Margot Robbie Wasn’t the Original Choice for Barbie


The Big Picture

  • Margot Robbie’s performance is crucial to the success of the Barbie movie, as she embodies the character in a believable and captivating way.
  • Barbie went through multiple casting choices, including Amy Schumer and Anne Hathaway, before Margot Robbie ultimately took on the iconic role.
  • Robbie’s portrayal of Barbie is filled with pathos and emotional authenticity, bringing depth to a character that could have easily been dismissed as silly.

On March 9,1959, Johnny Cash’s “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. On the same day Cash was crooning on everyone’s radio, the very first Barbie doll showed up at the New York Toy Fair. Adorned in a black-and-white striped swimsuit, the toy was immediately different from any other kind of doll on the market. Needless to say, the Barbie doll turned into a sensation that lasted long after “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” faded from the radio airwaves. In fact, Barbie’s have been so enduringly popular that they spawned a “little” 2023 feature by the name of Barbie, which was anchored by Margot Robbie.

Even after all the enormous success Barbie experienced, it’s impossible to overstate just how important Robbie’s performance is to this movie working as it does. Like Amy Adams in Enchanted, Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, and Will Ferrell in Elf, she makes a totally heightened character equal parts believable, hysterical, and totally captivating. Robbie isn’t playing a mocking pastiche of every quality people associate with Barbie dolls, she IS Stereotypical Barbie. There’s a commitment underpinning this part that’s just extraordinary and makes Robbie’s lead performance a key ingredient to making Barbie the masterpiece that is. Shockingly, though, Barbie wasn’t always supposed to be headlined by Robbie. This feature went through many incarnations and leading ladies before it came upon the lady who could say “hi, Barbie!” like nobody else.


Barbie suffers a crisis that leads her to question her world and her existence.

Release Date
July 21, 2023

114 minutes

Who Was the First the Casting Choice To Play Barbie?

In the final weeks of September 2009, Jason Aldean was topping the Billboard Hot Country Songs with that iconic country ditty “Big Green Tractor.” While Aldean was making millions out of rhyming “faster” with “pasture”, a live-action Barbie movie was announced as being in development. In the wake of the first two live-action Transformers movies tearing up the box office, Hollywood was scrambling to get other toy movies to the big screen. Everything from Stretch Armstrong to Ouija boards to Hot Wheels cars were on the table. Naturally, Mattel was trying to get in on the trend with the most famous doll of all time. However, development problems would plague Barbie for so long that its earliest moments of creative gestation date back to when “Big Green Tractor” was a fresh radio hit!

Originally, Barbie was set up at Universal Pictures, making it one of many toy adaptations that the studio was embracing at the end of the 2000s. Much like how Universal’s ambitions to transform a slew of Hasbro properties into blockbusters went largely unrealized, Barbie never got off the ground at Universal. In April 2014, though, Barbie got a new wind of life at Sony/Columbia Pictures. The studio was eager for new franchises to get the company out of its slump. A live-action comedy based on Barbie dolls sounded like it should fit the bill nicely. This iteration of the feature went so far as to get a leading lady in the form of Amy Schumer.


This Actor Gave Us Kenergy Way Before Ryan Gosling in ‘Barbie’

Unlike Ken, this himbo heartthrob would never want to take you for granted.

The choice for Schumer (made in December 2016) reflected all of Hollywood being gaga for this woman in the wake of her hit comedy Trainwreck. Her exploits in R-rated comedies and the sketch comedy Inside Amy Schumer suggested that Sony/Columbia Pictures wanted Schumer to deliver a satirical take on the Barbie world for the studio. This casting could also be viewed as Sony hoping that a then red-hot comedic talent could convince dubious moviegoers to give a live-action Barbie movie a shot. Barbie wasn’t “old-fashioned,” not when the leading lady from Trainwreck was around to bring the character to life.

A few months later, though, this proposed casting fell through, with Schumer passing on the production. This may have been for the best for Sony/Columbia executives, as Schumer’s May 2017 motion picture Snatched didn’t do anywhere near the business of Trainwreck. Schumer wasn’t quite the next Adam Sandler or Melissa McCarthy in terms of box office prowess. Without a leading lady, Sony/Columbia scrambled to get Barbie back on track. Retrospective articles have revealed that the studio had a ticking clock on its back, with Mattel getting the film rights back to Barbie if Sony/Columbia didn’t start shooting a movie at the start of 2018. The search for a new Barbie was on.

Anne Hathaway Was Briefly Attached To Play Barbie

Anne Hathaway as Céline looking disturbed while talking to a person offscreen in Mothers' Instinct
Image via Neon

At the end of July 2017, “Body Like a Back Road” by Sam Hunt was in the middle of a lengthy stint atop the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Ironically, “Body Like a Back Road” couldn’t leave the number one spot on this chart while Sony/Columbia Pictures struggled to get any lady to stick around as the lead of Barbie. New salvation appeared in the form of Anne Hathaway, who was briefly attached to the role in July 2017. Having Hathaway take on the role suggested, on the surface, that Barbie may have been shifting in a more traditional direction. Whereas Schumer’s casting conveyed a feature leaning on post-modern snark, Hathaway (iconic for her work in Ella Enchanted and The Princess Diaries) might’ve been eyeballed for a more classical interpretation of Barbie.

