Through the magic of managers, agents, and editors-in-chief, it’s all confirmed. I’m very excited to be having dinner with Barbie Ferreira for a refreshingly In Real Life, not online, cover story interview. And so, early one LA summer evening, the young actor rocks up in a greenish mesh top which tones nicely with the moss-velvet booths of our airy, modern Los Feliz restaurant. It all goes well. She is warm and bright and friendly. I discover that she has a great, and very frequent laugh that I wish I could more fully capture on the page. We chat. We chew. We part.
Writing up the interview, I notice that caught in the flow of conversation, I somehow neglected to ask her all that many questions about her most well-known role so far—that of Kat Hernandez in HBO high school spectacle, Euphoria. So I sling a few more Kat-related q’s over via email. While waiting on her replies, and almost done with my first draft, I check back on Ferreira’s ‘gram to make sure I didn’t miss anything of note.
Oh shit. I most definitely missed something:
“after four years of getting to embody the most special and enigmatic character kat, I’m having to say a very teary eyed goodbye. i hope many of you could see yourself in her like i did and that she brought you joy to see her journey into the character she is today. i put all my care and love into her and I hope you guys could feel it. love you katherine hernandez.”
As shockwaves radiate not just across the fandom, but far out into mainstream media, I realize I won’t be getting answers to these extra questions. This statement, in lower-case letters, framed against a drawing of the ‘Kitty Kat’ persona by co-star Hunter Schafer, is my answer. And it is characteristic of Ferreira’s deep Gen Z ethos. Released not by management, agent, or via an announcement from the network, but direct to social media by the subject herself. So what now? Looking over our discussion, held just a few days before the bombshell announcement, I find that I won’t need to revise the interview much—our focus was Ferreira, not a character. For many fans, though, it will be like their best friend’s family moved states over the summer, and said friend never came back to class.
But Euphoria is not real life. It was an acting gig, and Barbie Ferreira is an actor. Days later, another statement is released: “Barbie Ferreira joins the cast of forthcoming thriller House of Spoils from Amazon Prime Studios and Blumhouse.” Set in a restaurant kitchen on a remote estate, the feature film stars Oscar-winning Ariana DeBose as a top chef, a ‘malevolent spirit,’ with Ferreira in the thrilling mix, too.
Yes, it may be the end of an era, but all these developments run parallel to her own path: she and Kat have both now metaphorically quit high school to follow bigger dreams. And anyway, it’s important not to forget that Ferreira had built a cult following long before she was cast in Euphoria. Ferreira is, plain and simple, a hurricane level force to be reckoned with.
Not everyone in the world goes to American High School. But everyone in the world knows what going to American High School feels like. The rigid, unshakable hierarchy of jocks, bullies, cheerleaders and popular girls lording over nerds, geeks, losers, misfits, and frizzy haired, brace-toothed ducklings awaiting makeovers. Archetypes rotate, for better or worse, in slightly different formations, passing through the screen into global discourse and personal memory, always pitting the individual against conformity and oppressions. From American Graffiti to Dazed and Confused. Grease to Heathers. Carrie to The Breakfast Club. Dangerous Minds to Dope. Rebel Without a Cause to Donnie Darko. Clueless to Mean Girls. American Pie to American Beauty. Never Been Kissed to 21 Jump Street. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
The makers of Euphoria decided to take on the trope and all of its pre-ordained dynamics, but to do it all a little … differently. And that’s why East Highland High School—better known as Euphoria High—has faster times than any high school that has ever come to fictive life before it. Hypnotically gritty, its references are more Christiane F. (1981) from Bahnhof Zoo meets The Basketball Diaries (1995). The raw edge of All Over Me (1997) with the imaginative staging of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by Baz Luhrmann (1996). Requiem for a Dream (2000) meets Larry Clark’s KIDS (1995) upgraded to the social media-obsessed 2020s. A quaint Xtian Conservative movie review site, in fact, that follows in the footsteps of Tipper Gore and Nancy Reagan’s ‘Parental Advisory’ and ‘Just Say No’ crusades actually took the time to count the swearwords in Euphoria S2: “There is excessive foul language and profanity in the episodes released. In 3 episodes, there are almost 200 obscenities.” They list the rest of the provocative material, to conclude: “Overall, Euphoria Season 2 is an extremely emotionally heavy show that will affect those watching it. The content shown, and the utter explicitness of it are an attribute of this heaviness. It is not a show to be watched without caution. The show has evil and gross immorality and worldview problems that are not suitable for any young audiences and extreme discretion is advised for adults.”
