Alexandra Shipp Is Ready for the Barbie Backlash
Interview senior editor Taylore Scarabelli is sipping green tea in the 35th-floor lobby of the Mandarin Oriental when Alexandra Shipp slips into a tufted chair next to her, overlooking Central Park. The setting is indicative of the quiet luxuries that come with, say, landing a role in this summer’s most meme-able blockbuster. Shipp, who’s best known for playing a superhero in the X-Men movies, is part of the sprawling cast of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, which, after months of online obsession, will finally be revealed to the world this summer. For now, she can’t say much, except that Margot Robbie is perfect, Kenergy is real, and Barbie is a girl boss.
MONDAY 11:04 AM MAY 8, 2023 NYC
TAYLORE SCARABELLI: It’s so nice to meet you.
ALEXANDRA SHIPP: I love your jacket, don’t tell me it’s vintage. Who made it?
SCARABELLI: I don’t know. It’s from the ’80s, I think. I got it for like ten dollars on Poshmark.
SHIPP: I love. I have a new obsession. I found this broker in Australia who does vintage designer sunglasses. These are Valentino.
SCARABELLI: Oh my god, they look so good. You know where you should go while you’re here? Fabulous Fanny’s in the East Village. They have drawers and drawers of vintage sunglasses. Are you hungry?
SHIPP: I’m writing that down. I’m not hungry, but I definitely need coffee. I’m not sure what time zone my body is in because I was in Australia for three months and I just got back to L.A. last Sunday. I was like, “Cool, we’re going to wake up early and work out every morning and get our life together.” That lasted three days.
SCARABELLI: [Laughs] Where did you grow up?
SHIPP: In Phoenix.
SCARABELLI: When you were a kid, were you always like, “I’m going to be an actor?”
SHIPP: Definitely. My mom put me in singing lessons when I was eight, and then theater when I was ten. But I moved to L.A. because I wanted to be a songwriter.
SCARABELLI: What was the first album that really spoke to you as a teen?
SHIPP: I’m a pop girly, so it was Mandy Moore’s Candy, Britney Spears’s Baby One More Time, Christina Aguilera. And I’ve always been obsessed with Mariah Carey. The first time I heard “Always Be My Baby,” I was like, “Yes.” That’s my karaoke song.
SCARABELLI: Oh wow. So you can sing, sing. [Laughs] Whenever someone sings Mariah at karaoke, I’m like, “I fucking hate you. You’re not allowed to do karaoke if you can sing Mariah.”
SHIPP: [Laughs] But my second song is “Gangsta’s Paradise.” You got to feel the room.
SCARABELLI: [Laughs] Okay. So I have to ask you, did you play with Barbies growing up?
SHIPP: Yes. I was that kid who had specific Barbies I would play with and others I would keep. I allowed myself to take my Spice Girl Barbies out of the box. Looking back, I shouldn’t have done that. But I have a Black Y2K Barbie that’s in a ballgown and has a disco ball. The box hasn’t even been tampered with. I’m obsessed with her and I still collect Barbies to this day.
SCARABELLI: Cute! So tell me, how do you prepare for a role?
SHIPP: It depends. When I’m playing a superhero, I do a lot of physical training. For X-Men, I wanted Storm to feel like a street fighter, so the person I trained with was a pro boxer. When it comes to a real human, if I’m playing, say, a serial killer, then I’m more specific with the trauma. Sometimes I like to come up with nervous tics and walks. And then I also do something really crazy. I do their birth chart.
SCARABELLI: That’s cool.
SHIPP: It helps. Because I’m like, “Oh, my character’s a fucking Capricorn with Gemini rising?” You know who I’m talking about.
SCARABELLI: [Laughs] What was it like getting ready for Barbie?
SHIPP: Really hard because you can’t do a birth chart for a doll. But my character is a writer, so she’s not sitting there pushing around pens with all of her fingers closed. She won a Nobel Prize. So I was like, “Let’s train,” but I didn’t want to overtrain because my body’s never going to look like a Barbie doll. I got too much hips and too much ass. So I was like, “We’re going to be giving relatable Barbie body.”
SCARABELLI: Did they give you any direction in terms of how they wanted you to look?
SHIPP: No. Greta [Gerwig, the director] was really excited about everybody looking the way that Barbies should look, which is every shape and size. I saw some of the film last week and it’s really beautiful to see us all together looking like a gaggle of girls, but also a gaggle of dolls.
SCARABELLI: There’s, like, a sheen over you.
SHIPP: Literally. Greta wanted us all to look plastic, so they had makeup all over our arms and our legs and our chest. We looked and felt like Barbie dolls.
SCARABELLI: That probably influenced the way you were moving around, being so caked up.
SHIPP: So caked up. I had a conversation with Greta and then I read for it, and got the job. I didn’t have too much of a concept of what I was walking into. I don’t think any of us could have, aside from Margot [Robbie]. When we arrived, Greta took us to where we would be shooting in Barbie Land, and I just started crying because it’s everything every little girl has ever dreamed of. They built an entire Barbie cul-de-sac, and we were just walking around it and she was like, “Alex, this is your house.”
