The actress talks about her relationship with the Barbie doll, growing up around strong women, and the importance of Filipino representation.
When official stills from the highly-anticipated Barbie movie were first released, Filipinos were delighted to see one unexpected surprise: in one of the scenes, we see one of the Barbies donning a floral terno. Wearing the symbolic Filipino attire is Filipino-Jewish actress Ana Cruz Kayne, who plays Supreme Court Justice Barbie among other roles in the movie.
“It’s a very empowering role because she’s holding, you know, she’s the head of the Supreme Court,” she tells Vogue Philippines in an interview via Zoom. “She holds court, she passes all the legislation that is deeply meaningful in the Barbie world. And it’s very empowering to sit there as a Filipina and to hold that much power.”
“It’s not just Supreme Court Barbie. All the different Barbies play many different roles,” she adds. “So at one point I’m Supreme Court Barbie, and then the idea is that women or, you know, women-identifying people can be everything.”
The Barbie movie reunites Kayne with Oscar-nominated writer and director Greta Gerwig, who the actress has previously worked with in the 2019 version of Little Women. “Greta Gerwig is an actor’s director. She’s brilliant and warm and a visionary and she’s so inspiring to be around,” the actress shares. “Greta really helped aid in finding all the different ways to express all the many sides of myself as an actress, more serious as a Supreme Court justice, more playful, as you know, a girl who’s enjoying herself on the beach.”
“I don’t want to spoil the movie, but there is a sort of longer journey and the Barbies are all in on this sort of, you’ll see but we’re all in this adventure together,” she shares, “and so we all scheme a certain plan, and we all put our heads together and we take back Barbie world, and we sort of re-evaluate what it means to be perfect versus not perfect, and how just being yourself is the most important thing.”
She gives a lot of credit to her director’s vision: “And I think Greta really exemplifies that because she is uniquely her and when you work with her, you also follow in those footsteps.”
Supreme Court Barbie is just the latest in Kayne’s roster of strong women that she’s played throughout her career. Whether she’s playing a lawyer or a doctor, Kayne is drawn to playing strong female characters.
“I grew up around a lot of strong women. There’s a part of my personality that is very steadfast with justice. My lolo was an attorney, my tita is an attorney, my lola was an attorney. And also just growing up in a family with a strong moral compass, it’s very much to the core of who I am,” she explains. “It feels like those roles seek me out.”
That being said, she adds that she can also be “very goofy and very funny and very playful.”
Curiously enough, one character that she did not feel drawn to as a child was the doll that inspired her latest movie. “I was gifted a few Barbies from one of my father’s colleagues, and I played with them a little. I didn’t feel super represented by them,” she admits with a laugh.
“All the women in my life who I really admired were Filipina. And so, you know, Barbie was sort of this other. You know, she was gorgeous and American. And she represented that side,” she says. “And I think growing up, I had always had some feeling that I was supposed to look like her. And because I didn’t, she didn’t really resonate with me.”
She did not start playing with them until she bought her own doll for the first time during the audition process for the Barbie movie. “If I got the job, I could keep the Barbie and if I didn’t get the job, then I would put her in the basura [trash],” she admits. “Needless to say, I still own the Barbie!”
Apart from drawing from strong Filipina women in her life as inspiration for her character, Kayne was also given the opportunity to represent Filipino culture through one of her costumes in the film.
“So Jacqueline Duran, who is a brilliant visionary costumer, asked me. Note [that] we didn’t have a lot of time, everything was very rushed because of COVID, and also because of the nature of this giant movie being shot and not [having] enough time. And she said, ‘If there was one thing you could wear for the farewell scene in the movie, what would it be?’” she narrates.
Kayne’s immediate instinct was to go for something that was unique to her: the terno. “This is representative of my life, my soul, my family, the Cruz family, that is my family. And I just wanted to represent them because it’s taken all of their support and love to get me to a place in my life where I’m able to do things like this and in any way I can honor them, that is such a joy for me,” she explains.
“It really was the most special costume I had, and there are so many other costumes but the terno is, you know, I think of my lola. I think of my mom, I think of all of the women that came before me and this was the traditional outfit, and to step into that is so meaningful,” she adds.
For Kayne, being part of the Barbie movie and being able to wear the terno as her costume is meaningful. “It is everything to get to sit at a table as a Filipino woman as a mixed Filipino woman and not having to, you know, imposter your way into some identity that is already sort of carved out,” she states. “I feel like in the Western culture, people are still differentiating the various countries, and they are so different. To get to sit there as a Filipino and say no, I’m representing a very specific nation, a very specific culture, it just means everything to me.”
Being in the movie also brings her relationship with the Barbie doll full-circle. “To get to be in a movie like this, where you’re dealing with an icon, a global icon and saying, I’m a Barbie too and my people are a Barbie too. I mean, it means everything. It’s deeply emotional. It’s also incredibly empowering,” she says.
Kayne’s hope is that in seeing Filipinos being represented more, that people will realize how talented Filipinos are as a people. “I don’t feel like we’re represented and I feel like in Hollywood especially, it’s always a surprise when you find out that someone’s Filipino and I don’t know,” she admits, citing popular actors Darren Criss, Hailee Steinfeld, and singer Olivia Rodrigo who share their Filipino heritage. “People are opening up about it more, and we’ve all been here,” she says.
She continues: “I would say that we’re here, we’ve been here, and we’re so like, anytime I meet anyone from the Philippines, they have a skill, they have a talent. They’re so specific and so refined and I feel very lucky to be part of that heritage.”
This interview has been edited.