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Margot Robbie used an episode of This American Life and unpacked society’s historical sexualization of a doll that “doesn’t have reproductive organs” to help her get into character for the upcoming Barbie movie.
The film’s star and producer speaks to Vogue, alongside several other members of the Barbie creative team and cast, about preparing to play the iconic Mattel doll. While going behind the scenes of the film’s concept to completion, Robbie opens up about how she navigated getting into the character of Barbie.
Robbie, who says she “really didn’t even think about playing Barbie until years into developing the project,” points to actress Gal Gadot — who was unavailable to star in the project — as a sort of human personification of the character. “Gal Gadot is Barbie energy,” the actress-producer says. “Because Gal Gadot is so impossibly beautiful, but you don’t hate her for being that beautiful, because she’s so genuinely sincere, and she’s so enthusiastically kind, that it’s almost dorky. It’s like right before being a dork.”
The Birds of Prey and I, Tonya star would also lean on director and co-writer Greta Gerwig, who helped her navigate how to get into the mind of the character. “I was like, ‘Greta, I need to go on this whole character journey.’ And Greta was like, ‘Oh, I have a really good podcast for you,'” Robbie recalls.
That podcast was an episode of This American Life, which followed a woman who says she doesn’t “introspect hardly ever” at all. “You know how you have a voice in your head all the time?” Robbie explains to the magazine. “This woman, she doesn’t have that voice in her head.”
While that helped her get into the head of Barbie, getting into her body required a different conversation. Robbie said she had to really unpack how the doll has been culturally sexualized.
“I’m like, OK, she’s a doll. She’s a plastic doll. She doesn’t have organs. If she doesn’t have organs, she doesn’t have reproductive organs. If she doesn’t have reproductive organs, would she even feel sexual desire? No, I don’t think she could,” the Barbie star says. “She is sexualized. But she should never be sexy. People can project sex onto her. Yes, she can wear a short skirt, but because it’s fun and pink. Not because she wanted you to see her butt.”
In the Vogue piece, other interesting tidbits about the film’s approach were revealed, including that Gerwig wrote a super “abstract poem about Barbie” as part of the film’s treatment, with the Oscar-nominated writer-director adding that it “shares some similarities with the Apostles’ Creed.” At another point, Gerwig discusses that the order in which Barbie and Ken were created by Mattel, with Ken “invented after Barbie,” has resulted in a sort of creation myth that “is the opposite of the creation myth in Genesis.”
The cast also had a number of exchanges to support each other through filming. Before they began in London, Gosling — unable to attend a slumber party thrown by Gerwig for the film’s Barbies in which Kens were invited but couldn’t sleep over — sent a special singing telegram instead. According to Vogue, it came “in the form of an older Scottish man in a kilt who played bagpipes and delivered the speech from Braveheart.”
Robbie had her own gifts for Gosling. “She left a pink present with a pink bow, from Barbie to Ken, every day while we were filming,” he says. “They were all beach-related. Like puka shells, or a sign that says ‘Pray for surf.’ Because Ken’s job is just beach. I’ve never quite figured out what that means. But I felt like she was trying to help Ken understand, through these gifts that she was giving.”
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