SCARABELLI: You’re like, “This is my own Barbie Dream House? Are you fucking kidding?”
SHIPP: I had a three-story Barbie Dream House, girl. I had a little Barbie sports car. Little me was having a full-blown panic attack. So when it came to how we were supposed to be moving, we were like, “What do you want?” And she was like, “I want you to feel natural because it’s Barbie Land and though you are made of plastic, you can be as human as a doll could possibly be.” We tried to find a soft, healthy medium.
SCARABELLI: Maybe it’s a good analogy for life in Hollywood. Do you ever feel like you’re trapped in Barbie world?
SHIPP: God, if I’m lucky. Because Barbie world is a matriarchal society.
SHIPP: Greta was trying to create a utopia. There’s a Barbie Supreme Court Justice, all the Barbies are winning Nobel Prizes. The streets were so clean, not a drop of garbage in sight. And the Kens are just on the beach.
SCARABELLI: So it’s, like, girl boss land.
SHIPP: It truly is. The Barbies can do anything, they have multiple roles and multiple jobs and are just killing the game.
SCARABELLI: Was there anyone on set that you really bonded with?
SHIPP: We were all really close. I bonded with Hari [Nef] and Scott [Evans] and Ncuti [Gatwa], but I love Issa [Rae]. She’s a fucking badass, dude. And god, Margot’s just perfect. I say that with a scrunched face because I’m like, do I want to kill her, fuck her, or be her? I can’t tell.
SCARABELLI: [Laughs] I’m curious about this whole Kenergy thing.
SHIPP: I don’t know if it’s a pheromone or something, but it’s really funny when they call action and the Barbies turn into Barbies, and the Kens turn into Kens. It’s like a light comes on in the Barbies’ eyes and we’re sitting up straight and listening intently. And then the Kens are just like, “Yeah, I’m great, I love Barbie.”
SCARABELLI: So they have himbo energy?
SHIPP: Yes. [Laughs]
SCARABELLI: Do you think there’s going to be a backlash against this movie? Are the meninists going to be pissed that men are being represented in this way?
SHIPP: If we offend men, I’m going to be so excited.
SCARABELLI: It could happen.
SHIPP: Let’s make them all uncomfortable. That would be really great. Because maybe a lot of the things that the Kens do that might make them upset are things that they actually do, too. We love a mirrored image, babe. I think the world takes art and metaphors a little too seriously at times.
SCARABELLI: It’s satire, and people have a really hard time with that these days.
SHIPP: It’s slapstick as fuck. It’s Barbie Land, it’s camp. True art is agitation propaganda. It’s about making your audience think and question what they’re actually doing and why they’re doing it.
SCARABELLI: Who is this movie for?
SHIPP: Everyone. There’s the quintessential traditional Barbie and Ken hetero dynamic, but underneath that are so many bubbling, queer double entendres. It’s most certainly for everyone because there’s no scene, in my opinion, that would be inappropriate for a child to see.
SCARABELLI: In this climate, when it comes to children, anything queer is a problem. It’s really terrible.
SHIPP: That is tea, but you know what? If you can’t say gay, stay the fuck out of the theater. I don’t want you coming to my movie. I can’t speak for anyone else, but as a queer woman who has queer people in her life that she loves—if I’ve had to watch a Prince Charming wake up Sleeping Beauty without consent my entire life, then I’m sure you can stand to go see a Barbie movie.
SCARABELLI: Exactly. So what’s next for you?
SHIPP: I’m trying to produce more, and I’d like to direct one day. I want to tell women’s stories in a real way, that not only educates and creates empathy, but also entertains people with that spoonful of sugar. That’s why I love Barbie, because I think Greta really does it.
SCARABELLI: Are you nervous about the press tour?
SHIPP: I’m nervous about the schedule. My manager was like, “There’s all these really big opportunities and shoots and interviews coming up. How are you feeling?” And I was like, “Yeah, it’s great.” And she’s like, “Are you dead inside?” And I’m like, “A little bit.”
SCARABELLI: What’s your look for the tour?
SHIPP: We did a mini fitting the other day, my stylist and I—her name is Alexandra Mandelkorn, she’s everything. I think our goal is to have every look be a certain Barbie. I’m going to show you one. This is Sergeant Barbie.
SCARABELLI: Okay, so you’re going full fantasy for this press tour. That’s hot. I love the shorts.
SHIPP: Right? And this full-blown floor-length trench. My PR was like, “Alex, when would you ever be Sergeant Barbie?” And I was like, “I don’t give a fuck when I would ever be Sergeant Barbie. The look has been looked.”
SCARABELLI: It might help when you’re answering the same questions over and over again. You’re like, “I have a new character today. I’ll be answering your questions as Sergeant Barbie.”
SHIPP: That’s brilliant. Oh, that’ll definitely help me pass the time.
Hair: Miles Jeffries at The Wall Group
Makeup: Dana Delaney using Dior Beauty at The Wall Group
Nails: Vanessa Sanchez Mccullough at Forward Artists
Fashion Assistant: Antonina Getmanova