Billie Eilish, Finneas O’Connell and America Ferrera Talk About the Power of a Doll: ‘Barbie Has Affected Us All’ | Video

TheWrap Screening Series: The “Barbie” nominees for Best Original Song and Best Supporting Actress gather to discuss the year’s biggest and most culture-shaking movie

When Greta Gerwig first spoke with Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell about writing a song for “Barbie,” she was “adamant,” Finneas said, that they watch footage of the film.

“We feel like fans who snuck into the back of the party,” he said. “The idea that we were going to get to see some rough cut of the movie six months before we would otherwise get to see it was enough to us that we’re like, that’s sick, even if they don’t want us to make a song. That’s awesome.”

Of course, they did write a song: “What Was I Made For?” It earned the sibling musicians their second Best Original Song Oscar nomination, following their win for “No Time to Die” in 2022. Gerwig asked them to write Barbie’s “heart song,” and it was the perfect assignment at the perfect moment, they told TheWrap editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman in a recent discussion as part of our Screening Series, which also featured “Barbie” Best Supporting Actress nominee America Ferrera.

One reason why was the siblings’ personal connection to the iconic dolls: Their father, Patrick O’Connell (who was in the audience, along with mother Maggie Baird) used to work as a carpenter at Mattel, building Barbie sets. When she was growing up, Eilish revered her Barbies and still believes they are the most influential dolls in the culture.

“Nothing, honest to God, nothing has replaced Barbie,” Eilish said. “I loved all my Barbies and I treated them like gold. And then my mom would talk about Barbies and her Barbies when she was a kid. … It’s really amazing the way that it has affected us all.”

Finneas O’Connell, Billie Eilish, America Ferrera and Sharon Waxman (John Salangsang/Shutterstock)

There was also the timing: Gerwig’s offer came while the duo was working on Eilish’s upcoming album — and were also battling severe writer’s block.

“We hadn’t been creative at all,” Eilish said. “And we were not coming up with anything. And we were just completely stumped. We just had nothing … We were trying to make this album and we were like, ‘We have no ideas. We’re not good anymore.’”

When they told Gerwig that they were writing the new album, Finneas recalled, “She said, ‘Oh, great. Well, then this can be the way that you procrastinate.’ I think that we felt so daunted by how little progress we felt we were making on the album at the time that I was like, ‘Oh, my God, we don’t want to procrastinate, we can’t even get the album going.’ But she was completely right. She said, ‘That’s what I love when I’m working on a big project. I love a little distraction to work on.’ It was really smart.”

The cut that Eilish and Finneas saw included the scene that would eventually feature their song (when Margot Robbie’s Barbie decides she wants to experience full human emotion), Ryan Gosling’s hilarious ’80s power ballad “I’m Just Ken” and Ferrera’s much-discussed monologue in which her character, Gloria, extemporizes on how “literally impossible” it is to be a woman.

“We shot that scene for two days. So I probably ended up saying that monologue, top to bottom, I want to say around 50 times,” Ferrera said. “Greta and I had talked about it for months. Every time there was something in the culture — like this article or that story, or this episode of TV or this op-ed, everything that had to do with the monologue — we would just share and relate to what’s happening in the culture, but also to what we’ve experienced as individual women. I had 40 years experience of being a woman. So that helped. And then by the time we got to doing it, I had all these months to deeply weave each of those lines.”

The words have stayed with her.

“I feel like in my own personal life, I had to live that monologue through my body,” Ferrara said. “And so there are times where I’ll look in the mirror and be like, ‘I haven’t worked out in two days!’ And then I’ll just hear Gloria be like, ‘We already said the monologue! We don’t get to go back and do that!’ She still lives in my head and is saying the monologue all the time. So in a way, it felt personally transformative.”

At the end of the discussion, a member of the audience referred to Finneas’ comment about feeling like fans who snuck into the party and asked the three panelists if they ever grappled with imposter syndrome. Ferrera took the opportunity to interrogate the idea itself.

“What do we really mean when we say ‘imposter syndrome’?” she said. She explained that yes, she does experience the feeling of walking into a room and believing she doesn’t belong there, but she’d like to find a new term for that feeling, other than “imposter syndrome.”

“I look at it like, ‘Oh, it’s not my fault that I feel like I don’t belong in this space,’” Ferrara said. “Everything, for my whole life, has told me I don’t belong in this space. So it’s not really imposter syndrome. It’s an appropriate reaction to what I’ve been told my whole life.

“And because one makes me feel more shameful, one makes me feel like, ‘S–t, I don’t know what I’m doing and I feel really small around these geniuses and no one knows it and they’re going to find out and they’re going to kick me out.’ Instead of, ‘All these smart people think I belong here. And I’ve worked really hard and I am here and I’ve done the work. Why do I still feel like I don’t belong here? Because I believe what I’ve been told and taught my whole life that I don’t belong here.’

“So I just think we have to, for our own selves, start thinking about it differently. Of like, I feel strange in the space because I am a stranger in this space. Because a lot of us are the first people like us to be in these spaces. And so in a way, it’s the most appropriate response you can have. We’re just calling it the wrong thing.”

Watch the full post-screening Q&A with Ferrera, Eilish and O’Connell below.


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