Amy Poehler hopes that “Lucy and Desi” can show viewers an intimate (and honest) look at the couple behind their long-beloved ‘50s sitcom.
“One of the goals was to use Lucy and Desi’s relationship as a structure in which to remind people that when you use terms like icons and legends… that there are people behind it,” Poehler, who directs the feature-length documentary, told film and media reporter Rebecca Rubin at Variety’s Virtual Sundance Studio presented by Audible. “Lucy and Ricky were characters, and Lucy and Desi were people.”
“Lucy and Desi,” which premiered Jan. 22 at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, explores the rise of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz — as well as their work as the iconic Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on “I Love Lucy,” where the two broke barriers about what it meant to be an “all-American couple” on and off the screen. The documentary dives into the couple’s stories through archival footage and interviews with their children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr., as well as other comedy legends including Carol Burnett, Bette Midler and Norman Lear.
“It was a wealth of material. We didn’t have to reenact anything, everything was really recorded,” said Poehler. “They were, for many years, the most photographed couple and they lived incredibly public lives… What their voices helped us do was to get more inside…their heads and really hear their POVs, because the external, the public, the outside was really, really covered.”
Poehler also spoke to the power of showing Ball and Arnaz’s later split, and how the two continued to stay in each other’s lives even after they both went on to find other partners.
“One of the favorite things about working on this documentary was that their relationship is a symbol for how people can come in and out of your lives in different ways — much like how the show continues to stay in this American psyche,” she said. “Lucy and Desi really stayed in each other’s lives and hearts, and worked together and were with each other until the very end. And we say in the film, they both went on to have very successful, long lasting second marriages… [But] we grew up with this feeling that as bad as things get ruptured — as much as Lucy screws up, as much as Ricky doesn’t understand what’s going on, as bad as the pillow fight is or the burnt roast — it’s gonna be okay. And so it was really beautiful to know that, in their own complicated and much more human and real way, Lucy and Desi hung in there together.”