This is, it would seem, a zeitgeist smashing show: troubled teens on a hellbent mission through their most intense emotions, crafted with super high production values and presented with intelligence and style. Debuting in June 2019, with a second season out in early 2022, Euphoria immediately permeated popular culture and exerted an unfathomable influence on fashion, style, and social media content, making mega-stars of its young actors in the process. And they look good doing it; this gang of friends and frenemies is cool and cruel, crazy, sexy, and sharp, dressed by costume designer Heidi Bivens in a 90s nostalgiacore aesthetic that mingles vintage Gaultier with next season Telfar.
Creator Sam Levinson made the canny choice to have his universe presented from a perspective not his own: not cis, not het, not white, not male. Thus, atop of the usual peer-pressure problems and ‘my parents don’t understand me’ complaints, the diverse cast is dealing with serious, real-life issues: drug addiction, gender identity, sexual exploitation, toxic relationships, negotiating precarious paths leading to violence, to crime, to death. But somehow through the darkness, they also seem to be straining towards a form of enlightenment that can only be reached by confronting difficult, harsh truths— fearlessly.
An integral part of this incredible ensemble of breakthrough talents, naturally, was Barbie Ferreira, who breathed fiery life into the tough, clever, sensitive and resourceful Kat Hernandez. Kat flipped the script in so many ways. Confident and popular, she turned potential humiliation into profitable extortion, and took total control of her own ‘hot girl makeover.’ She was certainly no cliché.
‘Little Kat’ gets her backstory detailed in Euphoria season 1, voiced by a deadpan Rue (the show’s narrator and central character). The sticky flashback of a virgin Piña Colada ‘overdose’ leading to a cringe-inducing social rejection poignantly reveals the early psychological damage that teenage Kat is holding inside herself—traumas that she is still fighting against and trying to recover from. I discover that The Barbara Linhares Ferreira origin story is lot more wholesome. While she plays Kat, there are many important ways in which Ferreira is not Kat. The points where they diverge are readily apparent after just a few minutes in her company.
“My mom was 18 and she was on vacation in New York,” Ferreira tells me. “She’s from Minas Gerais, a city in the middle of Brazil called Governador Valadares. She was engaged to someone there, a doctor… And she kind of ran away. And my dad was her roommate, who was also Brazilian. They started dating, and had me. It was a very short-lived romance…but I am not short-lived—I am here! She had me at 21 or 22. She made it work. She went to culinary school and became a chef. I come from a whole family of chefs—my aunt also came over, she was like 16 when she moved here, super young, and she’s also a chef. My grandma came to New York too.”
Wow, a whole team of women there to raise you. Strong women?
Yes, very. Strong women. Very crazy women too, very loud and effervescent ladies. My mom, Jana, she’s just what you would think of as a Brazilian woman, very confident, sex positive, body positive. She’s like a boss. My grandma doesn’t always get it all, but she’s so supportive; she’s like ‘So what are you doing over there? That’s a cute show you’re on.’ She literally said it was ‘cute.’
I saw you recently took a vacation on your Instagram. Where did you go?
It was the first time I’d been to Brazil in ten years. I went to Bahia, which is my favorite place. It’s so gorgeous. The last time, I went to Porto Seguro, when I was really young, as my Mom’s friend had a place there. It was just so beautiful. And Trancoso is just, like, insane. I brought my friends, my partner [musician Elle Puckett], my grandma was there, my great aunt was there, my Mom was there. We were by the beach… It was really something. I rode a horse for maybe 30 seconds, until I was like, ‘These horses are a little wild.’ We went kayaking in this river, we went four wheeling, and the whole time my heart was just like, ‘aaayyyhhhh,’ but I did it, I wanted to have fun. I’m not a very adventurous person, but I went through so many adventurous things in Brazil this time.
‘Not very adventurous’ is, admittedly, a hard one to process after seeing your performances. Let’s rewind a bit. You began modeling when you were 15 while working at American Apparel in the 2000-teens, when the ads and stores were on every corner, all over the world. It was a cultural phenomenon.
Yeah, it was. I worked at the mall, and that shit was crazy. People loved it. There were lines around the mall sometimes, like during Halloween and stuff. Even though I was getting paid minimum wage, I was like, ‘This is making it. I’m working at American Apparel. I get to wear these fun clothes.’ I met a lot of people there, a lot of my best friends. And even now, I’ll be talking to my friends who are in creative fields, and they’ll be like, ‘I worked at American Apparel too!’
