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Why Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling Are the Perfect Barbie and Ken

Barbie's Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling obviously nailed the look, but there are a number of reasons why Greta Gerwig's film struck casting gold.

By Natalie Finn Jul 21, 2023 7:00 AMTags
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Margot Robbie has proved time and again that she can do anything—much like a certain 12-inch-tall fashion doll who first popped into the collective consciousness in 1959 and never left.

Initially dressed for the beach, Barbie has since evolved into a convertible-driving, DreamHouse-owning doctor-businesswoman-rock star-astronaut-president who means something to everyone, including those who've never owned one of the billion-plus Barbies sold. She's been around long enough to both inspire and offend, all while remaining impeccably dressed, lavishly coiffed (except when you played hair stylist with real scissors), happily unmarried (minus her Bridal incarnations) and anatomically impossible.

And now, finally, she's got her own movie that promises to unpack all of the above from her signature pink box.

"Hopefully by the end of it," Robbie told E! News' chief correspondent Keltie Knight, "you are thinking about life and what it means to be alive, and how tricky but rewarding that is."

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So, gorgeous and glossy as it may be, Barbie is just a bit more philosophical than your average summer popcorn flick.

"It does get to some really profound moments," Robbie said. "There are tears, and that's a new thing for Barbie."

Mattel

But of course to have any chance at success, much less enjoy the bordering-on-hysteria run-up to the film's July 21 release, Barbie had to have just the right actress in the title role and a compatible talent playing Ken, her equally fun-loving and fit yet gelded boyfriend who admittedly has no idea what spending the night together would achieve.

Enter the fearless Robbie—who as a producer was instrumental in getting the movie made at all—and fellow risk-taker Ryan Gosling, now of "Hey, Barbie" fame.

"If you were to conjure an image of Barbie and Ken up in your mind, you would pretty much get Margot and you would get Ryan," Simu Liu, who plays one of a number of Kens who populate Barbieland in the film, told E!. "They really do embody Barbie and Ken energy."

Warner Bros. Pictures

While their physical beauty certainly fit the bill (and, incidentally, each is a two-time Oscar nominee), it was the co-stars' willingness to go where writer-director Greta Gerwig wanted to take them that was key to unlocking the humanity within the plastic.

"It's so moving, people are not prepared for her performance," Gosling said admiringly of Robbie. "They're going to cry, it's so touching."

As for himself, he quipped, "I Ken'd as hard as I could, that's all I can say."

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What Barbie-ing or Ken-ing was going to mean remained a mystery for years as ideas for a film inspired by the apple of toymaker Mattel's eye came and went. Amy Schumer was attached to play the scythe-footed icon at one point, and Anne Hathaway was also considered before Sony's option expired in 2018 and the rights to Barbie's everything reverted back to her parent company. 

Warner Bros. Pictures

Then Robbie decided she wanted to give it a go and approached Gerwig about writing the movie—which, after some initial hesitation, Gerwig did with partner Noah Baumbach. Robbie and her co-producer husband Tom Ackerley then sent the script to Mattel in hopes of getting the okay from the protective holder of that oh-so-valuable IP.

The company "knew we were coming from a place of respecting the brand," Robbie told the New York Times. "But at the same time, you need to be able to point out all the things that people have found problematic about Barbie. Greta would say, run toward that, that's going to be more interesting."

The Australian actress noted that, despite Mattel's "long laundry list of concerns," they ultimately had "total freedom" to make the movie they wanted.

And, luckily, the universe got onboard as well.

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Barbie Movie Photos

Though Robbie as Barbie was a given, Gerwig wrote the role of leading-man Ken for Gosling with no assurance whatsoever that he would be willing or able to do it.

"I just knew he would be perfect for this," she recalled to E!. So when the producers saw Ryan's name written into the script, "they said, 'Oh, that's great, you know Ryan,'" she continued. "I was like, 'Oh, no, I've never met Ryan. I don't know if Ryan will do this, I just want him to.' I feel like I sort of conjured him out of thin air. But I can't believe he said yes and then I can't believe he gave the performance he gave."

The performances that both he and Robbie gave, the director was quick to add.

"I knew they were great but every day I found myself floored," Gerwig said. "They allowed the comedy to come out of taking it very seriously. They never made fun of it, they never stood outside of it. They always came at it with just total commitment and truth—and that's why it's funny. But there are definitely moments in this movie where I just can't believe they did it. I still can't believe they did it!"

Warner Bros. Pictures

Michael Cera, who plays Allan (boyfriend of Barbie's BFF Midge in some canon, though originally Ken's pal whose box came with the assurance that they wore the same size clothes), concurred.

"Watching [Margot] and Ryan execute every single thing was incredible," he said. "Sometimes you'd stand there and watch, and just be, like, 'This is amazing, these are very high-level professionals.'"

Kate McKinnon, craftily cast as Weird Barbie, cracked that it was intimidating enough just standing next to Robbie.

"And then she opens her mouth," the Saturday Night Live alum said, "and she's the nicest, most normal, down-to-earth sweetie pie. And Ryan is the same."

Warner Bros. Pictures

Gosling, for his part, knew from playing dolls with his and Eva Mendesdaughters Esmeralda, 8, and Amada, 7, that Ken was an afterthought in Barbieland.

"This idea Greta had that people don't play with Kens is very true," he said, noting that he would find the man doll "just discarded around the house." He was intrigued by the world-building, but mainly he thought the script—and the fact that it came into his life when his kids were busy creating their own Barbie narratives—was amazing.

The 42-year-old also appreciated that the film raised questions no one ever thought to ask about Ken, such as what is his purpose and where does he live? (No, really, as in where does the man sleep? It's Barbie's name on the deed, after all.)

"I think they huddle like penguins," Gosling joked of all the Kens, who unlike the Barbies in the film are not distinguishable by profession. "They just gather for warmth on the beach."

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One of the reasons Robbie thought of Gerwig to write the script was her treatment of Little Women, a comfort-food period film packed with contemporary relevancy (and Oscar-nominated, to boot). And sure enough, along with the whip-smart dialogue, the actress noted to E! that Barbie also broaches heavier themes about life's general messiness.

"It's playing on a lot of levels all at once," the 33-year-old explained. "It's very silly, zany comedy, a lot of physical comedy. And then there's innuendo and a lot of things that'll go over kids' heads. But there's also a lot of discussions happening—I don't think it's in a heavy-handed way—but I think it's less about what it's like to be a doll and what it's about to be…anything. It's about what it's like to be human."

Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

And going by their on-point press tour fashion and the reverence they've shown for Gerwig's vision, she and Gosling are extremely proud of the finished product.

"There's that thing where you make a movie and you love it so much," Robbie said. "And it's scary 'cause it's your baby and your baby's going off to college and we're like, 'Ahh, we did everything we could, now it's up to you!' It's kind of that moment but, on the other hand, it's so fun and I know it's going to make people so happy."

And, Gosling added, "We know it's going to party so hard in college."

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