“As a writer and a director, I’m always looking for a fun challenge, says writer-director Greta Gerwig, who has established herself as one of Hollywood’s most important voices. “Barbie has so much recognition, so much love, and of course a 60-plus-year history, which was exciting for me. As with Little Women, Barbie is a property we all know, but to me she felt like a character with a story to tell, one that I could find a new, unexpected way into, honoring her legacy while making her world feel fresh and alive and modern.”
“The idea of the multiplicity of the Barbies and then the Kens really did come out of my first meeting with Mattel, when I started talking about different characters and they said, ‘No, we don’t have different characters. All of these women are Barbie.’ And I replied that if all of these women are Barbie then Barbie is all of these women, and they said, ‘Yes.’,” says Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story, The Squid and the Whale), based on Barbie by Mattel.
In March 1959, a doll was launched at the American Toy Fair in New York City that was to change the face of the industry forever more and, to this day, puts a smile on the face of children all over the world. Created by the co-founder of Mattel, Ruth Handler, ‘Barbie’ was eleven inches of curvaceous adult plastic, a revolution in the doll industry, which until this time had only produced baby dolls. The Barbie doll, or to use her full name, ‘Barbara Millicent Roberts,’ was named after Handler’s own daughter Barbara and inspired by the German doll Bild Lilli, to which Handler had bought the rights. When launched in the US, it was the only adult doll in production and challenged the long-standing notion that all young girls just wanted to be mothers, hence giving them baby dolls to nurture. Barbie changed all of that; she became an aspiration and an inspiration, and she quickly proved a hit not just within the US, but globally. Over 60 years later, Barbie is still as popular as ever; in fact, she is the world’s top-selling doll. Sometimes controversial but always cherished, Barbie is part of our shared history and quite simply a cultural icon.
To live in Barbie Land is to be a perfect being in a perfect place. Unless you have a full-on existential crisis. Or you’re a Ken.
“It’s both a great opportunity in that everybody knows Barbie and the audience for this movie is potentially bigger than any than movie we’ve produced before, but the challenges of that are preconceived notions,” says producer Tom Ackerley. “But it also has no narrative and the ability to create one and build upon what Mattel has already done is really exciting. All these new words we’ve learned, like toyetic, everything had to be delicious and tactile and toyetic, that was part of the learning experience for us as well.
“Being human is a beautiful thing and I think Barbie is such a great vehicle and a great character with which to explore that,” says producer David Heyman. “In Barbie Land, every day is a perfect day and Barbie, the doll, is a representation of an ideal. But Barbie in the film ultimately embraces the imperfection and messiness that is life … It has been a privilege to work with Greta. She is a writer and director (and actor) with boundless talent. She is incredibly ambitious for the work creatively, cinematically, thematically, intellectually. And at the same time she is acutely aware of the audience and has a desire to entertain. This film is a comedy and it’s hysterically funny; it also has soul and meaning and resonance and nuance and is deeply affecting and moving. Greta, as she’s shown in her previous films, is able to do that with such ease and dexterity, to tell a rich layered story, with humanity and heart.”
“I grew up with Barbie,” says Gerwig, “but I was always waiting for our neighbors’ children to grow tired of theirs so they would give me the hand-me-down Barbies. That was the big thing I was always looking forward to. I have a very vivid, visceral memory of Barbie and what it meant.”
“‘Barbie’ came to me through Margot Robbie,” says Gerwig. “Margot was the one who had gotten the
rights, had brought it to Warner Bros., had sort of spearheaded this whole project, and we had met, and I was a big fan of hers as an actress. But then when we talked, I realized what an incredible producer she was. She was super smart and extremely involved and really interesting.”
Says Gerwig: “Margot is our Stereotypical Barbie, as she says in the film, ‘I’m the Barbie everyone thinks of when you think of Barbie.’ And when you think of the most beautiful, cheerful, friendly, blonde lady you’ve ever seen, that’s Margot. But the thing I wanted to do most of all was to allow her to be outrageously funny. She’s the person you’re going to go on a real journey with in the movie and because she’s always able to make things grounded, relatable, and very emotional even when it’s ridiculously heightened and funny, you never feel like you lose the humanity.”
“Barbie is such a huge and globally recognized brand with so much nostalgic connection for people,” says Margot Robbie, who is one of the producers on the film and also stars as Barbie. “Making a Barbie movie was an amazing opportunity, one we thought we could do something really special with if we could approach it in an unexpected, surprising and clever way. Like Greta has said, it was also terrifying! We knew it was a lot to take on, as audiences probably have a preconceived notion of how they think and feel about Barbie, whether good or bad. So, that presented a big challenge, but we were up for the challenge.”
“Margot brings a spirit, both as a producer and as a performer, of curiosity, of enthusiasm, of possibility,” says Heyman. “And she is fiercely intelligent. For this role it’s essential that you have someone who can go on that journey of discovery and is able to access the heart and the humanity of the character, and at the same time have a keen sense of humor played with absolute sincerity, without any guile.”
As for Ken, “It was always Ryan Gosling,” says Robbie. “You’d think there are dozens of guys that could play Ken, but there’s actually not. Ryan ticked all the boxes. He’s a brilliant dramatic actor, he makes incredible choices, he can play the romantic and he can do comedy. And, of course, he also looks like Ken, he’s gorgeous.”
“We wrote this part specifically for Ryan Gosling,” says Gerwig. “Even though he’s so wonderful in dramatic roles, I knew he was really funny as I had watched all his ‘Saturday Night Live’ appearances. There was no plan B. It was always Ryan.”
“The script reminded me of everything I loved growing up, but somehow was still like nothing I had ever seen. It’s as funny as it is tragic. It’s as silly as it is profound. It’s all the things,” says Gosling. “My Ken was created to just observe the awesomeness that is Barbie, and there’s even a line in the film when he says he only exists within the warmth of Barbie’s gaze. He has no identity of his own, so he’s in a kind of existential hell. But he’s given a job, which is ‘beach.’ And he’s not sure what that job is specifically, but he really wants to be good at it.”
Cameras rolled on BARBIE on March 21, 2022, at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden in Hertfordshire, England, nearly two years to the date when, at the start of the pandemic, Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach shut themselves away in their New York apartment to craft the screenplay Gerwig would later sign on to direct.
During development, director Greta Gerwig called director Peter Weir to ask about his work on “The Truman Show” in relation to lighting and creating that authentically artificial feel that she wanted for Barbie Land. Audiences won’t see natural sunlight until Barbie and Ken arrive in Los Angeles. The entirety of the Barbie Land scenes were filmed on soundstages at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden.
GRETA GERWIG (Director / Writer / Executive Producer) is an Academy Award-nominated director and writer who has established herself as one of Hollywood’s most important voices. Prior to writing (with Noah Baumbach) and filming Barbie, Gerwig’s last film, Little Women, was nominated for six Academy Awards, five BAFTA Awards as well as PGA and WGA honors. Her debut film, Lady Bird, was nominated for five Academy Awards, including nominations for Gerwig for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
Gerwig is also a prolific actor, who received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in Frances Ha, which she also co-wrote with Noah Baumbach. Last year she starred in his latest film, White Noise, opposite Adam Driver. Her additional acting credits include Jackie, Maggie’s Plan, 20th Century Women, Lola versus, Damsels in Distress and Mistress America.