Why Oscar nominee America Ferrera doesn't mind the 'Barbie' haters out there

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As film academy members begin final voting for the 2024 Oscars on Thursday, our latest episode of “The Envelope” features America Ferrera talking about how “Barbie” has expanded her opportunities beyond Latina roles and why she loves the feminist debates about her monologue in the film. And we also share a conversation with Nadia Stacey, one of the architects who crafted the look behind “Poor Things.” Be sure to keep an eye out for our last interview tomorrow where we chat with one very talented Oscar-nominated vocalist-producer duo.

Shawn Finnie: Welcome to “The Envelope.” I’m Shawn Finnie.

Yvonne Villarreal: I’m Yvonne Villarreal.

Mark Olsen: And I’m Mark Olsen.

Finnie: You all, we’re in it. Final voting for the Oscars starts today. This is where all of the members, across all the different branches and categories are all voting right now, in this moment. Nominees are nervous and probably excited. It’s been an interesting season. We’ve seen all of the award shows that culminate to this one. Mark, would you just give us a quick overview of the season, where it starts into where we are now?

Olsen: Going all the way back to the fall film festivals at Venice and Toronto and Telluride, when some of the hopeful titles are first emerging, you start to get into events like the Palm Springs Film Festival gala, the Golden Globes, those whistle-stops along the way where people are hawking their wares for people. And now we’ve got into the guild awards, the [Directors Guild of America], [Producers Guild], [Writers Guild], [Screen Actors Guild], where you start to get a sense of where the voters from those bodies are thinking. There’s a lot of crossover with academy voters. So things start to coalesce. It’s funny, some years it starts to get a little wearisome and you kind of feel who’s going to win by the time you get to the Oscars. But some years it stays really exciting. And also it’s great to see the different storylines emerge, personalities emerge.

Yvonne, you talked to someone who I really think has been one of the real bright spots of this season and who’s really seized the platform of awards season in a really exciting way.

Villarreal: Yeah, he’s speaking, of course, of America Ferrera, who’s really the heart and soul of this summer’s blockbuster, “Barbie.” And for those who don’t know, she plays Gloria, who’s really struggling to connect with her daughter, and she’s struggling to connect with herself. And she really sets the the story of “Barbie” in motion. Barbie has these visions of what turns out to be Gloria and her sadness. And it sets “Barbie” into malfunctioning because something’s going on and they’re both having this existential crisis and they’re going through it together. And it’s a really powerful performance in this cotton candy backdrop of a film. So it was really exciting to talk to her. And Mark, another film that I was really struck by was “Poor Things.” And you spoke to the hair and makeup designer Nadia Stacey, who’s nominated. And I feel like I could spend a whole hour just talking about the eyebrows. How was that conversation?

Olsen: It was really great actually because this is her second film with director Yorgos Lanthimos, her third film with star Emma Stone. She actually was nominated for “Cruella,” her previous collaboration with Emma. And so Nadia just had really great things to say about creating the look of the film. But also it was exciting because I think we’re already seeing the “Poor Things” look out on the streets. And it’s definitely on a lot of recent fashion runways. And so she had a lot to say about how the look of a movie can then influence culture and reach out more broadly. And so that was something I was actually really excited [to learn] and it was really fun to talk about.

Finnie: Well, I know what I am wearing for Halloween this year.

When we come back. Yvonne’s conversation with America Ferrera.

Villarreal: America, Thanks so much for being here.

America Ferrera: It’s so good to see you.

Villarreal: Good to see you. Tell me, Oscar nominee. Has that sunk in for you yet? How are you processing that?

Ferrera: You know, it feels like waves. I forget about it and I’m just cleaning up after my kids, and then something will happen. I’ll be like, “Oh, my God, that thing. It’s so crazy that that happened.” And yesterday I was at an event where it was the first time they introduced me as “Academy Award nominee, America.” And I was like, “Oh my God, it’s so weird!”

Villarreal: To your husband, “This is how you should always introduce me.”

Ferrera: Yes, and my children have to call me Oscar nominee from now on.

Villarreal: Do your kids know what’s going on?

