. To me, she was so aware of her hips. Her energy was oozing femininity. I love that that woman then went backstage and played Ethel.

How was that limiting to her, as the film poses it was?

I realized she was a famous torch singer, an ingénue mostly. Further on, she had her own line of beauty products. She was a very established theater actress. It only built up the idea that this was a woman who was so desirable and beloved. Her voice, the way she moved. Knowing all of that helped me contextualize the fall — and by that I mean, her being boxed in for the rest of her life as [her character Ethel]. We find her at place in this movie where she’s almost in a mourning stage, a bit in denial that this part of her is gone. She’s so desperately fighting to keep it alive.

The confrontation between Lucy and Ethel in this film is hard to watch, especially when Lucy discusses Ethel’s appearance becoming too appealing. There’s a level of respect there, though, between the characters. How did you build that with Nicole Kidman?

Nicole was so kind in the beginning and said, “I want to apologize ahead of time, this is a very difficult scene for me to do and to have to speak to you like this.” But then, thank god, she really gave it to me in the scene. There were no softballs thrown at me, which I really appreciated. It is coming from a place of respect. These were two people that were best friends and begging to be seen by one another. Lucy is saying, “You have to understand, this is my job, I know what people want.” Vivian is saying, “You have to let me be me, even a little bit. Im losing it.” It’s all coming from love.

The other tough but important relationship for Vivian is with William Frawley — the Fred to her Ethel. You and JK Simmons walk such an amazing line of hatred and begrudging respect. Had you worked together before?

I only got to glare at JK during our last season of “Goliath,” so I was so thrilled I got to speak to him this time around. When I found out, it was very funny because we were still shooting — on January 6, of all days — so I walked over to his trailer and knocked and said, “So we’re doing this, huh?”


That fine line is there because regardless of their genuine, genuine dislike for one another, I think they did respect one another as performers at the end of the day. Aaron does that so beautifully in the film.

As you mentioned, a big part of the plot here is recreating scenes from “I Love Lucy.” How did you approach that show-within-the-show? 

It’s always fun to have a play within a play. And in my mind, if I’m Vivian playing Ethel, you can’t escape the fact that potentially your co-star smells like whiskey. That visceral experience is there. Luckily, [Vivian and William Frawley] were very much butting heads on the actual show a Fred and Ethel. It blended perfectly, but they had this physical vocabulary from their theater days that works. It’s a shorthand that exists between artists.

Sorkin dialogue is a rare commodity in Hollywood, but it has its quirks, too. Did any of it trip you up?

My first day was the first scene we shot in the entire film. And of course, I have the first line in the opening sequence of an “I Love Lucy” table read. That was very much Sorkinesque. You cant get an article wrong, it has to be precise. Sort of like learning Oscar Wilde or Shakespeare, there’s a musicality to it. If you look at It as music, it makes sense.


What from Vivian Vance do you think will stay with?

Are you familiar with the Chekhov play “Three Sisters”? I once played Olga, which is a really “womp womp” part. You don’t get the sex appeal of Masha or Irina. When you play Olga, you’re sad for the entire run but you have an appreciation for someone in their position and how they make the best of it. Vivian is no Olga, mind you, but what came from this was — boy, you better appreciate your own layers on a personal basis even though the world might not.

It’s important to give that to yourself, especially these days when we need constant validation from other people. She has to reconcile with herself that what she did in her past and who she is, that’s so very important to where she presently was — which was on a hit show. Nobody can take any of that away from her, as hard as they may try.



Berlin Fest Chief Carlo Chatrian on Gender Balance, Sigourney Weaver, Other Stars’ Travel Plans and COVID Testing



carlo chatrian berlin film festival artistic director

Berlin Film Festival artistic director Carlo Chatrian on Wednesday unveiled the full lineup for the fest’s 72nd edition which he is hellbent on holding as an in-person event despite the global spread of the omicron variant, even after other top fests such as Sundance and Rotterdam have thrown in the towel and gone online.

Chatrian spoke to Variety about the selection and what he expects his “exercise in resistance,” as he has called it, to be like on the ground in Berlin.

One thing that I think is clear is that the global film community is supporting your determination.

Yes. Despite everything that is happening, the willingness and desire to be part of the festival on the part of production companies, sellers, actors and directors is very strong. I was even moved a couple of weeks ago when they told me that Paolo Taviani, who is 91, really wants to come at any cost. I think filmmakers are pining to be reconnected [with audiences] and the Berlinale even more than other festivals gives that sense, because you are at the center of a city. Now let’s hope that we will now be able to make all this concrete.


