Barbies can be anything. If you check out the entire Wikipedia article dedicated to Barbie’s careers (which I have), you’ll find well over 200 jobs, neatly organized by category and labeled by year. In 1973, Barbie became a surgeon! In 1999, she tried her hand at being a matador. And in 2012, Barbie was a trailblazer in the culinary field, perhaps inventing the role of Pancake Chef.
Ana Cruz Kayne is making the gimmick a little less gimmicky: Her Barbie is Asian and Jewish, just like she is.
And thankfully for us, Cruz Kayne, who plays Supreme Court Justice Barbie in Greta Gerwig’s upcoming movie “Barbie,” has infused her identity across multiple aspects of the film. In one scene, her Barbie wears a dress with butterfly sleeves, an homage to the Filipiniana terno. (Later, Ana would wear a baby pink terno to the “Barbie” premiere.) In another, her justice is outfitted in a lacy collar over her robes, conjuring an image of the late Jewish justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And when speaking to Vogue about finding her Barbie character, Ana said, “Like the youngest child asks at Passover, What makes this night different than other nights? It’s like, What makes this Barbie different than other Barbies?”
Recently, Ana caught up with Hey Alma to chat about playing an Asian Jewish Barbie, trying to have a bat mitzvah (twice) and what judicial rulings she would enact in Barbieland.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
How did you come to be in the Barbie movie?
I was sent an audition and I was like, “Yeah, right.” But I did the best I could do. My note to myself in general at this point in my career is if you like it, it’s perfect. Don’t try to guess what they’re going [to] like because you’ll never win. So I tried to make her fun, but one of the notes was that these are not ditzy women. Obviously. They wouldn’t have sent it to me. [Joking] Hello, I’m a woman of gravitas. But yeah, I did it, sent it in, thought for sure there was no way, no chance in France. And then you know what I did? OK, it’s weird. My friend told me to do this: I bought a Barbie. My friend was like, if you get the job, you can keep her and whatever. (I’m not like playing with her, I’m an adult.) If you don’t get the job, you can dismember her, bury her or whatever it takes to grieve whatever that attachment was. Because so much of acting is like, this could be the thing! And then you’re like, but don’t do that. That’s how everything gets dark. So I bought a doll.
But needless to say, they ended up telling me I got the job. And then next thing I knew – I think even before I knew I got the job – I was told that someone was coming to fit me for a wig cap, which is not an experience I’ve ever had. So this beautiful woman came into my home and basically put shrink wrap on my head and pulled my eyebrows up and did all this stuff. And I was like, I guess I’m going to be in this movie? It was very unceremonious. And then I got all packed up and was told you’re leaving for an indeterminate amount of time. And I was like, “Well, if there’s one movie to roll the dice on, it’s probably this one.” Even still I’m like, “Did I get the…? Did I do it? Was I there?” You know? Like, did it happen? It’s still very surreal.
I’m sure. I loved your quote in Vogue, “What makes this Barbie different than other Barbies?” So, what makes your Barbie different than all the other Barbies?
I do feel like while we were shooting, the question was more: what connects these Barbies? So there was less of a push to individuate yourself from this core group of ladies. But my girl was such a hype girl. I feel like some Barbies were sort of like in their own Barbieness and mine was like, “No, team sports! Everybody together all the time!” I guess she was maybe the most cheerleader-y. But a lot of it has to do with costumes. You think you know what you’re about to do and then suddenly [costume designer] Jacqueline Durran comes in with the most incredible costume you’ve ever allowed on your body. And suddenly you’ve become this other creature. You’re like, “I guess my Beach Barbie is kind of a peeping Tom?” Hari’s playing a banjo, Alex is reading a magazine, Emma’s sipping a fake drink and I got these binoculars so I guess my Barbie is just creepy up here on the pier, spying on everyone?
That’s so funny. How much input did you have in creating your character?
