This is not Tom Ackerley's first trip to the Oscars, but it is his first time as a nominee.

The producing partner and husband of Margot Robbie was her plus one when she was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for I, Tonya in 2018, and then for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Bombshell in 2020, but this time, he is experiencing it alongside her as one of the producers behind the Best Picture-nominated Barbie. "It's amazing," he says. "It's obviously incredibly overwhelming at times, but it's such a celebration of cinema. And being at the center of it, it's a dream come true, truthfully."

Robbie, who is well-versed in the gauntlet of awards season, reports back that's he is fairing "brilliantly" for a first-timer. "And when we get to attend these things together, you remember to have fun and celebrate," she says. "I think it's important to stop and smell the roses."

"Like, we went to the Oscar Nominees Luncheon the other day, and I was sitting about six inches away from Wim Wenders!" Robbie shares. "When is that ever going to happen? It's all the pinch-me moments and you don't want them to fly by without getting to appreciate it."

"We are good at taking the quiet moments when we can to really soak it in," Ackerley agrees.

At the 96th Oscars, Barbie received nominations for Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach's adapted screenplay, America Ferrera and Ryan Gosling's supporting performances, original songs by Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell ("What Was I Made For?") and Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt ("I'm Just Ken"), as well as for the costume design and the production design. The hit fantasy comedy received eight nominations in total.

Ackerley and Robbie's production company, LuckyChap Entertainment, is responsible for turning Mattel's iconic doll into a billion-dollar-plus box-office sensation; they share the Best Picture nomination with fellow producers David Heyman (the Oscar-nominated producer behind such films as Gravity, Marriage Story, and Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood) and Robbie Brenner, the president of Mattel Films.

The recognition arrives exactly 10 years after they first founded LuckyChap together with their best friend Josey McNamara. "I think we were hoping that it would lead to something like Barbie. We just didn't know it would happen as quickly," Robbie tells A.frame. "10 years sounds like a long time, but it does feel like things have progressed quite quickly with the company."

"Yeah, I'd say we're very ambitious people, but ultimately, we do this because we're cinema lovers," Ackerley says, "and we want to be working with the biggest filmmakers and we want to be taking the biggest swings."

A.frame: What does it mean to be nominated this time: Tom, it's your first nomination, and Margot, your first as a producer?

Margot Robbie: It's incredible. Look, everyone knows the Best Picture nom is the big one, and it's the big one because it's for everyone. I definitely feel guilty getting nominated as an actor or a supporting actor; it feels ridiculous to me that I'm getting credit for something that I did such a small part of! But when it's the Best Picture nomination, you know that is honoring everyone's work. And in the case of Barbie, so many people put so much work and time and talent into making that movie. You want everyone to be appreciated, and you feel so bad when it's just a couple of you at a fancy event. So, this was particularly special knowing that this is a moment for everyone to go, "Yeah, I made that too. This one's for me, as well."

Tom Ackerley: She hit down the head. This movie was led by Greta's vision and the script was written by Greta and Noah, and it's as much for them as it is for the producing team. And it's as much for the AD department, and the costume designers, and production designers, and the editors, and the sound mixers, and musicians. Film is the most collaborative art form, and this nomination is the most collaborative way to celebrate it.

Tom Ackerley and Margot Robbie attend the 96th Oscars Nominees Luncheon.

Do you remember how people in your life reacted when you told them you were going off to make a Barbie movie?

Robbie: There was a lot of squealing from everyone, especially when Ryan Gosling came on as our Ken. I think from within the industry, there was a lot of, "Huh? What? Are you sure?"

Ackerley: "Hasn't that been tried a hundred thousand times?"

Robbie: But we kind of had that on a smaller scale when we did I, Tonya. Everyone was like, "Don't do that. Don't touch that. It's going to be a disaster." And similarly, I felt like everyone's facial expression was saying, "Oh, but you've done so well! Don't ruin it now by trying to make a Barbie movie." We just had this unwavering belief that this was the thing to do, and we're like, "Trust us. It's going to be amazing." And then we got Greta Gerwig and people were like, "Okay, so you're going to do your way into a Barbie movie."

