Ana Cruz Kayne plays Supreme Court Justice Barbie in "Barbie."

Ana Cruz Kayne Used to Set Barbies on Fire—Now She Is One

The actress discusses her role in one of Hollywood's most highly anticipated films of the year, her love-hate relationship with the doll, and the importance of telling your own story

Ana Cruz Kayne plays Supreme Court Justice Barbie in "Barbie."

Courtesy of Ana Cruz Kayne

Words by Hayley Palmer

Mixed Asian Media: JoySauce is proud to present something very special—a partnership with the ultra talented team over at Mixed Asian Media. In JoySauce’s mission to cover stories from the Asian American and Pacific Islander diaspora, we’ve always considered it incredibly important to include mixed AA+PI perspectives. Since their team already has that piece on lock, we’re delighted they were willing to join forces to help us share even more fresh, funny, interesting, irreverent stories each week. Take it away, MAM!

What could we say about Barbie that hasn’t been said already? Projected to be a “camp classic,” Barbie is one of the most anticipated films of the year among long-time Barbie fans and folks in it for the Oppenheimer memes alike.

With a Filipina mother and Jewish American father, Barbie actress Ana Cruz Kayne said she always felt outside of everything. “Hollywood is a tough industry because while they're open to diversity, it's diversity that is presenting monoracial.” During her time at Barnard College at Columbia University, Ana did plays nonstop, despite studying both neuroscience and Italian literature. Her penchant for dressing up and trying on different identities—which she thinks "goes hand in hand with being racially complicated”—led her to a career in acting.

We were super excited to get to sit down with the honorable Supreme Court Justice Barbie herself to discuss the film, her complicated relationship with dolls, and how she incorporated her Filipino culture into her role.

Hayley Palmer: What impact did Barbie have on your life growing up? Did you feel seen or represented by Barbie?
Ana Cruz Kayne: Absolutely not! Did you? When they asked us this on set, I was like, “Are we allowed to say the truth?” And I'm just gonna say it: No! Barbie had nothing to do with me. She was leggy and blonde and had big boobs and all the women in my life were tiny brown women. So, no.

When our house burned down, we moved into a rental and we had these space heaters and we would light [the Barbies] on fire. I think a lot of girls have memories of this, where they were like, “Dismember her and throw her in the pool and feed her [to] the dog!” It's so funny because she was just this lovely lady who had dreams of her own. But this sort of rebranding of Barbie is way more inclusive obviously. So I do love Barbie now, but growing up I was like, “Hell no! I’m gonna kill that Barbie!” Now I'm way more peaceful and I love Barbie [laughs].

HP: She’s made her way back into your good graces. So, your Barbie—can you tell us more about her?
ACK: She’s a hype girl and she loves her friends and she loves teams. She's not unlike myself. Like, if it were up to me, we'd all be on a school bus going to play a game. I just want all the girls together all the time. And we each had different characters that we are throughout the movie, and they would give you a different look and suddenly you'd be like, “Oh, I'm this Barbie now!” So costumes really helped.

From left, Ana Cruz Kayne, Sharon Rooney, Alexandra Shipp, Margot Robie, Hari Nef and Emma Mackey, all as Barbie in "Barbie."

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

HP: Your character—like all the Barbies—is seen wearing all these super colorful, girly outfits. This newer rebrand of Barbie as a career woman has tried to show that women can be professional and still a little girly. Tell us about the relevance of costumes in this movie.
ACK: The wardrobe was unbelievable. Like [costume designer] Jacqueline Durran, is a genius! You’d put on an outfit and you'd be like, “It doesn't quite...,” and she'd be like, “Now put these earrings on.” And you'd be like, “I’m Barbie!” We also had different hair with every look and you'd suddenly be like, “Oh, I'm way more poised than when I was the fun one with a fringe and a high pony. Now I am this person with long silky hair.” So you kind of transform the more [the humans] play with you. 

My Barbie was never really sexy. [The filmmakers] were just sort of like, “You're much more fun!” Like your power is in your joy, not your tits. 

Ryan Cotter: How did you come across this project and what was your experience working on it with the cast, crew, and creatives?
ACK: I was sent an audition and they were fake sides. The language was so silly and flowery and smart and very feminist and perfect in the way that you would imagine a Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig script would be. And the note about Barbie was that she's brilliant and also having fun. There's not a ditzy aspect to her. The way I interpreted that was like, “Whatever's fun to you is gonna be the best performance.”

And then I sent it in and sort of expected to hear nothing. And then we went back and forth, and I started getting neurotic about it because I was like, “This is like a really big deal! I would really like this to happen.” So a friend of mine told me to buy a Barbie doll, which I hadn't done maybe ever in my life, and to write my name on the doll. So I found one that looked like me, mostly — she had brown hair and like, not quite white skin and a cat — and I wrote Ana on the head and Ollie, my cat's name, on the cat. And I put it in a purse in my closet.