It felt like a true collaboration. Greta had a very concise idea of what she wanted, which is so freeing as an actor, because you’re like, you know exactly what you want. So I can play within these limitations. And I think it was similar to the audition process, which was like, whatever is most right and fun for you is whatever she had in mind. You might have heard in the trailers, “It’s the best day ever!” It really is the best day ever. I felt like every day, I was like bringing my own joie de vivre to the stage and trusting that it would meld with Greta, and it is such an ensemble piece, so bounce off the others.
For me, I love ensemble work, because you don’t really know what you’re doing. So much is dependent on everybody else’s input. I felt like that acting exercise where you all try to count to 10, but never say the number at the same time as another person. You want to highlight everybody just as much as yourself. I think bringing that input in and working with gratitude… you’ll see it on screen, but everybody is so silly.
So did you arrive on set and they were like, “You are a Supreme Court Justice Barbie,” or is that something, like, that came about in the process?
For auditions, we didn’t even have scripts. We knew what the creative team was and who was attached. I think at that point it was Margot [Robbie], Ryan [Gosling] and America [Ferrera]. And then we got to the U.K. and we got these tiny, beautiful scripts with a beautiful pen and like a journal to write our thoughts in and went home and read it that day. And then I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m the Supreme Court Justice Barbie!” But I get it. I mean, I project justice, so…
How does it feel to be the most iconic Jewish Supreme Court Justice after RBG?
It feels pretty right. I have a strong moral compass. [Joking] Whether or not I adhere to it at all times…
Did you draw any inspiration from RBG at all?
Oh for sure. She was this badass lady who was confident and well-researched, you know? And our politics align, so of course.
And how much of your own identity did you put into your character?
I think everything I do has all of my identity in it. I’m such a mixture of many things. I feel like there is no blueprint for people like me. I’m just Jewish-Asian and myself. I’ve sat in the makeup chair before and people have been like, “So you’re not the sex pot… You’re bookish, but you’re also…” And I was like, “Girl, you ain’t gotta figure it out.” My identity is in every role I’ve been able to do and the amalgamation of mixed Asian Jewishness is my Barbie. In other interviews, [interviewers] are sort of like, “Who is your Barbie?” And I’m like, “She’s mixed Asian Jewish! And there are a lot of people like me.” It’s just very cool that we’re a doll, too. You don’t just have to pick the one with brown hair.
Could you tell me more about your Jewish identity and background?
I would say my Jewish identity and background is still in process. I’m Jewish on my father’s side. Legend has it that my mother took the bath to appease my grandmother, whose name is Shirley Mitzi Steinberg – and she’s a bad bitch. She’s 99 and she’s never going to die. She’ll tell you that. But yeah, we celebrated all the High Holidays and my oldest brother Michael was bar mitzvahed on Masada because he was the oldest and a boy. But I don’t know… Jews wandered for 40 years in the desert. I feel like I really relate to that. Like, where am I going? And I feel most comfortable in the company of Jews. If your partner is any reflection of you I’m dating the most Jewish king. He has me watch Lab/Shul Zooms and participate. I love the rituals and traditions.
My mom was raised really Catholic, and my dad was raised really Jewish. And I think for [my siblings and me], they sort of presented things without sort of overtly being like, this is Jewish and this is Catholic. They were just sort of like, “This is who you are and this is what we celebrate.” But for me, Jewishness is like so much love coupled with so much intense, profound loyalty to the family and the family name, coupled with so much guilt and obligation. You know? Plus, I’m on SSRIs and I can’t eat so many different foods. It’s like I won Jewish bingo.
As Barbie Supreme Court Justice, what would your character’s rulings have been? What laws did she help establish in Barbieland?
Reinstating Roe. What else? I’d say universal healthcare, universal childcare, universal pre-K, all the things that help women be successful in their lives without giving up their autonomy. It’s soul-crushing that in so many ways, [society] is like: Yes, women! Women are equal! But we’ll never pay them as much and honestly, you can get a vasectomy because that’s covered but we’ll never help you with your fertility. And if you get pregnant, well, you better be quiet because how’d you do that? If you do that, you did it yourself. No one else helped you.