How did you go from there, to crashing into the world of ‘fashion?’
I was always very motivated to be in the entertainment industry, or fashion industry, in whatever way I could. I would pose for artists. I was involved a lot in the art world—I would be the subject for a lot of my friends, who are now killing it. I started doing magazine shoots, and that really wasn’t a thing, usually it was real signed models who would do that. But my friend Petra Collins was shooting a lot of stuff, she would shoot her friends, and I started that way. I shot Seventeen mag, all that I could. Then, eventually, after a lot of times trying, I got signed to a modeling agency. There was a little transitional period. I was freshly 18, and finally, I could go and do things by myself. It was such whirlwind. A lot of the jobs I did, I don’t think people even saw. A lot of e-com, a lot of random brands from all over the world. Like weddings, or prom dresses. The shoe line or the yoga line. I knew I didn’t want to go to college, I knew I wanted to be an actor. I had this plan that would give me kind of a ‘stepping stone’ to that, like, ‘I’m going to use this to break into what I really want to do.’
So you always had that focus, that determination?
I wanted to work from a young age. When I was like 10 years-old, I was emailing managers from my own email, and I had my own headshots. My mom had no idea what the hell I was doing. I was just talking to my godmother in Brazil, and she reminded me, she said, ‘Do you remember when you dragged me to a manager meeting?’ It was like a real-ass TV and film manager meeting, when was was 11. I got my godmother to come with me because everyone else was working. And I told her. ‘Don’t say anything, I got this.’ She died laughing. She was like, ‘You were 10 years old, telling me don’t say anything, I got this?’ Hahahaha. ‘I got this,’ and I was doing my little song and dance. I always wanted to be a performer.
I’d already noticed Ferreira’s mastery of texture and color in her own looks. Whether corseted in Jonathan Simkhai draped pearls for the Met Gala 2021, or custom sculpted turquoise latex for the MTV Movie Awards, her ‘fits are always outstanding. So it makes sense that she’s been practicing for a long time.
In your modeling jobs, no matter what the brief is, you always seem to deliver the goods. It’s a level of performativity that is very New York, very Andy Warhol: ‘I am, therefore, I AM.’
My favorite part of modeling is being different characters. Each time I put on an outfit, or costume, different glam, I change the way I walk, and talk, everything. That’s always been my favorite thing to do. Even when I was a kid, I would go to school everyday in a completely different outfit that was like, very odd. And I would feel that character within me. I was very dramatic. I grew up in Queens, and then we moved to New Jersey. When I was in Jersey, I spent almost everyday back in New York, because I couldn’t express myself in that way there. I was, like, odd, all of a sudden. It was always me trying to reach out and find friends, people who understood me, you know.
And then the internet arrived. And everything changed… I remember when no one had home internet, so I would use the school computer lab to sign people up to Hotmail. At that time, it was a like parallel Universe. But now…
It’s the Universe. I probably started going on the internet in 2004. [laughs] I had a Hotmail, I had an AOL, AIM, MSN messenger… I used to chat online with all my friends from school. I’d like frank IM them. I’m kinda like a Zillenial. Even though I’m Gen Z, I’ve been on the internet since Millennials have been on the internet. I’m very much in-between, where I get both sides.
Barbie was born in December 1996, making our pioneering cybernaut around 8 years old in 2004. It’s telling that the 1991 book that gave birth to our current generational nomenclature, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, has the subtitle: “Tales for an Accelerated Culture.” Accelerated is an appropriate word to describe Ferreira’s subsequently exponential internet interaction. From around 2011, boredbarbara aka ‘Barbie Nox’ broke out on Tumblr. She soon conquered cyberspace across all platforms with her candid beauty shots, liveliness, and artistic sensibilities, becoming an OG proto/pre-influencer. She led digital battalions of virtual-worlders also playing out their lives into the front-facing camera. This was a revolution: the tools of mass communication finally in the hands of the young masses to publish, share and/or monetize as much of their lives as they wanted to, with no need to wait for traditional media outlet approval to become famous and successful. Just over a decade later, Barbie Ferreira has 6.2 million followers on Instagram, and a stealth, purposefully-unverified Tiktok ‘borbiana’ with an additional 1.3 million followers, driving trends with one manicured fingernail on the wheel, having generated untold gigabytes of content. Already having her own cult fanbase meant that Ferreira was ideally positioned to drop into the starting line-up of a show aiming to target a youth market demographic.
