Ryan Gosling spoke with Variety about the myriad influences he pulled from to create Ken in Barbie. The actor is currently nominated for an Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category for the role. To craft Ken, Gosling sought equal inspiration from Sylvester Stallone, The Bachelorette, and even his parents’ former bodybuilding careers.
Gosling explained that he was offered the role multiple times by director Greta Gerwig and producer-star Margot Robbie, but he turned it down because he didn’t see a way into it. “Eventually, I thought…they had a vision for it. They believed it,” Gosling explained. “And they believed I should do it more than I believed I shouldn’t.”
But Gosling still had trouble differentiating his Ken from all the other Kens in Barbie. Then, some unlikely inspiration struck, courtesy of Sylvester Stallone. “We found out that Stallone wore a lot of minks,” Gosling said of himself and Gerwig, who share a “mutual love for ’80s Stallone,” according to the profile.
“As long as Ken was wearing it, he was the Ken with the mink—and that separated him from the other Kens,” Gosling said.
Gosling also plumbed one of his favorite reality dating shows for ideas. “Some of it also came from The Bachelorette,” the actor revealed, explaining that the show often casts men with exaggerated characteristics, much like Gerwig did her Kens.
“One guy’s the guy that wears glasses. One guy has the one earring,” he elaborated.
“If you were to challenge and do the same thing as that person, you’d be infringing on their identity, and so Ken’s identity became the mink.”
Gosling went one step further, comparing the pecking order in Barbie Land to the Bachelorette mansion. “It’s not dissimilar, in the sense that they sit around idly waiting for the Bachelorette to acknowledge them,” he said. “And, yes, they have no attention outside of the attention she gives them.”
When it came time to flesh out the deeper parts of Ken’s look—his hair, his tan, his muscle definition and placement—Gosling turned to his own parents for inspiration.
“There was no template for it,” Gosling explained of creating Ken. “It was going to have to be very personal…I sent her a cover of Muscle & Fitness magazine from the ’90s that I remember my parents having when I was younger,” he said, before revealing: “My parents were bodybuilders for a while.”
Gosling has previously spoken about his parents’ brief dalliance with bodybuilding in a 2016 interview with Sharp Magazine, but has mostly kept this close to the vest. “My parents, they went through phases, and we went through phases with them. Being religious was one. But also, they were bodybuilders for a certain period of time. And they were religious about that. I think it was right around the time Pumping Iron came out. My mom took the Arnold side, and my dad took Ferrigno’s.”
In the same interview, Gosling spoke about his strenuous exercise regimen to maintain Ken’s washboard physique. He also refreshed his extensive dance training and recorded several songs for the film’s soundtrack, including Oscar-nominee “I’m Just Ken.”
The 96th Academy Awards will air on ABC on Sunday, March 10, 2024.