Ferrera: No. Well, my son, who’s the older one, he’s 5, almost 6. He’s asking, “Why are you getting so many flowers? Why are all the flowers for you?” Ryan, my husband, started explaining and I was like, “Don’t. He doesn’t need to. Something happy happened to Momma.”

Villarreal: Well, this role from start to finish, I would imagine it feels somewhat a turning point in your career. Does it feel that way to you? What has it made you see about what’s possible or what’s within reach for you?

Ferrera: When I started out I had this assumption that you do one good thing and then Scorsese, he’s knocking on your door, the directors are going to come. And that’s not [always been true.] I’ve had incredible successes and still, to get to work with feature film auteur directors on a studio film level, and then also finding the right version of that [where] I can shine in that room or it’s utilizing the best of me, it seems unlikely. I’ve only just in my career begun to be considered for roles outside of Latino roles. Almost every role I’ve ever been offered was specifically written for a Latina. They had to find a Latina, and so I could be considered for that. But outside of that, I had a really hard time being considered for roles that weren’t specifically written Latina. And so I think that seemed less and less likely as my career went on and I continued acting in things that I didn’t produce. But I continued producing and trying to create opportunities not just for the kinds of things I would love to act in, but the kinds of things that would create more opportunity for more Latino talent. I started creating the kinds of roles that I would want to see out there for our community to step into. In a way, it was, “I’ll go over here and do this and not be expecting anything.” And then to have [“Barbie” writer-director] Greta Gerwig call, who I’ve admired for so long and have been such a fan of from “Frances Ha” and onward … to get that call that she had written this part with me in mind and wanted it to be me, it was really super unexpected. And yeah, it really has given me an opportunity in feature films that is unprecedented for me.

[Clip from “Barbie”]

Villarreal: Even before it was released, the film was generating so much discussion. And then once it had its massive debut it was being dissected, it was being praised, it was being criticized. I’m curious for you, were you keeping track of what some of the discussion was? What did that illuminate for you about how audiences engaged with the work that you do?

Ferrera: Because it was the strike, we couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t working the way I would be or engaging with audiences in person. And so there was nothing to do but be like, “What do you all think?” And I’m just sitting there reading and to me it was such a sign of success. I think if you make something that doesn’t cause conversation or controversy, it’s OK. But to make something that people are responding to on such a global level, it feels that you’ve done a thing, you’ve made art, you’ve started a conversation — when some people love it and some people hate it, and it’s too much this here, but over there, it’s not enough of that. And I think in a way, which is what I felt when I first read the script, it’s a piece of work like this shows us to ourselves. It shows us where we are in the conversation. One of the most fascinating things I learned was, I ran into the princess/ambassador to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia. And she came to me at an event and she said, “I wanted you to know that in Saudi Arabia, we got our first movie theater in 2018, one movie theater, and ‘Barbie’ had been banned in multiple neighboring countries,” she said. “For four weeks straight, we had people pouring over the border to watch ‘Barbie’ at our one movie theater. And there was not an empty seat for weeks on end.” Here’s a movie that in one part of the world had been banned, that people had to cross borders to get to [it]. They wanted to be a part of this conversation or see what it was. And in another part of the world, the conversation was “Well, this is feminism 101, or it’s not feminist enough.” So that’s fascinating to me. I don’t think the goal of art should ever be to make everyone happy. What’s exciting about it, what thrilled me when I read the script, was “This is a point of view, and this is saying something and it has the courage to do that.” And so I was just thrilled by the many conversations that it’s sparked and is continuing to spark.

Villarreal: One of the key scenes in the film is obviously your monologue. I know at the L.A. premiere, you had your 3-year-old daughter on your lap watching this. What is that like having her ground you as you take in those words? Because I imagine it’s different than performing them or just seeing them without her in proximity. What does that do for you?