I remember where I was, it was a little over a year ago, when Roe was threatened to be overturned. I remember getting the news and without even thinking about it bursting into tears. I was in St. Louis visiting my boyfriend in-between “Barbie” shoots and there happened to be a Planned Parenthood right near there. It was exactly where I needed to be because Missouri was one of the trigger ban states. I personally have a history with abortion. I was 19 and these are really hard decisions and it’s our right to choose them. So my Barbie Supreme Court Justice would be like, “Yes bodily autonomy,” not a doubt in the world.
That’s incredible. Yeah, I’m sure that part of the appeal of the “Barbie” movie is that viewers can all just forget about how shitty the world is right now and instead just imagine living in perfect Barbieland.
It’s void of the male gaze, void of the patriarchal structure, void of all of these things that we all accidentally agreed upon.
What kinds of things would be in your Barbie’s Dream House?
Oh my God, no one’s asked me that. I’m gonna cry. My first thought was, like, a bidet. Barbies don’t have genitals, but I was just like, a ToTo heated seat! It would be pink and it would play the Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice song that just came out every time you flush. Hmm… I don’t know, I’d also like hardwood flooring. Windows? I live in New York so my standards are so low. A washer and dryer, maybe? A litter box that spins on its own and then is taken out by a tiny fleet of small cats that are robots, I guess? Yeah, I’d have a dishwasher, a new washer/dryer and a bidet. Wow. She’s simple. She’s a cheap date.
Would you have any Barbie Judaica?
Judaica? Yes! I feel like anytime I went into a Judaica gift shop, there would always be these, like, odd glass chandeliers. Whoever made that: was it healing? What were you healing from when you made that? I mean, I guess I can infer. But I’d have a Barbie glass-blown Judaica chand-alabra (chandelier-candelabra). You know, something subtle.
Barbie is nothing if not subtle.
And then under it she’s reading from the Toy-rah.
Some people claim Barbie is Jewish because Ruth Handler was. So, if your Barbie had a Barbie mitzvah, what would the theme have been?
Oh my God. That’s such a beautiful question. I’ve tried to have a bar mitzvah twice, which maybe is a story for another day.
Oh, no, I want to hear it.
Michael, as I said, was the first baby. In the Philippines, we call him the “kuya,” and the kuya is like the prince. And he got a bar mitzvah on Masada because we don’t mess around. We all flew to Israel. My grandmother made puffy paint shirts that said things like, “My name is Hana.” With a really upsetting bunny with one eye on it. And she was like, “I made that for you!” And I was like [sarcastically], “I love it, grandma.” And then because my grandmother – Shirley Mitzi Steinberg, feels important to say again – never had a bat mitzvah herself, but is so Jewish, I thought, what a beautiful thing it would be to have one with her. Even though she’s so fricking difficult.
So I took her to the rabbi in New Haven, Rabbi Brockman. We sat down, and she immediately started – you know it all comes from a place of love – tearing me down. And I felt like she used that as like a therapy session to rag on my mother. So I was like, “Grandma, I don’t think you’re ready for this step.” So we axed that. And then during COVID I was like, “What a perfect time to meet with a tutor!” I found one through an Israeli friend’s family that I do all the holidays with now. His name was Yoni. And Yoni was very communicative until Yoni was not. So I became convinced that the COVID had taken Yoni and that I shouldn’t bother him anymore. Then he eventually reached out to me, and he was like, “I did, in fact, have COVID and I’m actually really unwell and can’t participate in these sessions.” So I think something is happening where I’m not supposed to have one. But if I did get to have one… wow. Oh my freaking gosh. It would be like “A League of Their Own” themed.
Oh, that’s so great.
We’d have the Rockford Peaches and the Racine Belles. And it would be a diverse cast. (Penny Marshall, thank you for your service.) There’s something about that movie and “Schindler’s List” where that’s where different parts of my personality collided as a child. I saw “Schindler’s List” three times at the movies because I was so astounded. And I can recite every line from “A League of Their Own.” I think it would be in poor taste to have [a] “Schindler’s List” bat mitzvah… But “A League of Their Own!” The girly baseball vibes felt very in-line with my personality. And we’d all sing the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League song. And everyone would have a character table like Shirley Baker, who couldn’t read and then read porn with Madonna. A Madonna table. A Rosie O’Donnell table. Oh my God, all my friends would each get a candle and would give a really profound speech that was so moving I would cry. And then we’d sing “I Hope You Dance.”
