‘All My Usual Tools Didn’t Apply:’ Margot Robbie Opens Up About The Challenge Of Playing Barbie, And How She Overcame It

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Written By Maya Cantina

Margot Robbie’s instincts were on point as a producer on the box office-busting Barbie movie as she inadvertently helped create the Barbenheimer phenomenon after refusing to move Barbie‘s July 21 release date on the 2023 movie schedule, which was the same day Christopher Nolan’s biopic Oppenheimer would hit theaters. Along with producing, she also brilliantly led the Barbie cast. However, she revealed that when it came to finding her character, she had more trouble listening to her acting instincts than she anticipated. 

During a recent sit-down with Oppenheimer lead Cillian Murphy for Variety’s Actors on Actors, the actress expressed her difficulties with finding Barbie as a character. Unlike Murphy, who was able to pull from archival footage, historical testimonies and the biography American Prometheus to prepare for his performance as  J. Robert Oppenheimer, Margot didn’t have the benefit of real-life context to portray the made-up Mattel doll. Opening up about the struggle to find her character, she said:

It was so weird prepping Barbie as a character. All my usual tools didn’t apply for this character. I work with an acting coach, and I work with a dialect coach, and I work with a movement coach, and I read everything, and I watch all the things. I rely on animal work a lot. I was maybe 45 minutes into pretending to be a flamingo or whatever, and I was suddenly like, ‘It’s not working.’

However, after Robbie said that, she explained how she was eventually able to tap into the doll. Surprisingly, it was an episode of the NPR radio program This American Life suggested by Barbie‘s writer-director Greta Gerwig that helped to unlock the inner workings of the toy-turned-human. 

I went to Greta, like, ‘Help me. I don’t know where to start with this character.’ And she’s like, ‘OK, what are you scared of?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t want her to seem dumb and ditzy, but she’s also not meant to know anything. She’s meant to be completely naive and ignorant.’ And Greta found this episode on ‘This American Life,’ where it was a woman who can’t introspect, who doesn’t have the voice in her head that’s constantly narrating life the way we all do. This woman’s got a Ph.D. and is extremely smart, but just doesn’t have that internal monologue.

In the Variety discussion, she also detailed smart production decisions to make the character of Barbie become more and more human-like as the film went on, including toning down the wigs to look more realistic and opting for costuming that was less stark and more subdued, like florals and pastels. 

Clearly, Robbie did end up “finding” the character, if those praise-worthy Barbie reviews are anything to go by. The actress’s name has been frequently included alongside Killers of the Flower Moon‘s Lily Gladstone and Poor Things‘ Emma Stone as a Best Actress contender for the upcoming awards season, so maybe we’ll see some Barbie pink mixing with that Oscar gold? 

If you still haven’t caught Margot Robbie’s incredible performance in Barbie—which, given that the flick has now healthily passed the billion-dollar mark at the box office, is pretty doubtful—or simply want to revisit Barbieland, the movie will be available to stream with a Max subscription starting on Friday, December 15. 

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