Ferrera: They had never been in a movie theater. My children are now in a 3,000-seat theater watching their mom. So I was like, “Am I traumatizing them? Am I helping them?” We had moved to London and they visited me on set. I was traveling to do press for “Barbie,” so I wanted them to understand what it was: “Here is the thing that we made. Mommy made it. That you had helped me make and Daddy too, obviously.” And so I wanted it to be something that solidified for them, the thing that we all did together. Having them there felt like I was seeing it through their eyes. What are they responding to? And that’s exciting too. And what are they going to do when Daddy comes out? And they were stone faced the whole time. But that scene in particular, which was hard for me to watch, we’d done that scene a million times. So for me, it was also taking in what were the moments and the takes that Greta picked and how did it come together? And like anybody having to listen to their voice on a voice mail, trying to get past the criticism of myself. But that day, having my children there, trying to see it all through their eyes, it did land different and I felt I could hear the words. And also we were amongst 3,000 very friendly audience members and hearing that was the first time I’d seen it with an audience. And so receiving their applause and cheers, it was like “OK, I guess it’s landing.” That was a special experience.

Villarreal: Your performance really becomes even more moving and something to behold when you come to realize that Barbie’s visions are of Gloria, and it’s her sadness that is causing Barbie to malfunction. And we see these really poignant scenes of Gloria trying to connect with her daughter, Gloria trying to reconnect with herself. Tell me about what it was like shooting those moments.

Ferrera: For me that was the excitement and the real gift of getting to play Gloria, that she was both a character who had this child-like wonder and could suspend her disbelief to play with Barbies and then believe that Barbie came into the real world and is taking her to Barbie Land. And she has this innate, child-like wonder and awe and desire to lose herself in adventure and be inspired by it. And at the same time, she’s a very real woman, who has experienced disappointment and frustration and heartache and this push and pull of her relationship with her daughter and what she’s losing in this moment as her daughter’s pulling away and what’s not happening for her in her job. Her disillusionment, her disenchantment leading her to grasp, to reinvent her world. And at first I was confused by how is this woman who’s so real and disappointed and has to deliver this monologue and understands all this stuff about womanhood also the woman who believes Barbie came for her? And the reality was that the journey was to give her and myself the permission to be all of those things which we are to maintain a child-like wonder and quality and a seeking out of joy and inspiration. At the same time that we are real women who know the real world and can hold both the disappointment of it and the wonder and awe and inspiration in it. And it was reconciling those two things within this one character that I think made her the most human.

Villarreal: When we spoke ahead of the film’s launch, you talked to me about how you didn’t really have a connection to Barbie. It wasn’t a doll that you played with when you went to your cousin’s house, did that change once you wrapped the movie? Do you feel—?

Ferrera: Do I play with Barbie dolls now?

Villarreal: Do you feel a connection to her? If you’re strolling down Target, can you walk down that aisle in a different way now?

Ferrera: Yeah, I definitely look at Barbie differently. I have a 5-year-old niece who owns 82 Barbies, and she has all of them. Every color, every shape, every size. The wheelchair Barbie, prosthetic leg Barbie, she has all of the Barbies. And I watched her play with them. And what I see is she’s just telling herself stories all day and she’s playing them out. And I think the beautiful thing is now there is more possibility in that world because there are more realities represented. And I think that because I didn’t play with Barbies, I just wasn’t tapped into what people loved about them. And now having met so many people and watching my niece, realizing, “Oh, this is a tool that young people use to express the world they see around them, and not all kids are drawn to it.” But I do, in a way, think that child’s play is sacred. And that is something to protect and to make better for our children … And also, I feel child’s play is something to protect, inside of ourselves, particularly as women. As we grow older, so much caretaking and responsibility and having to be so many things all at once takes hold. Where are the places in our adult lives that we get to stay connected to joy and the things we loved as young girls?

Villarreal: I know you’re about to direct “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.” Talk to me about how coming off something like “Barbie” and watching Greta in action got you creatively in the zone for something like that. And I know she allowed you to really watch her in the process of doing things. Talk to me about what that was like and how you’re heading into this next chapter.

