Aaron Sorkin offers a fictionalized take on Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s professional and romantic relationship in Being the Ricardos. But for the real story, there’s Lucy and Desi, the documentary directed by actress and producer Amy Poehler that just premiered at Sundance.
Poehler’s absorbing look at the couple behind I Love Lucy is based on previously unheard audio recordings with Ball and Arnaz, as well as other rare archive material.
“We were lucky enough that the estate really opened up a whole new world for us and we were excited about hearing Lucy and Desi tell their story in their own words,” Poehler said as she stopped by Deadline’s virtual Sundance Studio. “There’s an incredible amount of information that’s public and there’s tons of ways in which to tell the story, but we really wanted to try to stay inside their relationship and, in many ways, their heads and hearts throughout it.”
Lucy and Desi captures the brilliance and innovation that Ball and Arnaz brought to early television – shooting in front of a live studio audience, for instance, and using multiple cameras.
“I think a lot of people truly don’t understand how ahead of their time they were,” Poehler said, “how they were true mavericks in a system that certainly wasn’t encouraging immigrants and people of color and women to run studios and to be the bosses and to be high status in the 1950s.”
The documentary avoids the temptation of putting Lucy and Desi on a pedestal, making them superhuman.
“I’m always very interested when we start to turn people into icons and geniuses that we really flatten them out,” Poehler observed. “We forget that they’re human — human people… Every time we got back to the humanness of it all: pioneers, outsiders who took big risks and who also had to maintain a relationship, and a very public one, at the same time.”
Following its Sundance premiere, Lucy and Desi debuts on Amazon Prime on March 4. Watch the interview above to hear Amy Poehler’s thoughts on Lucy as a physical comedian, Desi’s role popularizing the conga, and the importance of the friendship – on screen and off — between Ball and her I Love Lucy co-star, Vivian Vance.