When America Ferrera signed on to star in Barbie, she remembers, "Most people were like, 'Why are you doing a Barbie movie?'" The actress, who broke out in 2002's Real Women Have Curves and won an Emmy playing the title character in Ugly Betty, perhaps seemed to be an unusual choice for the pink-hued blockbuster comedy.

"There was definitely some explanation required," she chuckles. "Like, 'Wait, are you a Barbie? What's happening?' People needed answers."

In Barbie, Ferrera plays Gloria, the unmoored mother of a teen daughter and underappreciated assistant to the CEO of Mattel. When Barbie (played by Margot Robbie) develops thoughts of death and cellulite, she travels to the real world and meets Gloria; soon, both women are sent on an odyssey towards self-acceptance.

When director Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach were writing the script, they wrote the role with Ferrera in mind. They especially envisioned her voice for a showstopping monologue that Gloria delivers when she accompanies Barbie back to Barbie Land to stop Ken's (Ryan Gosling) patriarchal takeover. As Barbie experiences an existential crisis, it is Gloria who proclaims, "It is literally impossible to be a woman."

For her performance, Ferrera is now a first-time Oscar nominee. At the 96th Oscars, Barbie received a total of eight nominations, including Ferrera's for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. ("I'm so proud to get to bring Latine representation to this year's Academy Awards, along with my fellow Latine nominees," she said of the recognition. "May the diversity of voices acknowledged by the Academy continue to grow!")

Recently, Ferrera found herself posing for the "class photo" at this year's Oscars Nominees Luncheon. She stood behind Martin Scorsese and next to his longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. "I literally asked her, 'How many times have you been here?' She's like, 'Nine times.' So, I got to stand next to some legends," Ferrera tells A.frame. She breaks into a smile, "Those are my colleagues!"


A.frame: Now that you've had time to let it sink in, what does it mean to be nominated and to be nominated for this film?

For me, what it means to be nominated is connected to my childhood dreams and how unlikely my dreams seemed to just about everyone around me. As a daughter of Honduran immigrants, who were poor and unconnected to the industry, I had this crazy dream. And I was this short, chubby Latina girl who was not Latina enough or white enough to really fit into any box. I dreamed of spending my life doing something I loved and building a career and making work that makes people feel the way I felt when I watched the movies and TV shows and plays that I loved.

I think the Oscars feel like the top of the mountain, right? That's how you know, I made it into that room! This is the image that we project to the globe of what we value in film and in storytelling, and I remember watching Julia Roberts win and watching Halle Berry win and wishing that one day I'd make it there. So, it's been really surreal and emotional. Growing up, I always watched my life as a movie. I was like, "Oh, this is just the part where it's bad. I'm just in the part of the movie where it's not good yet, but we'll get there." And a lot of moments in the last couple of weeks, it almost feels like I'm in a montage in the movie of my own life, where you're like, "Oh my God, we're at the part where she made it!"

Were there ways you prepared for Barbie that were different from roles you've done in the past?

I think it was pretty similar to how I generally prepare, which is a lot of chatting and talking with the director and the other actors, and also just taking in inspiration. One fun thing about working with Greta is how much if you ask her for homework, you're going to get homework. [Laughs] I was like, "Tell me what to watch," and she would send me just the longest lists of movies. But I loved watching the movies she told me to watch because she has such a vast knowledge of film, so I watched everything that she felt inspired the movie and inspired the character. That was a lot of my preparation: Watching everything Greta told me to watch.

As someone who didn't have a deep connection to Barbie dolls, did you have to do any work to play a character who does have a deep connection to Barbie?

No, because to me, Barbie was a stand-in for whatever it is in all of us that gives us access to our childlike imaginations, whatever gave us access to the feeling that anything is possible, that you can be anything you want to be and that you can transport yourself and dream yourself into anything. As a kid, my version of that was performance — watching movies and television and then sitting there for hours and memorizing songs and dances out of musicals and making radio shows with my best friend. That was my version of, "Oh, anything's possible in this space." For me, that was what Barbie was for Gloria.

Let's talk about the monologue. Are you sick of talking about the monologue?

I'm not sick of talking about it, but I feel like people must be sick of hearing about it! [Laughs] I don't know what else there is to say, but go for it. Ask me. I'm happy to talk about it!

When you read the script for the first time, what is it like to read something like that? Are you caught up in the story and reading it within that context? Or do you begin thinking to yourself, "How am I going to be able to pull this off?"

It's kind of all of that. Greta sent me the script and referenced the monologue. She said, "I wrote this monologue that I call 'Gloria's Aria,' and I hear your voice saying these words." She also said to me, rather insensitively, "Meryl Streep read it, and she said she would like to do a monologue like this." I was like, okay, no pressure there! So, I knew that it was coming, but I didn't know how it fit into the story. And I just got completely lost in the script. I was on the ride, laughing and crying and laughing and crying at the same time, and being totally taken by this incredibly unexpected, delightful, full-of-heart subversive thing. And also, it was so weird. If you think watching the movie is weird, reading the script was like, what is happening? You're like, "What? They're on jet skis?! How are they going to do this?"

So, by the time I got to the monologue, I was in it. I was mad that Ken had destroyed Barbie Land and sad that Barbie felt the way that she felt, then I turned the page and the entire page was words. It said "Gloria," and then it was just a block of words for an entire page. I was like, "Okay, this must be the moment she was talking about!" And I felt it deeply, and I knew that it was so important in the journey of the movie but also for both of these characters — for Barbie to hear it and for Gloria to say it. It transforms everything for both of them moving forward. So, it was just beautiful. God, it just felt like Christmas morning. I was like, "I can't believe that this incredible director and these incredible writers want me to do this. I'm so honored and I am so excited to play." I feel like I've been living with that feeling of, "I can't believe I get to be a part of this joyful mushroom trip of a movie and have so much fun and get to deliver such a meaningful monologue."