Ferrera: Well, “Mexican Daughter” has been an adaptation that’s been in the works that I’ve been a part of since 2019. So it’s been almost five years of setting this project up, developing it. And I knew I had that in the works when I went to go do “Barbie.” And Greta was incredibly gracious and just said to me, “I want you to be anywhere you want to be.” And so she let me sit in on her and Rodrigo Prieto shot-listing. I sat in visual effects meetings getting to learn and hear about levels of technology that are so above my budget range. But she was so generous and just watching her operate, watching the way she was on set and how fiercely she protected the creative space and process with all of the pressure of a massive budget film with so much expectation. She was so present and and protective of each moment … I learned from watching her be the director who was incredibly loyal to each every single moment and making sure that we were finding the best version of whatever we were doing.

Villarreal: Coming up is Mark’s interview with Nadia Stacey from “Poor Things.”

Olsen: We’re here with Nadia Stacey, hair and makeup nominee for “Poor Things.” Nadia, thank you so much for being here. And now we’re talking on the afternoon of the nominees luncheon, which many people say is one of their favorite parts of award season. This is your second time as a nominee. Is this your second time here at the luncheon?

Nadia Stacey: No, it’s my second nomination, but I missed the first luncheon. I was working and I didn’t get to come to it. But everybody told me it’s a really great part of the whole award season and just feels like everyone is celebrating everyone. And it was just a really nice space to be in. It was good.

Olsen: And so can I ask, who were you seated with?

Stacey: I was with sound nominee for “Oppenheimer,” visual effects for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” documentary makers. A really good, fun mix of of a table. It was great.

Olsen: And what was it like being in the class photo?

Stacey: There’s a lot of clapping for a long time, but just surreal. When I got up there, Mark Ruffalo was still behind me, so he grabbed me and hugged me. Yeah, you have a pinch-yourself moment. Yeah, it’s great.

Olsen: And now “Poor Things” is actually the second film that you’ve worked on with director Yorgos Lanthimos. Tell me a little bit about developing that relationship and what it was like for you moving from working on “The Favourite” to “Poor Things.”

Stacey: You would think that working with him a second time that you would have an insider’s knowledge, but you don’t. You never know what’s going on. And, I remember hearing Colin Farrell once say that he’d worked with him, I think two or three times and he had no clue what was going on every time. But he just knew that if he asked him again, he would be there in a heartbeat. And it feels like that because I didn’t really know what we were making until I actually saw the film. So it’s the most creative freedom that you’re ever going to be given, I think. And you’re very aware that he’s in charge and that he knows where he’s going with it, but you have to go deep and find something to bring to him.

Olsen: And what does that experience [mean] with regard to “Poor Things?” I read where a lot of the color palette that you worked with was based on vintage anatomy photos.

Stacey: Yeah. That’s right. I always come on board after production design and costume design. So that really started this design process and color palettes and that thing. And I saw there were lots of medical references in Baxter’s house. And so the first time that I was able to play with makeup, I used those references as the color palette for Paris. And Shona [Heath] and James [Price], our production designers, had used those in Madame Swiney’s brothel. So just to tie it all in together. But that’s the thing with Yorgos’ films as well, he’s not a fan of makeup if you don’t need it. So there needs to be a reason for it, and it needs to be part of the storytelling process. So there always has to be thought behind what you’re doing.

Olsen: And now, especially with a movie like “Poor Things,” where the vision of the film, the world of the film is so cohesive, what are those collaborations like with the production designer or the costume designer, the cinematographer? How are all of you working together so everything comes together the way that it does?

Stacey: You have to work really closely together because you’re creating something new and you’re creating something that’s off-kilter. You’re not really sure exactly what it is, but because of that it’s amazing. But it’s also scary because there’s no boundaries. So you don’t know how far to push it sometimes. So it’s good to be working with those creatives where you can see where they’re going with things, to see if you were all in that world to make it cohesive. And a lot of the time you’re going into each other, “Do you know what you’re doing?” “No, no.” And there you have to figure it out amongst yourselves. Then this strange alchemy happens where it just comes together. And again, I didn’t even know that we had hit it as well as we had until I saw the film. I was like, “This so feels of the same world, all of it.”

Olsen: And now this is also your third film working with Emma Stone. You previously worked on “Cruella,” which was what your other nomination was for, as well as “The Favourite.” Does that feel more like a collaboration now? What is your dynamic working with Emma?