You’ve pointed out that more than half of the films selected take place in the present day, but only two deal with the current pandemic. Which ones?

What I meant is that there are two films that are set nowadays and the characters in them deal with the pandemic, but they are not about people who get ill. One is the film by Claire Denis — “Both Sides of the Blade,” starring Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon — and the other one is Hong Sangsoo’s “The Novelist’s Film.” In both films you have people not only wearing masks, but also going though life during lockdown.

You also said family is a key focal point in many of the movies this year, as are human and emotional bonds. What are some of the films that are emblematic of this?

There is one film that I think can be taken as emblematic which is Ursula Meier’s “The Line.” Starting from the title. In the film one of the characters draws a line around a house. It’s a line that one of the characters cannot trespass because of something that happened. But the film is about being close to the line, being connected. The line is something that should divide, but at the same time it becomes a point of connection. It’s a film about how on the one hand we want to be connected, on the other hand we are afraid of being too close. 

But I’ve found this in several other films. Hong Sangsoo’s “The Novelist’s Film” is all about chance encounters. Some are real, others are just formalities. Another good example for me is Carla Simon’s “Alcarràs,” a film not set during the pandemic about how a family from a different generation in a rural area in Catalonia deal with a difficult moment in time when the fields they work in are set to become an area for solar panels.

There are lot of other films dealing with family issues. Another is “A Piece of Sky” by Michael Koch which is also about a family. “Before, Now & Then” by Indonesian director Kamila Andini is another film  — from a female point of view — about a family and dealing with the future and the past.


You have twelve returning filmmakers, eight of which in competition. And five who have already won at least one Berlin Bear. What is the significance of this?

I highlighted that aspect because on the one hand this edition is very connected to the tradition of the Berlinale, which I’m very happy about –– 12 out of 18 means almost two thirds of the selection is made up of filmmakers who have already been to the Berlinale, who know the Berlinale. At the same time I wanted to highlight that we want to discover new voices. There are six, and not all of them young filmmakers, who are coming to the festival for the first time. So there is also a breath of fresh air that includes two first-time filmmakers. It’s a good balance.

Besides Paolo Taviani who are the others who have won a Bear?

Ursula Meier, who won a Silver Bear, Andreas Dresen, Hong Sangsoo, Denis Côté, and François Ozon.

Seven out of eighteen films in the competition are directed by women. More in general, where does this year’s lineup stand in terms of gender balance?

I can’t give you exact data, but I think we have a better gender balance than usual. [We have] more women than in the past few years. We are not 50/50 but we are working to reach that level. As I’ve already said, for me it’s important to point out that all the seven films by female filmmakers are in the selection because they are good. As good as the others, and maybe even more. I am happy that out of eighteen we found seven. I hope that in the future we will be able to find more.

You’ve said film teams coming to Berlin are going to be smaller. Who are some of stars who might be coming? Will Nick Cave be coming to promote his latest collaboration with Andrew Dominik “This Much I Know To Be True” screening in the Berlinale Special program?

I think it’s a bit too early to answer that question. Some films were invited just a few days ago. What I can tell you is that right now we expect all the films in competition to come with talent. Whether this will be the reality, it’s too early to say.


My feeling is that all the films in competition will come with guests, whether that will be the case or not is a bit too early to say. Regarding Nick Cave, we are in contact with him. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s not to be ruled out.

“Call Jane,” the directorial debut of “Carol” screenwriter Phillis Nagy, which among other talents stars Sigourney Weaver, will premiere at the online-only Sundance. Berlin could give them an opportunity to have a non-virtual premiere. Will they be coming?

The production and the sales company are totally aware of that. But of course it’s easier for film teams traveling from Europe to commit three weeks prior. It’s tougher when it comes to the U.S., given the numbers and cases in the U.S. We expect Phillis and the main cast to attend, but I cannot confirm.

How about U.S. crime drama “The Outfit” directed by Graham Moore and starring Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch and Dylan O’Brien?

Graham Moore is expected to attend. I don’t think Mark Rylance will be coming due to a work commitment. But we are expecting the other cast members. But again it’s the same as with “Call Jane.” Universal is willing to bring the director and some of the cast to Berlin to take advantage of the physical premiere opportunity with a red carpet, press conference, interviews. But not sure yet.

What is the feeling going to be like on the ground for people attending the festival, compared with Cannes and Venice? One of the elements of those festivals was having on-site testing. Will that also be the case in Berlin?