I think people started recognizing that this wasn't going to be a straightforward Barbie movie, but I think there was still a lot of doubt. Of course, on this side of it, everyone forgets that. And everyone's like, "Of course this was going to work! Of course the Barbie movie was going to be a big hit!" But on the other side of it, it did not feel that way at all from the outside. It felt like everyone was bracing themselves for disaster.

Ackerley: You could really track the skepticism into excitement and anticipation, and that was a journey throughout the whole six years of making the movie. But yeah, it definitely slowly changed over time. And I will say, my mum asks me every day, "What movie are you working on? And every day, I tell her what movie we're working on. And Barbie's probably the only one that actually stuck in her head. She's like, "Oh, you guys are doing Barbie!" It's such a recognizable thing that it actually resonates with the people.

As you mentioned, it does feel crazy to think about now, but this movie was a big risk. It had been toiling in development for years. There were so many ways it could have gone wrong. What was it that pushed you to say, "Not only can we do this, but we have to do this"?

Ackerley: As producers, we seek originality and we try to find stories that haven't been told before. And I think the challenge of telling the story of something that's so recognizable and trying to find a way into it that was unexpected — the movie no one asked for but we felt we could deliver — was the excitement of it. Margot said this in the green light meeting: "It is an opportunity to partner really bold filmmakers with a really big swing of a film." That was what we found in Greta Gerwig, and that's what we found in Barbie. It's Steven Spielberg and dinosaurs, it's James Cameron and the Titanic, and then there's Greta Gerwig and Barbie. And I think we knew the potential of that even from the start.


None of the movies LuckyChap has made have been particularly easy, but what was the most daunting aspect that you knew you had to get right for this movie to work?

Robbie: Literally, I've never had such a long list of things we had to get right. It was the tiniest tightrope to walk on, and we had to dance on it! Not even with I, Tonya, where you were like, "We really got to hit this just pinpoint." You really had to pinpoint that tone, otherwise it was like, what are they doing? This was way harder than that, because there is so much baggage tied up in the word Barbie. There are decades of contentious feelings. People have rioted and picketed against Barbie. People have done plastic surgery to look like Barbie. I mean, there's so many things to address.

We wanted to address them all, but also have a new conversation and a current conversation, and also pay homage to a 65-year-old legacy, and to be making a movie for everyone — for Barbie lovers and Barbie haters, and people who feel indifferent about Barbie, and men — because this had to be a four-quadrant movie to warrant the budget that we had. To do all of that and just purely entertain felt impossible. It felt truly, truly impossible and terrifying. And we had to do it, because anything short of that was failure. If we had one toe out of line, that's where all the focus would've gone, because that's how it's always been for Barbie.

So, it was an impossibly tall order, and again, not something we can take credit for pulling off — the credit goes to Greta, completely. It goes to everyone, but mainly it goes to Greta for cracking the code on how to address so many things, how to include so many things, and how to wrap that all up in a warm, joyful, artful piece of cinema. The list just goes on and on of boxes we needed to tick on this one, and then not let it all feel like box ticking. It was incredibly difficult.

Ackerley: I think by trying to make a movie for everyone, you can often make it for no one. And Greta managed it.

Robbie: She injected it with specificity. We always say we want to make things that feel specific but not niche, and it's kind of hard to distinguish that sometimes. But the humor in this and the tone in this is incredibly specific, and I think that's what gives you something to latch onto. And that's something I always respond to in movies, is finding that specificity. Because when you shave off too many of the sharp edges. It's like, what is this now? I don't even care.

Was that tightrope feeling there the whole time? Or was there a point in the process where you felt like you could relax and know, "This is working. We've got this."

Robbie: No, it was there the whole time.

Ackerley: Script to production to post, you never know.

Robbie: Even now, it's like, how do we talk about a Barbie movie in the context of an Oscars' campaign? That's a new challenge altogether, The last time the highest-grossing film of the year won Best Picture was 20 years ago, and that was Lord of the Rings 3. So, how can we celebrate the art that went into this film and let people appreciate that, when they also know that it was commercially successful? Because there's a skepticism automatically attached with that commercial success. So, it's been an incredibly small, tightrope to walk on every step of the way, and it continues to be. But it makes us better producers, it makes us better filmmakers, and it makes the whole thing worth doing. I mean, this has taken every minute of our lives for six years now. With any movie, you've got to love it so much and believe in it so much to let it take over that much of your life and let it feel worth it. But this definitely feels worth it.