Stacey: Well, to work with a friend is [special] and particularly in that space. Hair and makeup is such a personal space. And we get them ready for set in every sense of the word. They arrive in the morning and we’re usually the first place they go. So that becomes a space where you really need trust with each other. And she has also always allowed me creative freedom to play and to try new things. So I never feel like any idea put on the table is too far, because she’ll always let me try it and everything works on her anyway. But particularly in this [film], being a producer, as well, she was very involved in the creative process. And it’s great now. Yeah, there’s the trust there, and there’s a shorthand. So I tend to know what she’s going to respond to in terms of looks and what she likes and that kind of thing. But with Bella, it was really important that we created something new and different and that we told Bella’s story in a way. She’s such a marker against society. How she looks is really important. So it was really fun to develop that with Emma.

Olsen: Now, if I’m understanding this correctly, her black hair in the film was the result of a mistake. Was of a dye job gone wrong.

Stacey: We were always going to go dark, but the idea was that she would go dark and then we could keep going and see how far that needed to go, because you can’t come back. It’s very hard to go back. But you can keep going darker. So she was having her hair done with her colorist in L.A. and then messaged me and said, “I think it’s gone very dark.” And actually when she arrived in Budapest, it was exactly what it needed to be. Bella, when I look back on it now, I can’t believe we ever thought it wouldn’t be black because it needs to be strange amongst this multicolored world that the other creatives have developed. And she needs to have this very strong silhouette in the middle of that and her hair and her skin tone and palette and the length of it really is a marker of that and of who she is. But yeah, it was a mistake in the first place. A happy accident, I like to say.

Olsen: And throughout the film she’s shot from behind. To some extent we always are seeing her hair from behind. I think it actually grows through the course of the film. And then she wears it in a braid a few times. Do you know that the hair was going to be shot from behind in that specific look? Were you designing the look for those shots, or did it just come about that way?

Stacey: No, I wouldn’t know that. And that’s the thing that we wouldn’t know until on the day of what he’s going to do. But I knew that her hair was a part of her journey. It grows with her as she moves along to all these different places. It grows in length. By the time we get to Lisbon, to Paris — it’s at 42 inches by the time we get to Paris. And the way she styles it as well is a real indication of where she is. When it’s tied back into a braid in the beginning that’s because she’s in a controlled environment and Mrs. Prim is looking after her. But when she goes off on her own, she would have no clue how to dress her hair or know that it wouldn’t be proper to have your hair down as a lady in that time. She wouldn’t know that. She has no societal restraints, so for it to be just flowing wild and free, it’s a real marker of who she is.

Olsen: I’ve seen a number of people online comment it was her Paris look in particular — a very sharp, angled black outfit and silhouette and then her hair in a braid down her back — and I’ve seen multiple people say that they basically want that look.

Stacey: It’s one of my favorite looks, actually. I love that costume.

Olsen: Is it exciting for you? I don’t know if this happened with “Cruella,” for example, where you get you see people mimicking the looks from the film in the real world.

Stacey: Oh “Cruella” was crazy, the amount of cosplayers and people that did their versions of the makeup and sent them to me. Still happens now, which is crazy. And it’s amazing if you create something that you think people might copy. I wonder if when we get to Halloween, there will be Bellas wandering around with a long, dark hair. So it is great that you can be part of that.

Olsen: But also, the film was in production a little over two and a half years ago now. And yet just the most recent Paris runway shows many people noted how the looks on the runways very much were in concert with the looks from “Poor Things,” especially [John] Galliano’s Maison Margiela show. How does that happen? What does it mean for you? Did you all predict something two years ago when you were making the movie? How does that connection happen?

Stacey: I think there is a strong connection there with Pat McGrath, who is the designer of those shows.There’s a connection in our work. It’s taking period styles and twisting it and using silhouettes from ‘20s or ‘30s or eyebrow shapes or colors or lip shapes, but then slightly doing something different. That show with the glass skin, but with 1920s and ‘30s shapes, it’s a really cool idea. And we were doing something similar in the brothel — the 1920s, ‘30s looks in a Victorian film that’s not really Victorian. And so it’s constantly pushing something. Everything’s been done before, but it’s how you turn and change it and make it something new.

