Beauty Screener

How Barbie's Hair & Makeup Lead Turned The Cast Into Real-Life Dolls

Ivana Primorac spills behind-the-scenes details.

Originally Published: 
Margot Robbie in the 2023 'Barbie' movie.
Warner Bros. Pictures

By now, even people who live under a rock have heard about the release of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie. And if you happen to be one of the thousands of people flocking to the theater to see the film this weekend, prepare yourself for a visual treat.

Ivana Primorac, who led the movie’s hair and makeup teams, tells me over Zoom that about 12 different looks flash across the screen before the opening credits even stop rolling. Needless to say, the dolls in Barbie’s world have a lot of styles — and the task of recreating them IRL required a massive number of references. “I have a huge library of books on Barbies now,” says Primorac. “Mattel was incredible with giving us access to the vintage library and all the material. We recreated a lot of the discontinued dolls, as well as lots of dolls that were popular — like the one with her hair all the way down to the ground.”

Her goal was to stay true to the doll’s details while adding a modern spin. “We did draw most of our influences from the real Barbies, but then we gave them their own twists. The costumes were the same,” she says. For Margot Robbie, who plays “stereotypical Barbie,” there were countless options to pick and chose from, which is why she ended up with so many looks. “[Barbies can] go to bed with long hair and wake up with short hair, so we wanted to make sure that fun carried on through the film.”

So how did the final hair and makeup looks get selected? Below, Primorac tells Bustle more about how she transformed Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Issa Rae, and the rest of the film’s all-star cast into real-life dolls.

Barbie’s Big Debut

Warner Bros. Pictures

“When we first started, we didn’t know that we were going to recreate the first Barbie ever made. It was an idea that developed as we were prepping. To be honest, I was completely horrified because it’s a difficult look to pull off. We made the hair especially yellow, the color that it was at the time, curled that bang, and [added] blue eyeshadow. Luckily, Margot was so totally up for it and pulled it off.”

Transforming Margot Robbie

Warner Bros. Pictures

“She’s wearing wigs and hair pieces throughout. We created about 18 wigs and 23 hair pieces altogether. We had to mix and match. What was hard was the sheer volume of hair that has to be the nicest, best quality possible. [To recreate the big hair of the ’80s Barbies], you can’t backcomb, because then you’re suddenly in the ’60s, another period. Those were the things that were technically hard to figure out how to do. That’s why we have such sheer volume of different hair.”

Barbie Girls

Warner Bros. Pictures

“When we started the whole process, we thought maybe there could be a formula for how to create every Barbie and every Ken. Very quickly, we realized that there is no formula. The only thing that we had to do is make the best version of each person — and that makes them into the doll. That means that we had to create the best skin, the best eyes, the best hair, the best toes...for everyone.

“Every Barbie and every Ken had their own glam team, two to three people, getting them ready in the morning. Everything had to be super finished to make them into the best version of themselves. It made me really happy that every single one was individual and could choose what they thought was best for them. That was great fun but a huge amount of work.”

Barbie IRL

Warner Bros. Pictures

“If I had to choose, my favorite look is the real-world pink cowgirl outfit, because it was really difficult to figure out how to make her look like a doll in a world that is so highly stylized like Los Angeles. The people are so stylish and so amazing looking. How do you make someone with blonde hair stand out with clothes? In the end, it was fun.”

Creating Ken

Warner Bros. Pictures

“Ryan is an incredible actor who gets involved in the process. He completely immersed himself. Most of it was guided by him. We tried different shades of blonde, different shades of tan, and when it all clicked into what it was in the end, it was obvious that he was representing the stereotypical Ken doll. All the details that Ryan put into his character — like stacking his sunglasses — is so him! You can’t do too much when you’re in Barbie world. You just pile on more and more.”

Barbie’s Final Look

Warner Bros. Pictures

“As Barbie becomes a more human version of herself, we very much wanted to make that transition subliminally [through her less doll-like hair].”

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