Hey, Barbie's odyssey was just as epic as Lord of the Rings, and she was less focused on accessories than those little hobbits.

Ackerley: What a good line! We should steal that one.

Robbie: I'm definitely stealing that.


Is there an aspect of the film that you're feeling especially proud of now, either because of how difficult it was for you or just because you're still moved or tickled by it?

Ackerley: It's such a hard question to answer, because the entirety of the film is such a technical achievement in my opinion, and everything's bespoke. Nothing's off the shelf. Every single detail of this film had to be designed and thought out and handmade. But I think the casting, it was really a massive deep bench of talent, and you are playing in sets that have no walls so you can't hide anyone. Barbies can't feel shame, so there's no reason to have walls. Even in the intimate moments, like Margot and Ryan up on the bed at the end of the movie, you still have 30 of our actors down on the ground. Everyone came out to play and everyone embraced it.

Robbie: For me, it's the handmade nature of the film. Not only does that resonate thematically with the world — a toyetic world, a world of toys and play — but with the technology that's available, it's more and more rare these days to take the more difficult, more expensive road of making everything and having it be tangible. But that was always important to Greta. And when I watch the film, I think it's like watching a magic trick. Sometimes when it's CGI, I'm a little detached, because the possibilities are infinite. Whereas, when everything is tangible, handmade, in-camera trickery, I feel the magic more, because I know someone's really putting on a magic show for me.

We had an entire warehouse for miniatures. We made a miniature version of every single thing in Barbie Land and then filmed it. So, it's seeing people hand paint a palm tree that's two inches high. It feels like we got to really embrace the old-school filmmaking techniques, and I get so scared that they're dying out and people won't remember how to load film one day, and won't remember how to hand paint mountains to look like they're 3D, and things like that. This film embraced those techniques more than I've ever seen a film embrace them, and it gives you that magic on-screen that you can't quite put your finger on what you're enjoying about the frame, but you're enjoying it. And it's all those things. That's why you're enjoying it. You are delighted when you look at Barbie, because you can subconsciously tell that people handmade it for you, for your enjoyment.

Barbie has achieved. It's broken box office records, it's made history, it was truly a cultural phenomenon. Now, the film is nominated for eight Oscars. How do you personally measure the success of a project? Is it in the experience? Is it in how it's received? What is success to you?

Ackerley: For us, and this applies to the movies that won't necessarily work at the box office or win awards, I think if we took the big swing and we know what we set out to achieve and we feel like we achieved that — even if it didn't quite resonate — then to us, that's a success. As long as we're constantly trying to push the boundary, it's okay if the movies don't work. That, to us, is the success. I think that to us allows us the freedom to go into the future and continue to take big risks. Because if we're going to set a barometer of box office or awards or prestige or whatever, it will handcuff us. So, I think the success is just knowing that we backed the original take.

Robbie: I guess my barometer for success is how proud of it I feel, and how I just want every movie we work on to reach its full potential. I only feel let down when I know it didn't reach its full potential. When it really reaches its full potential and then even goes beyond that, that's when it feels incredibly successful. I always want to be able to stand by the decisions we make. And when you believe in someone and you believe in something, even if it doesn't come together in the way you needed it to, you can still stand by and be like, "I know why we went after that person. I know why we put that money into that, and I know why every decision was made like that. I still believe in those decisions, because everything else is a bit of a crap shoot to an extent."

Ackerley: There's only so much you can control.

Robbie: Who knows what's going to happen! I also think the ultimate version of success is a movie that people will watch for decades to come. We want to make movies that stand the test of time. I'd rather make a movie that didn't hit big on opening weekend, but 20 years later, people still watch it. I would much rather have that scenario than make 300 mil the first weekend and in 10 years time, everyone's like, "What movie?" Standing the test of time, I think, is the ultimate success.

Easy question then: How proud are you of Barbie?

Robbie: Incredibly proud.

Ackerley: The most proud!

Robbie: And I think it will stand a test of time. I know it will stand a test of time.

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 Picture category for an interview.


'Barbie' Producer and Star Margot Robbie's Top 5

With 'Barbie,' America Ferrera Left Everything on the Dance Floor (Exclusive)

2024 Oscars: Where to Watch the Best Picture Nominees