My friend was like, “If you don't get the role, you throw her in the trash. If you do get the role, you showcase the Barbie.” She was trying to get me to externalize the attachment to the role. Needless to say that Barbie is still alive and with us.

During her audition process for "Barbie," Ana Cruz Kayne bought a Barbie and wrote her name (and her cat's name) on the doll to manifest the role.

Via @anacruzkayne Instagram

RC: One thing I always admire from all the press I've seen so far is how genuine the camaraderie appears between everybody. It really does seem like there was a found family among everybody on set.
ACK: Yeah, we all were away from our families in this imaginary world. I've never been with such a talented bunch of people, and I'm not just saying that cause it's lip service.

Like, we were in this dance rehearsal and Simu [Liu] just starts doing these back flips and suddenly Scott Evans [comes out with] the most beautiful singing voice ever. And you know, Kingsley [Ben-Adir] has come in with a whole character. It's the most gratifying thing when you come onto a set and you're like, “Oh, we are all on the same wavelength.” We had a Barbie sleepover and we all stayed in a hotel that Greta and Margot [Robbie] got for us and like, played celebrity and drank pink champagne and got super girly and we all slept in a bed with another Barbie we'd never met. Soooo, we had fun.

RC: Sounds fun! Lots of your co-stars have talked about how meaningful it's been for them to play underrepresented versions of Barbie. And we didn't get to see that growing up. What does it mean for you to be a mixed-Asian person playing a Barbie?
ACK: It means so much. There's a scene where the costume director was like, is there anything special you wanna wear? And at first, I was like, “I don't know, tracksuit, jumpsuit.” And then I was like, “You know what? I wanna wear these butterfly sleeves that are traditional in the Philippines and kind of represent my mom.” I thought they were gonna be like, “Laaaaaaame.” And instead, they were like, “Yes! Oh my goodness, yes!” And I was showing them a picture, they'd never seen it. And I just remember crying when I tried it on because, if you want to be seen, you kind of have to speak up and tell them what that looks like because people don't know, necessarily. I don't feel like the Philippines in general is very well represented.

In the moment it was very emotional because I realized, it’s not that you’re not invited to the table, it’s that they don’t know. It’s a very unique experience—to so many of us—and unless we share our stories, they don’t exist. Our stories aren't represented yet. You have to tell them what the mixed-Asian experience is. It's all obviously so specific because Asia is so many things, but I was constantly saying, “In the country that I'm from, this is our experience.” 

Ana Cruz Kayne (back right), pictured in a dress with traditional Filipino butterfly sleeves. From left, Hari Nef, Alexandra Shipp, Sharon Rooney, Kayne and Emma Mackey, all as Barbie in "Barbie."

Jaap Buitendijk

For a lot of my early 20s, I was like, “I don't belong anywhere.” I'd be auditioning for things and be like, “I can act and I can perform, but this isn't my story.” I have so much respect and admiration for Maya Erskine, who made PEN15 [where her character being mixed is] not overtly esoteric or preachy. It's just like, “This is just my life.” When I saw PEN15, I cried multiple times. I know it's a funny show, but even [the scene where she’s] masturbating and her ancestor comes down and is like, “You're gonna die” [was relatable]. I'm sure many children have punishment masturbation fears. I remember the Filipino women in my life being like, “Never put anything on your [gestures below camera].” My nana once put a tablet of the Virgin Mary under my mattresses. And I found it once cause I lifted it up to be like, “Are my secret cigarettes in there?” and it was like, “Oh no. But the Virgin Mary is! What the actual eff.”

Getting to be a Barbie who's just mixed Asian—she's not pretending to be a completely different race—was just the most empowering thing that I've ever gotten to do in my life.

And as I was saying before, it’s on us. And it's a big responsibility. I feel the weight of it because you know, maybe this is self-centered, but I wish that I had grown up seeing Asians portrayed in the media as not stereotypical. I think my life would've been different. I think I would've stood prouder in my Filipino heritage and less ashamed. Getting to step into that unapologetically is still the thing that when I think about it, I get chills. It means everything. That's the whole point.

You can follow Ana on Instagram @anacruzkayne. Barbie is in theaters everywhere, July 21.

Published on July 14, 2023

Words by Hayley Palmer

Hayley Palmer is a student living on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. She spends her free time sitting around with friends, re-reading the same books, and playing ice hockey. Hayley makes all sorts of art, from digital illustration to photography to collages. You can find her work on Instagram @twohalftruths.

Words by Ryan Cotter

Ryan Cotter is a student currently based in Washington (the state, not D.C.). She grew up as a third-culture kid in Hong Kong, Australia, and Singapore, and most recently, has studied abroad in Denmark. She is a woman of many hats both literally and figuratively, as you can see her stage managing theater productions, writing with her sketch comedy group, creating podcasts, and performing with her Asian diaspora dance group X-ertion, among other places. She has also been a guest contributor for the Wall Street Journal. She is a passionate advocate for radical joy. You can spot her three miles away in her brightly colored outfits FaceTiming her mom, hanging with friends, or attending the latest play or drag show.