Barbie Director Was Terrified Film Could Be a Career-Ender

For the last several years, Mattel has been trying to get a Barbie feature film off the ground -- first with writer and comedian Amy Schumer and later with writer/director Greta Gerwig. That version -- co-written with Gerwig's husband Noah Baumbach and starring The Suicide Squad's Margot Robbie, is set for a theatrical release in 2023, but it wasn't without some reservation that Gerwig took on the job. According to a new interview, the Little Women filmmaker found the prospect "terrifying," and was equally repulsed and attracted by the idea that the movie could be a "career-ender."

It isn't a fear without at least some basis. Critics and audiences can be downright mean about properties intended for girls and young women -- particularly when they come unironically packaged in glamor and bright colors, like Barbie seems to be doing. Just ask Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, who were hugely in-demand following their debut feature Can't Hardly Wait, but haven't directed another movie since 2001's Josie and the Pussycats.

"It was terrifying," Gerwig told Variety. "There's something about starting from that place where it's like 'well, anything is possible.' It felt like vertigo starting to write it. Like, where do you even begin? What would be the story?"

Not unlike Warner Bros.' The Lego Movie, it feels like that challenge is baked into the very premise of Barbie. How do you make a movie that encompasses everything important...about a property that is intended to be all things to all consumers? And that isn't just a piece of the character's appeal -- it's baked into the DNA of the film adaptation.

"Playing with Barbie promotes confidence, curiosity and communication throughout a child's journey to self-discovery," Robbie said when the movie was announced. "Over the brand's almost 60 years, Barbie has empowered kids to imagine themselves in aspirational roles from a princess to president."

That was a good starting point for a filmmaker who likes to challenge herself, apparently.

"That feeling that I had was knowing that it would be really interesting terror," Gerwig said. "Usually that's where the best stuff is. I am terrified of that. Anything where you're like, 'This could be a career-ender,' then you're like, 'OK, I probably should do it.'"

Barbie is expected in U.S. theaters on July 21, 2023.