Among this year’s Oscars contenders in the bustling Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress fields are Oscar and Emmy winner Nicole Kidman and Tony winner Nina Arianda, contending for their turns as Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance in Being the Ricardos.
Kidman and Arianda are earning raves for their portrayal of the legendary comedy duo, who themselves won Emmys in the 1950s for their iconic performances on I Love Lucy. Should they score Oscar nominations, Kidman and Arianda will join an elite group of actresses who have earned recognition for their portrayals of real-life stars of the silver and small screens.
The first actress to earn a nomination for playing a real-life actress was Luise Rainer, scoring a Best Actress bid as Broadway legend Anna Held in 1936’s The Great Ziegfeld. Despite limited screen time, Rainer’s turn won her the first of her two consecutive Oscars, the second soon arriving for The Good Earth. More than a decade later, Susan Hayward earned not one but two Oscar nominations for portraying real-life actresses, first as actress and singer Jane Froman in With a Song in My Heart and later for her portrayal of Broadway star Lillian Roth in I’ll Cry Tomorrow.
Barbra Streisand leaped onto on the Hollywood A-list in 1968 with her Oscar-winning turn as stage, screen and radio star Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. Streisand tied for the Best Actress prize with Katharine Hepburn, scoring her third career Oscar for The Lion in Winter. The following decade saw one performer score a Best Actress nomination for playing a real-life actress – Valerie Perrine as stripper, showgirl and actress Honey Bruce in Lenny.
The 1980s saw two women recognized for turns as real-life actresses. Elizabeth McGovern‘s portrayal of model turned Broadway star Evelyn Nesbit in Ragtime earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination, while Jessica Lange‘s turn tragic silver screen star Frances Farmer in Frances scored a Best Actress bid. The next decade would see Angela Bassett earn a Best Actress nomination for her turn as singer, songwriter and actress Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It. None of these three performances were triumphant.
In the following decade, Cate Blanchett earned her first Oscar for playing four-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator. She was followed by Marion Cotillard, taking home the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as French chanteuse and actress Edith Piaf in La Vie en rose. The 2010s saw Best Actress nominations for Michelle Williams, earning her third career Oscar nomination for playing Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, and Renee Zellweger, scoring not just a nomination but the win for her turn as Judy Garland in Judy. Most recently, Amanda Seyfried earned her first Oscar nomination for portraying silent screen star Marion Davies in Mank.
With all that said, what are the odds Kidman and Arianda indeed join this distinguished group?
While it remains early in the awards season, both stars appear poised to be formidable contenders in their respective categories.
A four-time Oscar nominee, with a Best Actress win under her belt for The Hours, Kidman has occasionally missed the Oscar cut when otherwise an awards season player – however, this has tended to be for turns in more idiosyncratic fare like To Die For, Birth, The Paperboy and Destroyer, pictures ultimately entirely ignored by the Academy. Being the Ricardos is more traditional Oscar fare and poised to contend not only in a single acting category but potentially across the board.
At this stage in the season, Kidman is right in the top tier of Best Actress contenders, alongside Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter), Penèlope Cruz (Parallel Mothers), Lady Gaga (House of Gucci), Jennifer Hudson (Respect), Frances McDormand (The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Kristen Stewart (Spencer). It will be a fierce battle for the category’s five slots and Kidman should be not underestimated. She could also emerge a real threat for the win, particularly if Being the Ricardos proves an all-around awards season smash.
As for Arianda, at this point at least, she may not quite be in the top tier of Best Supporting Actress contenders that includes the likes of Caitriona Balfe (Belfast), Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog) and Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard). We are, however, looking at a crowded field without a clear front-runner – and Being the Ricardos emerging a big Oscar contender, perhaps including in Best Picture, could give Arianda the momentum she needs to secure a slot.
And there’s a nice statistic in Arianda’s favor – of the women who have taken home the Best Play Actress Tony Award (Arianda scored the prize for Venus in Fur in 2012), a whopping 35 performers have also, at some point in their careers, scored an Oscar nomination. If recognition doesn’t come along this year, odds are it will down the road.
Speaking of awards history, another Oscar stat presents both promising and challenging news for the Being the Ricardos stars. Actors from Aaron Sorkin pictures, more often than not, make the Oscar cut – from Jack Nicholson (A Few Good Men) to Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7). In total, eight actors have earned Oscar nominations for films written and/or directed by Sorkin. The catch? None of them have won. While it remains early – and there will no shortage of twists and turns that turn the awards season upside down and inside out – expect to hear the names Kidman and Arianda cited often by precursor groups and perhaps on Oscar nominations morning too