The biggest difference between us and Cannes and Venice is that we take place in winter. So we cannot expect people to hang out and meet outdoors. The other big difference is that the festival takes place in a big city which is the country’s capital. The rules are actually changing in Berlin as we speak. Yesterday in order to access a movie theater you had to have been tested [on a daily basis]. But right now you can access a movie theatre, if you are fully vaccinated, without having been tested. We need some time to really get a sense of the rules that will be in place at the beginning of February.


If you ask about my sense, my feeling is that we will have a festival with screenings in place, with most delegations coming, albeit small ones, but with the filmmakers and lead talents. And I hope — and this is the big question here in Germany — that the audience will attend. But I am confident that they will overcome the fear that is of course normal because I feel that, as always, there is a lot of expectation for the Berlinale.

As for testing, the city of Berlin is spotted with testing stations. Unlike France and Italy, it’s already a habit for a Berliner to get tested once or twice a week.

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Fremantle Develops New Seasons of ‘La Jauría,’ ‘Señorita 89,’ Fires Up Latin American Format Biz (EXCLUSIVE)



Family Feud Chile

Underscoring the robustness of a fast evolving Latin American TV market, U.K. production-distribution giant Fremantle and the Larraín brothers’ Fabula have in development a third season of gender abuse thriller “La Jauría” and second season of “Señorita 89.”

The moves comes as Fremantle is firing up both its premium scripted series and entertainment format business in Latin America, which is fast emerging as a key growth market for platforms and heavyweight independent production-distribution companies such as Fremantle.

Total Fremantle revenues from Latin America increased by 25% from 2019 to 2021 with production revenues in the region rising by nearly a third in the same period, said Jens Richter, Fremantle CEO, international.


Both series come from Lucía Puenzo, fast consolidating as one of the foremost showrunners in high-end Latin America drama. “La Jauría” season two was co-produced by Amazon which took rights to Latin America and Spain. It was sold to HBO Max for the U.S.

An immersive thriller exposing the unseen and unseemly reality behind the glamor of a 1989 Miss Mexico beauty pageant, “Señorita 89” is produced by Fabula, L.A.-based Spanish-language streaming platform Pantaya, global streamer Starzplay and Fremantle, in a fertile production partnership.

The four partners have re-teamed on Pablo Fendrik’s anticipated sci-fi miniseries “The Shelter” (“El Refugio”). Fremantle Mexico and Sasha Robles are also partnering Pantaya and Starzplay on upcoming crime thriller “Toda la sangre.”

Fremantle has several more Latin American scripted series currently in development with co-production partners. On most it would take global distribution rights, Richter told Variety.


In formats, Fremantle has recently  produced “Family Feud” with Chile’s Canal 13 and Brazil’s Globo, where it is currently airing, having bowed the format recently on Paraguay’s Canal 13.

“Got Talent” is launching later this year in the Dominican Rebublic, produced by East Coast Productions for Color Vision, and on Peru’s Latina TV.


Got Talent Peru
Courtesy of Freemantle

Brazil’s TV Rede has re-upped on “Password.” “X-Factor” is set to launch soon on RCN Colombia.

Multiple further Fremantle licensing deals in Latin America, both renewals and launches, will be announced soon on “Got Talent,” “My Name Is” and “The Price is Right.”

Powerful market forces are at work.


Fremantle originally struck a first-look deal with Pablo and Juan de Dios Larraín’s Fabula, which kicked off with 2019’s “La Jauría,” with the goal of produce out of Latin America premium drama that can travel into the world, as was the case with “La Jauría.”

That goal remains, said Richter. Since 2019, however, two new trends have emerged. “A lot more platforms came into the market, into Latin America. So there are a lot more people for us, a lot more partners for us to play with and – and it’s something we see in other territories as well – there’s a lot more curiosity and openness in terms of stories to tell.”

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Senorita 89
Courtesy of Pantaya


Supercharged by escalating internet penetration, facilitated by the expansion of digital payment solutions, Latin American has become the second fastest-growing streaming market in the world, added Sheila Hall Aguirre, Fremantle EVP, content distribution & format sales, Latin America and Hispanic U.S.

“Latin America is looking for edgy themes: Crime, edgy female empowerment, and biopics,” she said.

Producing ever more for their own global platforms, Hollywood’s studios have pulled back from third party sales around the world. Free-to-air networks are positioning ever more as purveyors of “live” entertainment.

“The entertainment format business is mainly with more traditional local free to air channels. The pandemic proved really tough for broadcasters, hitting advertising hard. But now it’s rebound time,” said Richter.


Fremantle has some of the biggest tried-and-tested formats in the world.

During the pandemic, Fremantle was also able to advise clients on how productions were still getting made in other parts of the world. “Consultancy was key,” she said.

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