Barbiemania! Margot Robbie Opens Up About the Movie Everyone’s Waiting For (2024)

Between bites of avocado toast, grilled Halloumi cheese, and Australian-​​style bacon—“Crisp it up,” she tells the waiter—Robbie delivers the Barbie backstory with Glengarry Glen Ross–esque speed. There were previous attempts to make a Barbie movie. Amy Schumer was attached at one point. So was Anne Hathaway. Those projects never got off the ground. Robbie kept tabs on the status. As a producer, she saw huge potential in the Barbie IP. “The word itself is more globally recognized than practically everything else other thanCoca-Cola.”

LuckyChap wanted Gerwig and Baumbach to have full creative freedom. “At the same time,” Robbie says, “we’ve got two very nervous ginormous companies, Warner Bros. and Mattel, being like: What’s their plan? What are they going to do? What’s it gonna be about? What’s she going to say? They have a bazillion questions.” In the end LuckyChap found a way to structure a deal so that Gerwig and Baumbach would be left alone to write what they wanted, “which was really f*cking hard to do.”

Gerwig and Baumbach did share a treatment, Robbie adds: “Greta wrote an abstract poem about Barbie. And when I say ‘abstract,’ I mean it was super abstract.” (Gerwig declines to read me the poem but offers that it “shares some similarities with the Apostles’ Creed.”) No one at Lucky­Chap, Mattel, or Warner Bros. saw any pages of the script until it wasfinished.

When I ask Gerwig and Baumbach to describe their Barbie writing process, the words “open” and “free” get used a lot. The project seemed “wide open,” Gerwig tells me. “There really was this kind of open, free road that we could keep building,” Baumbach says. Part of it had to do with the fact that their characters were dolls. “It’s like you’re playing with dolls when you’re writing something, and in this case, of course, there was this extra layer in that they were dolls,” Baumbach says. “It was literally imaginative play,” Gerwig says. That they were writing the script during lockdown also mattered, Baumbach says. “We were in the pandemic, and everybody had the feeling of, Who knows what the world is going to look like. That fueled it as well. That feeling of: Well, heregoesnothing.”

Robbie and Ackerley read the Barbie script at the same time. A certain joke on page one sent their jaws to the floor. “We just looked at each other, pure panic on our faces,” Robbie recalls. “We were like, Holy f*cking sh*t.” When Robbie finished reading: “I think the first thing I said to Tom was, This is so genius. It is such a shame that we’re never going to be able to makethis movie.

LuckyChap did make the movie, of course, and it’s very much the one Gerwig and Baumbach wrote. (Alas, that joke on page one is gone.) If you saw the trailer released in December, you’ve seen the opening of the film. It’s a parody of the Dawn of Man sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey. But instead of apes discovering tools in the presence of a monolith, little girls smash their baby dolls in the presence of a gigantic Barbie. Robbie-​as-​Barbie appears in a retro black-and-white bathing suit and towering heels. She slowly lowers a pair of white cat-eye sunglasses and winks.

I saw more of the movie one morning at the Warner Bros. lot. After the Kubrick spoof we go on a romp through Barbieland, “a mad fantasy of gorgeousness,” as Sarah Greenwood, the film’s set designer, puts it later. Barbie wakes up in her Dreamhouse and embarks on the Perfect Day, accompanied by an original song that serves as soundtrack. (I am not allowed to say who sings it.) Everything everywhere is infused with pink. “I’ve never done such a deep dive into pink in all my days,” Greenwood says. Barbie’s perfectly fake, color-​saturated world retains many of the quirks and physical limitations of the toy version. Her environment isn’t always three-dimensional, and the scale of everything is a bit off. Barbie is a little too big for her house and her car. When she takes a shower, there is no water. Her bare feet remain arched.

MADE TO MEASURE
The film’s look is “a mad fantasy of gorgeousness,” says Barbie set designer Sarah Greenwood. Robbie wears a Carolina Herrera dress. Paris Texas shoes. Chopard earrings.


Barbie acquired friends over the years. First came Midge, her longtime best friend, and later Christie, one of her first Black friends. (Mattel didn’t introduce a Black Barbie until 1980, and a forthcoming documentary, Black Barbie, explores this legacy.) When Gerwig took a tour of Mattel, she learned that the vast majority of dolls in its Barbie line are named Barbie. “Now all of the dolls are Barbie. All of them are Barbie, and Barbie is everyone. Philosophically, I was like, Well, now that’s interesting.” The more she thought about it, the more the multiplicity of Barbies suggested “an expansive idea of self that we could all learn from.”

Gerwig had a sense that Barbie was being guided by old soundstage Technicolor musicals, so they watched a bunch of those, most helpfully The Red Shoes and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. “They have such a high level of what we came to call authentic artificiality,” Gerwig says. “You have a painted sky in a soundstage. Which is an illusion, but it’s also really there. The painted backdrop is really there. The tangibility of the artifice is something that we kept going back to.” Her director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto, who shot The Wolf of Wall Street and Babel and Argo and Brokeback Mountain, created a special color template for Barbie with this in mind. Gerwig named it Techni-Barbie.

Barbiemania! Margot Robbie Opens Up About the Movie Everyone’s Waiting For (2024)

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