Just as there’s a rainbow of Barbies on toy shelves these days, there’s a similarly inclusive line-up of Kens, which is reflected in the movie with a roster that not only includes Ryan Gosling but Simu Liu, Ncuti Gatwa, Scott Evans and Kingsley Ben-Adir, with John Cena coming off the bench as a merman. Not a bad squad, I’m sure you’ll agree. Oh, and there’s Michael Cera — but he’s just Allan.
But while there may have been concerns that egos and testosterone could cause issues among the coiffed crew, director Greta Gerwig warded off any potential blow-ups by getting the band of bros to bond in the gym. “It was just like, let’s work out, because that’s what I think ‘Kenergy’ is about,” Liu told Men’s Health. “Kens would really care about that. So, just as an excuse to bring us all together and get us doing man things, Greta put us in a gym together, and we worked out every day leading up to the start of principal photography. And it was really fun.” What do they say? Toy boys who sweat together . . .
Staggeringly, transforming into Ken required as much preparation and discipline as training for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Liu said. The Kens trained under Dave Higgins, who famously helped Kumail Nanjiani go from Silicon Valley shrimp to comic book weapon. Here’s what else we know about getting Ken-level cut.
Which Ken was the biggest beast in Barbie bootcamp?
Liu nominated Evans as his favoured workout partner due to the pair’s post-workout table-tennis matches. But it was Goz (that’s Ryan) who took things to the next level in the gym, bringing a ‘mamba mentality’ level of intensity to his workouts.
“I could not beat Ryan to the gym,” Liu said. “He was always there earlier than me and he always stayed later. It just speaks to the discipline that this guy has, and I think it really pays off in the movie. He’s got a couple scenes where you get to see a bit of that Ken body, and it’s pretty shredded.”
How did Ryan Gosling get in shape to play Barbie?
Gosling’s rig has been canonised ever since he whipped off his shirt in Crazy Stupid Love. But playing Ken required the actor to dig just as deep, with Gosling reportedly following a split workout, with a five-day gym regimen consisting of 90-minute sessions. On rest days this Ken prefers active recovery, hiking in the woods or playing pick-up hoops. Nice.
What else did the Ken’s do to pull off their look?
The transformation was suitably skin deep, with the stars getting waxed and using body paint to achieve Ken’s signature plastic fantastic, high-gloss finish.
“We got waxed two times [over filming],” Liu told Allure. “I had never been waxed before at that point, but I was told that it lasts a few weeks which is good because it was one of the most painful experiences of my life and I don’t think I could do that on a weekly basis.” Next, Liu was required to cover blemishes on his skin with body paint. “There’s this notion of, ‘Well, Kens aren’t human so … Kens can’t break out because there’s no pores,’” he explains. “We had to look glossy and plastic and there was a lot of body paint applied every single day.” Gosling, meanwhile, had to apply fake tan to achieve his golden glow.
Should we be worried that Ken is promoting unrealistic notions of male body image?
Maybe, but while we could raise questions about how washboard abs and sick traps distort male body image in the same way that Barbie was once criticised for perpetuating unrealistic ideals of feminine beauty, the fact is, ‘he’s just Ken’ and as such, though undeniably hard-bodied, a rather soft target to put in the cultural crosshairs, especially when compared to the spandex crowd in the Marvel and DC universes. As Liu says, the movie aims to reflect society rather than project aspiration. “I think it’s really important — and I think it was important to Greta — that Barbie Land be a place that reflected all of the people who grew up playing with Barbies, who come in all shapes, sizes, gender expressions, whatever have you.”