However, the presence of Alethea Jones, hot off her raunchy comedy Fun Mom Dinner, in the director’s chair of Hathaway’s Barbie movie suggested otherwise. Hiring Jones suggested that Sony/Columbia Pictures was still eager to have this feature exist in the mold of a typical “grounded” mainstream studio comedy. Between Schumer and Jones, Sony/Columbia kept hiring people whose filmography suggested they would ground the world of Barbie in more mundane yuks. Hathaway was very sanguine about the unrealized movie in a reflective interview for Variety in 2023, with the performer noting that her version of the film wouldn’t have lived up to the potential of the Barbie universe like director Greta Gerwig’s final version of the feature.

Eventually, Sony/Columbia relinquished the Barbie film rights and Mattel took the property to Warner Bros. Here, Margot Robbie (who had a strong relationship with the studio) took hold of the project as a producer and initially had a very specific idea of who should play the film’s lead Barbie. Even here, though, the seemingly inevitable idea of Robbie playing the protagonist didn’t immediately emerge. Instead, Robbie explained to Vogue Magazine that she had Gal Gadot in mind as the leading lady of Barbie. For Robbie, Gadot embodied everything Barbie stood for between her beauty and sincerity.

To say the least, Gal Gadot being the lead of Barbie would’ve been a disaster. For one thing, the notion of Gadot playing the face of a Barbie doll adaptation while also being Wonder Woman feels odd. Inevitably, Gadot’s two characters would’ve overlapped with each other (at least Robbie’s DC Comics character is wildly different from Stereotypical Barbie). Plus, many of the joys of Barbie come from having experienced dramatic performers like Robbie and Ryan Gosling handle the most absurd material with utter seriousness. It’s difficult to comprehend Gadot capturing that kind of magic while her struggles with comedy in movies like Keeping Up with the Joneses don’t inspire confidence in how she’d handle all the great gags in Barbie. Plus, on a darker note, the looming shadow of Gadot’s many controversies may have overwhelmed the sparkly pink atmosphere of Barbie. Needless to say, Gadot not securing the role was a major break for Barbie.

How Did Margot Robbie End Up Playing Barbie?

On Saturday, July 21, Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” and the Luke Combs cover of “Fast Car” topped each of the two Billboard Country Music charts. Wallen was only 16 years old when “Big Green Tractor” was the top country song in North America while Combs was only 19 years old. Heck, back in 2009, there was only one Billboard chart for chronicling country music! Considering the gravity of that period is one of the many ways one can appreciate how long Barbie spent in development hell. Though this doll had existed since 1959, studio executives and various actors couldn’t get a handle on what this toy should be. Trends in the world of American cinema (including actors that were once thought to be new box office draws) came and went in the intervening years. Time’s relentless march could not be stopped. Potential visions of what a Barbie movie could be never went forward despite securing big-name leading ladies.

All those dead ends must have been crushing for all the artists involved to experience in the moment and perhaps they still are fresh wounds. In a way, though, they weren’t dead ends. The various casting choices for Barbie eventually paved a road that led to Margot Robbie taking on the role of Stereotypical Barbie. Even with decades of development and endless alternate casting choices, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing this character while watching Barbie. Who else could have delivered the line “I don’t control the railways or commerce?” with such incredulity as Robbie? Who else could have unabashedly worn those pink outfits that just screamed “Barbie”?

Most importantly, few other actors could have commanded Robbie’s gift for pathos in a role that, on paper, may sound silly. Robbie never treats it as silly, though. She plays Stereotypical Barbie’s internal struggles for maximum emotional authenticity. Her noticing of the tiny nuances of everyday reality, like the wind blowing in the breeze or an elderly woman sitting at a bus stop, resonates as deeply rooted in tangible poignancy. Even while dressed as a pink cowboy in this scene, Robbie effortlessly crafts a sense of emotional discovery that registers as incredibly real. Then there’s the performer’s masterful work in her conversation with Barbie’s creator, Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman). She has such a quiet and tremendously moving sense of realization in her exchanges with a figure that’s basically Stereotypical Barbie’s God. The way this actor delivers the words “So, being human’s something I don’t have to ask for or even want? I can just…it’s just something I discover I am?” is a thing to behold. You can see this character’s growing realization of just how malleable her existence is as she gets further and further along in her sentences. Who knew such a richly detailed performance would be possible in a movie that could’ve just been a toy commercial?

It took the various creative teams behind Barbie lots of trial and error before they figured out the ideal person to bring this toy icon to life. Heck, the country music scene went through sweeping transitions in terms of what sounds were popular just between the feature starting development and Margot Robbie getting cast as Stereotypical Barbie! Taking so much time dating back to the days of “Big Green Tractor,” though, ended up being the right call (even if all this development turmoil wasn’t an intentional creative maneuver). Even with so many other potential women who could’ve played Barbie over the years, Margot Robbie’s work anchoring Barbie is so iconic that it’s incomprehensible that moviegoers were ever going to say “hi, Barbie!” to anyone else.

Barbie is now available on Max in the U.S.

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