Olsen: With Willem Dafoe, working on the prosthetics for him, which in some ways is a cubist distortion of what is a very recognizable face — how did you work with Willem on creating the look for that character?

Stacey: The first image that we had for that was a Francis Bacon painting, and it is a distortion of a face. So you can see the man there, but the face is off balance. And that was a real reference right from the beginning because I wanted to create something that you still saw the man and you still saw Willem, because if you get Willem Dafoe, you don’t want to cover that face. It’s incredible. And so with prosthetics as well, I always like to come back slightly so that we’re not completely covering the face. And it was the first time that Yorgos has worked with prosthetics in that way as well. So I have to kind of ease that in. Then I worked with Mark Coulier and Josh Weston to develop the ideas. And we just came across so many variations of it. But he was literally a man put together, which is what it would have been. And again, it’s telling the story of what his father did to him. Did he take his ear off and put it back on? It’s all operations, and the look has come from that story. So then Willem was just really interested with what each part meant, what’s the story behind it. And as soon as he could believe what that was as this character, he was just super easy, very chill in the makeup chair. Although I do laugh because he said he was in the makeup chair for six hours and he was in for two hours and 40 [minutes], but he must have felt like six. It must have felt a long time.

Olsen: And I’ve read as well that at the beginning of the production, you got an email from Yorgos saying that he wanted no wigs. What do you do with a directive like that?

Stacey: Oh I’m sort of used to it, but that’s exactly what the email said. It just said two words: “No wigs.” Nothing else. So you have to laugh and then think, “Right, how do I go about this?” He’s the same with makeup. He’ll wipe your face to see if there’s makeup on. Because if it shouldn’t be on, it shouldn’t be on. So you have to find ways to be creative and how to do it. And actually, he’s right. Even with how good we could put a wig on her, if you saw wig lace at any point, it would completely pull you out of that story. She’s a baby in the beginning, and she shouldn’t have anything that’s artificial on her. It should be very natural. And so he was right not to have wigs on her. But you have to come up with creative solutions. There’s one wig, which is Hanna [Schygulla] on the ship. The lady with the white hair. That’s the only wig I was allowed.-

Olsen: And now is there a trick to creating a no makeup look? Because presumably there’s still makeup involved even then.

Stacey: Yes. But if Yorgos is watching this, no. If there’s no makeup, it’s a lot about skincare. You have to make sure that the base of the canvas is good, basically … It’s an absolute choice to have no makeup because as I said, if you see it, it’s wrong. She’s a baby, where would she have makeup from? So even if it was to cheat for camera, it’s wrong. And I love that she doesn’t have it. And then there’s a real choice to have that in Paris. And again, it’s for a purpose — the paint in their face is to attract men in the brothel. There’s a purpose to the makeup. It’s not to make herself pretty for society. There’s a reason behind it, so I love that.

Olsen: Do you have any favorite online makeup tutorials? Do you ever go online to see what people are doing now?

Stacey: I follow skincare specialists. I love those, and I’m obsessed with them. And I was obsessed with products. I think they talk about makeup products. There’s an English journalist called Sali Hughes that I follow all the time and look what she’s doing. I think I tend to stay away from makeup because I’m kind of the most unlikely makeup designer. I never thought that this is what I would do, and it’s not. I want to create character rather than be interested in beauty and beauty products and makeup. In that way, it’s always about character. So I’d rather wait ‘til I got the script and then figure it out.

Olsen: Well, thank you everyone for joining us.

Finnie: And thank you both, I just have to say, for letting me join this season. We’ve laughed, we’ve ugly-cried watching films.

Villarreal: That’s how we haze. That’s how we cry.

Finnie: And honestly, it’s been a good season, but it’s been better being here.

Olsen: It’s been great having you.

Finnie: Thank you all so much.

Olsen: And please like and subscribe wherever you listen to or watch your podcasts. Thanks again for being here.

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