The hundred-plus million dollars spent marketing the new film Barbie worked: the Mattel doll has entered our everyday lives. From a life-sized Barbie Dreamhouse in Malibu to pink fro-yo and Barbie-themed pilates, a splash of pink can be found just about every which way you turn. In tow, it seems as if every person in America has jumped at the chance to go to theaters to see Barbie—the film opened with records, grabbing over $350 million globally in its first weekend. Perhaps audiences have been drawn to seeing the live adaption of the classic blonde-haired icon for childhood nostalgia purposes, or out of curiosity of the doll becoming disillusioned by the perils of being human in the real world. Whatever it is, the fanfare has not ceased, whether its numerous memes being crafted about Ken’s infamous Mojo Dojo Casa House, or the circulation of America Ferrera’s epic monologue about womanhood that has resonated with audiences everywhere.
For many intergenerational groups of women, Barbie is an emblem of feminist ambition. She is a symbol that you can grow up to be anything your heart desires. She’s a doctor, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, a mermaid, and heck, she’s even President! She’s also an unwavering symbol of traditional femininity, from her warm grin to her hourglass figure—for better or for worse. For some, she symbolizes the insurmountable pressure placed on young women to attain unrealistic beauty goals. For others, she represents materialism. She takes on many meanings for different women, including 16-year-old rising actor Ariana Greenblatt, who stars in the film.
In Barbie, Greenblatt plays Sasha, who is skeptical about the blonde figurines’ status in American culture as it relates to young girls’ self-esteem. In the film, you can hear her defiantly saying to Barbie, Margot Robbie’s titular character, “We haven’t played with Barbies since we were like five years old,” a real zinger that defines her character arc. As Greenblatt says emphatically during our interview, “Obviously, I do not look like Barbie. So my character definitely speaks for that side of people. She’s also just very opinionated and intelligent. Because she always has evidence to back things up, she might come off as rude, but she has rhyme and reason for sure. She goes through the motions of trying to understand Barbie and doesn’t appreciate her at first, but you will see how she evolves throughout the movie.”
Greenblatt adds, “I think the most challenging part was trying to nail down the growth of my character throughout the movie because I didn’t want the development to be too drastic. I wanted the audience to go through the journey at the same time I was, because I wanted them to feel what I was feeling. Being able to make people feel something—laugh or cry—is the most rewarding thing for any project I do.”
In terms of what Greenblatt hopes people will gain from the film, she wants every audience member to have a takeaway, whether it’s fashion, feminism, or frivolous comedic timing. “I think a lot of women and teen girls will feel seen and heard, and hopefully empowered. Even though when you think of Barbie you may not feel empowered, this movie will change your opinion.”
Greenblatt was unaware of just how much buzz the movie would generate until the paparazzi pictures from scenes filmed on Venice Beach were released. “I didn’t know social media was going to take anything they could get and create all this crazy stuff out of it,” she says. “Greta and Margot are so grounded, and I think because we were working with them every day, they made us feel like we were having a good time making the movie. So I never let the pressure get to me. I feel more of the pressure now because of everyone who wants to see it.” She further recalls, “When I first auditioned, I don’t think I even knew it was for Barbie. But I knew Greta was writing and directing, and that was all I needed to know to try my very hardest.”
Gerwig, as a director, has a near blueprint for capturing the fragility and complexity of young womanhood, even if set in the distinctly different time periods of the 1800s and the 2000s, for instance, as depicted by Little Women and Lady Bird, some of which are Greenblatt’s favorite films. The stakes were raised, though, when Greenblatt realized her audition was for the live-action adaptation of Barbie, with Margot Robbie playing the lead. She studied Robbie and Gerwig’s work to capture their tones and then went through a few rounds of auditions on Zoom before finally meeting them in person. “I just remember thinking, no matter how this turns out, I’m so happy I got to have a meeting with the two of them,” she shares. “I was like, ‘Just kill it in this meeting so they remember you, and you’re good.’”
Greenblatt’s acting ambitions go back to age six. On a family vacation to Los Angeles, her manager ambiguously told her to go to some “meetings,” which actually turned out to be three auditions. She booked all three immediately. “I was like, ‘What is happening? I’ve never done this before; I don’t know what this world is,’” she recalls. “And my parents were like, ‘What do we do? Our life is in Florida.’”
Greenblatt’s parents supported her blossoming career, as she went on to star in Disney’s family comedy Stuck in the Middle, opposite fellow young Hollywood superstar, Jenna Ortega. Her career began to snowball, going on to play young Gamora in Avengers: Infinity War, working on sci-fi thriller 65, alongside Adam Driver, and more. “I was so young, I didn’t even know what a career was,” she emphasizes. “I just knew that I loved being on set, the environment, the process of getting ready and meeting everyone. The Disney series really set me up with a lot of knowledge, and I was lucky enough to be on a show with a bunch of other kids, so I still had the childhood-ish piece of being in a school-like environment.”
In attempting to mesh the confusing and almost conflicting environments of being a teenager, while also being an adult with a full-fledged career, Greenblatt says balancing the two is still a challenge. One in which she doesn’t have the perfect formula. “It’s a weird little mix of worlds. One minute I could be doing a test, and then ten minutes later I could be shooting in a water tank or whatever the scenario is. For me, it’s always been important to prioritize school, but also have a social life outside of acting.”
Underneath the Barbiecore, Greenblatt is still a normal 16-year-old girl, adorned in a Billie Eilish tour hoodie, and encapsulated by her passion for acting and a desire to capture the teenage girl experience on-screen from the perspective of, well, a teenage girl herself. Imagine that! “I think a lot of the time, teenagers, especially teenage girls, are shown in such a false light on screen, or written by an older man,” she explains. “And I’m thinking to myself, no matter if you have a daughter or a niece, you will never know what it’s like to be a teenage girl unless you were or are one. I would love to be the person to correctly represent teenage girls.”
In a departure from her dream-filled Barbieland days, Greenblatt will soon star as Tiny Tina in Borderlands, a sci-fi action film based on the video game series of the same name. Her character represents flares of chaos and humor, which Greenblatt says ironically reminds her of Margot Robbie’s rendition of Harley Quinn, a character from the DC Universe who Greenblatt studied for hours upon hours. Greenblatt was also sent a PC gaming set-up for research purposes where she learned the ins and outs of Borderlands, immersing herself in the video game universe.
You can expect to see lots of personal, purposeful touches in Greenblatt’s characters from here on out, including Tiny Tina. “I have this party trick,” Greenblatt shares, “where I light a match, and then I swallow the fire and blow out the smoke. I thought it would be great to add to a scene because my character loves fire and explosions. I found a random place to put it in the scene, and I did it for the director without saying I was going to and he was like, ‘Wow, that’s incredible!’” she laughs. And while the match may have been extinguished, Greenblatt’s fire continues to burn.
This interview was completed prior to the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike.
Photographed by Davis Bates
Written by Joshen Mantai
Styled by Christopher Campbell
Hair: Kiley Fitzgerald
Makeup: Jen Tioseco
Flaunt Film: Yong Kim
Associate Producer: Chloe Cussen
Stylist Assistant: Nick Rossi
Special thanks to Deb Cussen