Acclaimed screenwriter and director Aaron Sorkin has spoken out against criticism of some of the casting in his latest movie.
Sorkin is best known as the writer of TV’s The West Wing and movies such as Steve Jobs and The Social Network. He directed the movies Molly’s Game and The Trial of the Chicago 7. His latest movie as writer and director is Being the Ricardos, which looks at the life of Lucille Ball.
In the movie, Ball is played by Nicole Kidman while husband Desi Arnaz is played by Javier Bardem. There has been some criticism of casting Spanish actor Bardem as the Cuban-born Arnaz.
In an interview with the Sunday Times in the UK yesterday, Sorkin said he found the criticism a “little chilling.”
“This should be the last place there are walls. Spanish and Cuban are not actable. If I was directing you in a scene and said: ‘It’s cold, you can’t feel your face.’ That’s actable. But if I said: ‘Be Cuban’. That is not actable,” he said.
He then went on to comment about casting straight actors in LGBTQ roles.
“Nouns aren’t actable. Gay and straight aren’t actable. You can act being attracted to someone, but can’t act gay or straight,” he said.
“So this notion that only gay actors should play gay characters? That only a Cuban actor should play Desi? Honestly, I think it’s the mother of all empty gestures and a bad idea.”
Sorkin’s comments follow an interview Bardem gave to the Hollywood Reporter. In it, the actor also dismissed criticism of him taking the role of Arnaz: “’I’m an actor, and that’s what I do for a living: try to be people that I’m not.”
Sorkin also gave an interview last month to the Hollywood Reporter in which he defended the casting of Bardem, saying he’d worked with a “Latina casting consultant”.
“We know when we’re being demeaning,” said Sorkin. “We know that Black face is demeaning because of its historical context because you’re making ridiculous cartoon caricatures out of people.
“We know that Mickey Rooney with the silly piece in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and that makeup doing, silly Japanese speak, we know that’s demeaning. This is not, I felt. Having an actor who was born in Spain playing a character who was born in Cuba was not demeaning. And it wasn’t just the casting consultant who agreed, Lucy and Desi’s Cuban-American daughter didn’t have a problem with it. So, I’m very comfortable with it.”
The issue of whether it’s best to cast gay actors in gay roles has become a hot topic in the last couple of years. British screenwriter Russell T Davies was proud of casting queer talent for all the gay roles in his TV drama, It’s A Sin. He told AnotherMag earlier this year, “My take is to cast gay as gay. Absolutely. I believe that profoundly. I think you not only get authenticity; you get revenge for 100 years of straight-washing.
“And I’ll tell you what, no, I don’t mind a gay actor playing straight. Because from the age of eight, gay people learn to fit in with the straight world and act straight. That’s something we know very profoundly in our hearts.
“So if you want a great performance, cast a gay actor as a straight man because he’s been studying how straight men behave for an awful long time.”
Many gay actors have different opinions on the issue. Neil Patrick Harris, who appeared in It’s A Sin, told the Times in January he believed in giving roles to the “best actor” for the job.
“I’m not one to jump on to labeling. As an actor you certainly hope you can be a visible option for all kinds of different roles … I played a character [in How I Met Your Mother] for nine years who was nothing like me. I would definitely want to hire the best actor.”
Being The Ricardos had a limited theatrical release a couple of weeks ago and comes to Prime Video on December 21.