I think you should have that.
Tiffany Haddish had one and I was like, “Oh my gosh! I guess it’s never too late.”
What has it meant for you to be a part of this movie? And how have you reacted to the massive response to it?
I know what I’m supposed to say. But the answer is: so anxious.
In true Jewish form.
It’s so exciting. It’s obviously such an honor to stand next to this ensemble of characters. I don’t really watch a lot of things. I watch weird, culty movies and whatever the potential zeitgeist is for television. But I didn’t really know a lot of these people walking in, and then it’s just like: Oh, that’s Simu. He’s amazing at everything. That’s America, she is my heart and soul. That’s Alexandria Shipp. That’s Margot. We all just bonded on our personalities and it was so organic. Getting to come out and celebrate those friendships, that’s where I ground myself. I try not to focus on whatever is being projected onto the movie, because that’s not good for me and my process. Acting is such a vulnerable job. And like, this is such a major brand and Greta is so iconic. And all these people are, as I found out, really big stars. I was just kind of just like, “I’m gonna join this merry band of players!”
While we were on set, Ncuti, my sweet friend Ncuti, was like, “I’m the new Doctor Who!” And I was like, “Doctor What?” And he was like, “Doctor Who!” I hadn’t watched “Sex Education,” I had no idea. I didn’t have any preconceived notions. Except with Ryan. But then Ryan is extremely kind and loving and collaborative and funny. He would bring out your strengths and make you feel good. I have no notes for Ryan Gosling. He’s a sweet pea all-around family guy who happens to be world famous. But for me, this is all a celebration of friendship more than anything else. And I try to remember that when things happen, like someone put on my Wikipedia, “she’s Mexican from Mexico City.” And I was like, “Oh, someone needed that.” You know? I was like, “No, no.” People just want to see themselves. And I want to be all those things for them. But also I can only be what I am, and I hope you love it.
I think people will love it, and you.
It’s so fun. I watched it and my face hurt from smiling. And it’s emotional, which is why I go to the movies. Like, don’t make me laugh. Make me cry unexpectedly! And then it’s worth my $16.50 – sometimes $18 – and you have to get two drinks.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you’re working on?
Well we, the writers, are on strike. So that’s been extremely humbling. I’m really honing my vocal skills and playing guitar, so look out for a folk album nobody asked for. But I’ve been writing a feature about sort of a coming-of-age story about a girl like me. I always wished that I had a mentor or blueprint for my identities. I don’t know if people can relate to this, but if so, hell yeah.
And then I have a Netflix series that is yet to be released called “Painkiller” about the opioid epidemic. I’m opposite Uzo Aduba, who is so great to act with, and Matthew Broderick, who I didn’t even recognize because he was in a full facial prosthetic. We were hanging out by the cast chairs and I was like, “You want to run lines?” And he was like, “Uh… sure.” And then we finished and he went to sit down, and I was like, “Oh my God.” I mean, obviously, I watched “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” And he’s an acting veteran from so many other things. But I just bullied Matthew Broderick into practicing with me.
It’s a horrible subject matter, but it’s so important. I’m excited to see it because it means a lot. I remember being in acting school and someone asking: What is your thematic word? And mine was justice. I was like a child when I said that, but I still really relate to it. It feels like cosmic synchronicity that I got to London [for “Barbie”], and they were like, you are the judge. And also because I do play like a lot of lawyers or lawyer-y people, like in “Painkiller.”
OK, one more question: What is the most Barbiecore Jewish holiday?
Probably Hanukkah because you’re just like: gifts! And it’s not real. You’re like, “What is this holiday?” And someone else is like, “Who cares? It’s the best.” It’s the most important, best one. There are eight days of parties and no rules because we invented it.