“Barbie” screenwriters Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach recently joined Tony Kushner (“Angels in America,” “Lincoln”) for a discussion about the record-breaking Warner Bros. blockbuster and revealed one of the first notes Mattel gave them on the script: Please don’t have the Mattel exec stand-in characters be shot.
In the third act of “Barbie,” an all-out beach battle takes place between the warring Ken characters. It’s at this moment that Will Ferrell, playing the fictionalized CEO of Mattel, arrives in Barbieland along with his armada of nameless male Mattel execs. At one point one of these execs gets shot with a fake arrow during the ensuing, bloodless mayhem.
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“There was a note when we first turned the script it,” Baumbach told Kusher. “On page 111: ‘Does a Mattel executive have to be shot?’ At the time we were like, that should just be on the ad!’
“But all the notes had a question mark at the end,” Gerwig added, stressing that Mattel really did give them the freedom to satirize the company as they sought fit. “It wasn’t like, ‘This has to happen.’ It was more, ‘But does he have to be?'”
Gerwig said that Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz “really did give us a tremendous amount of trust and freedom. There was a real, ‘If you say this is right, then let’s go.'”
That’s not to say Mattel was always comfortable with that Gerwig and Baumbach came up with for the film. As revealed during the film’s press tour over the summer, Mattel president and COO Richard Dickson flew to the movie’s London set at one point during production to argue with Gerwig and lead actor Margot Robbie about one scene he believed was off-brand for the company. The scene depicted the teenager Sasha eviscerating Barbie and calling her a fascist. Gerwig and Robbie convinced Dickson to keep the scene in the film by performing it for him live on set.
“When you look on the page, the nuance isn’t there, the delivery isn’t there,” Robbie told Time magazine.
Another scene studio execs originally wanted to nix was the moment when Barbie, new to the real world, meets an elderly woman (Ann Roth) on a bench and tells her she’s beautiful.
“I love that scene so much,” Gerwig told Rolling Stone. “And the older woman on the bench is the costume designer Ann Roth. She’s a legend. It’s a cul-de-sac of a moment, in a way — it doesn’t lead anywhere. And in early cuts, looking at the movie, it was suggested, ‘Well, you could cut it. And actually, the story would move on just the same.’ And I said, ‘If I cut the scene, I don’t know what this movie is about.’”
“That’s how I saw it. To me, this is the heart of the movie,” she continued. “The way Margot plays that moment is so gentle and so unforced. There’s the more outrageous elements in the movie that people say, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe Mattel let you do this,’ or, ‘I can’t believe Warner Bros. let you do this.’ But to me, the part that I can’t believe that is still in the movie is this little cul-de-sac that doesn’t lead anywhere — except for, it’s the heart of the movie.”
“Barbie” is now available on digital platforms.
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