You shot the monologue over two days. When you wrapped that second day, how did you feel?

I felt very relieved. I felt very tired. I felt really satisfied. We left everything out on the dance floor, and Greta gave me so much freedom and really gave me time, which is so rare. To have that much time on set to let something live in your body and sit differently in different takes, it really felt like an evolution and a journey. And as an actor, it was a blast. It was so much fun. It was so luxurious and self-indulgent to be like, oh my God! I get two-and-a-half minutes of just me talking, over and over and over. By the end of it, Ariana [Greenblatt], who played my daughter, she had memorized all the words and she repeated it back to me, which made me sob.

But it felt different than every other day on set, because most of it was just fun and hilarious. And then for two days, we dropped into this other pocket. I'd look up and crew people would have tears streaming down their eyes. And we had to sit in that pocket probably longer than it was comfortable to, but I think in a good way. I could walk away feeling like I left it all there. There's no version of that that I didn't get to do, and Greta seemed happy, which made me happy.

Have you gotten Meryl Streep's review of how you did with that monologue?

She was very lovely. She has been very kind and congratulatory. But for my sake, I hope we never get the Meryl version of that, because then it would be, "Who wore it best?" And nobody needs that. [Laughs]

One monologue does not a performance make. Is there another scene in the movie that you're particularly proud of?

Yes! I loved filming and loved watching the whole car chase. When Gloria pulls up and they see each other and she realizes, "You came for me." That moment always chokes me up. Even when I read it in the script, it choked me up. Because never mind playing the part, I was so moved that this movie was about a grown women — a working, flawed mother. Just reading it felt like, "This is about us," and that was so exciting. So, that whole scene I loved, because I loved getting to play that connection with Barbie. I loved getting to do the fun car chase. I loved getting to have the dynamic with my daughter, and all at once. I particularly love doing scenes where I have to do a million things at the same time — so having to drive, having to fall in love, having them rile me up. It was so fun. I loved doing the car chase scene, and I love watching it.

I also loved doing and watching the scene with Sasha and Gloria in the car, when Gloria's ready to give up. Gloria's like, "I f****d it all up, and Barbie is everything you said she was, and I was wrong." She's ready to give up and move on. And that moment where Sasha mothers her own mother into helping her see what this journey is about, that you can't give up on the things you love, that you have to try. It's this really sweet moment where you have this woman who thinks she has to be so many things to different people and be perfect at work and perfect for her daughter and perfect for the culture, and you have her daughter say to her, "I see all of you. I see your weird, dark and crazy. I see your talent, and that's what I love about you." Her realizing, "You see that in me and that's what you love about me?" and that being the thing that gives her the confidence to go back, I love that scene. It's so beautiful to me.


Barbie has been this undeniable hit, and now, you've gotten your first Oscar nomination. But how do you personally the success of a project? Is it in the experience? Is it in how you see your performance? What do you judge it by?

It was so weird to have this movie be this global phenomenon and not get to engage with that in the regular ways, because we were on strike when the movie came out. We weren't doing any of the things we'd normally be doing, which is talking to people about the movie, getting firsthand reactions, being a part of the conversation. We had to sit back and watch and just take it all in. But it was so hypothetical, all of it. None of it made any sense to me. I was like, I guess it's this thing out there that people are watching, and what's more successful than a movie that makes a billion and a half dollars and is making this cultural imprint? But for some reason, that couldn't land in my body. I couldn't feel that and wrap my mind around it, so I did ask myself, "What is success? What does make me feel that feeling of success?"

It's funny, because after thinking about it for a long time, I think it is that interaction with how it lands on people and getting to talk to and hear from people who mirror back what it made them feel. I've had the privilege of having that my whole career and still hearing from people who are discovering Ugly Betty for the first time or watching Superstore. People coming to me and saying, "I watched you in a really difficult time in my life," and all of a sudden, you get to live that. That feels like success. That feels like I made something that brought people joy or comforted people or resonated with them. To me, that interaction feels like a confirmation of success.

And on top of that, on a very personal level, what did it feel like? What did it feel like? Was it joyful? What are the connections I came away with? What are the lessons I came away with? What did I learn about the process, about filmmaking, about art, about being an artist? What did I learn about myself? It's about really showing up for those challenges, and then being able to look back and say, "I learned this thing about myself when I was doing that project." To me, finding those gems and then carrying them forward feels like I showed up successfully for myself.

What did you learn about yourself on Barbie? What was the gem you took away?

There were so many gems — some of them too personal to talk about. I think the creative gem I took away from working on this project with this group of people is what a gift it is to work past your own threshold of knowing and of comfort. There were moments where it felt like this could be amazing and hilarious. It was hilarious to us, and we had a fearless leader in Greta — at least, she appeared fearless — but no one really knew what it was going to end up as. But the attempt was to make something that is risky and that can go either way, and where it lands is not so much the point as to make something that is new. Making something that is not comparable to things before it. You have to get out on that limb, and when you do and when it works, it's so incredibly inspiring and also energizing to everybody.

We should be encouraging people to fail instead of to succeed in safe ways. Take a risk, because how are we going to get to anything new and exciting and fresh if people aren't out on that limb?

By John Boone

A.frame, the digital magazine of the Academy, is excited to celebrate and honor the nominees of the 96th Oscars across several branches by spotlighting their nominated films, craftsmanship, and personal stories. For more on this year's nominees, take a look at our Oscars hub.

Editor's Note: For parity, A.frame reached out to every nominee in the Best Actress in a Supporting Role category for an interview.


'Barbie' Star America Ferrera's Top 5

2024 Oscars: Where to Watch the Best Picture Nominees

Everything to Know About the 96th Oscars