Throughout the series, I was struck by how every character in Euphoria gets their chance to… derail. It’s absolutely unique that way.
I think it’s really cool to have a show with so many characters that aren’t just depicted on a surface level. We all get to have our moment. We bring a lot of our lives into our characters, so hopefully that shows, and gives it a lot more depth. There’s something about it that’s relatable to everyone and every age. It’s what this generation wants to see. Not just stereotypes of high school—it’s a lot more in-depth than that. Euphoria really captures the nuances of what teenagers are really going through. And also adults. It’s for everyone. You can get away with a lot more drama when the characters are set in high school. You can really plunge into emotions and take it to these extremes, because teenagers are extreme.
As such, Ferreira has been delivering the goods elsewhere, too. As Bailey Butler in Unpregnant (2020) Barbie drives (literally) the film action forward with humor and realness. Co-starring with Haley Lu Richardson, she’s the cool queer character who shows her heart of gold by helping her squeaky clean, ‘popular’ ex-best friend pull off an out-of-state road trip for an emergency abortion, bonding through the mishaps they stumble into along the way.
What really comes across in every Kat moment is how natural you are as an actor. And that natural quality is also really apparent in Unpregnant.
Thank you. It’s a very sweet, sweet movie with a lot of heart. And it’s a very relevant film, especially with the Roe v. Wade issues right now. It’s not a scary, traumatic movie—and those sentiments are also valid, because that could be someone’s experience—but we just tried to show a lighter approach to something that is so common, which is abortion, and how it doesn’t always have to be the end of someone’s entire life to make that decision. It’s a comedy about friendship at the end of the day. I always love to see something that has a bit more heart than what the surface of it is.”
There are clear Heathers (1989) references in the script, with the names Veronica and Heather in the first scene in the bathroom. Have you seen Heathers?
Yes! I love Heathers. Psychopaths and murder and setting the school on fire… Winona Ryder is my…!!! Moody, edgy, misunderstood. Honestly, a lot of those coming-of-age, campy, disturbed films, like Jawbreaker—those are truly what inspire me so much. Welcome to the Dollhouse. Ghost world—I based a lot of Kat on Enid. These kind of dark movies about high school—that’s my favorite genre of film. That’s what I grew up watching, being like, ‘Oh I’m so misunderstood, just like these girls.’
And how about all the chatter in the show’s ecosystem? That that is actually outside the show, but about it? It seems anything that has Euphoria in the title is clickbait?
It really is. Yes, I might play a teenager, but I’m an adult. I’m a professional actor, and I’ve been working since I was sixteen. I’m really grateful to be where I am. I don’t like addressing things that aren’t real. I’m more trying to figure out how I’m playing into my own narrative. The internet is going to say whatever it wants, and that’s cool. It’s honestly cool. Because I’m on my own shit.
The world of acting is a demanding one, right?
I just watched the Nick Cage movie, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. I think that movie was made specifically for actors. When he’s reading for the guy outside of Chateau… I’m like, ‘This is killing me, it’s too much.’ And there’s that scene where he doesn’t get the role, and he’s like outside of his hotel, ‘Ooh, I didn’t get the role, blub blub blub.’ That was so relatable, because sometimes you just want to be a drama queen like that. I have that moment all the time. Actors have the most dramatic personalities, or they can be the opposite, but we are usually dramatic people, and we usually tend to be very emotional. You get ‘babied’ a lot. But you have to realize that you have it so good. You’re very privileged to have all these things that you get to do. You get to feel financially secure. Not a lot of job security, but much more than the average person. So you have to make fun of yourself. If I’m having a tough time, I always remember that I’m exactly where I want to be, and this is such a rare opportunity. It just surprises me everyday. Sometimes I have moments where I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m an actor. What I wanted to do, and I’m literally here.’ What are the odds?”
Even (Youtuber/what exactly is he now?) Logan Paul is enamored with Ferreira’s acting. Tweeting out a breakdown of his personal misunderstandings/issues with Jordan Peele’s new movie Nope, his pet peeve number 8 was: “Why was Barbie Ferreira, an incredible acting talent, so underutilized in this movie? Why was she even in the movie?” Alas, Ferreira’s brief appearance in Nope (2022) as ‘Nessie’ was alway supposed to be that way. There’s no hidden cutting room floor drama. The director of Get Out and Us is a big fan of Ferreira, and the feeling is mutual. “Jordan just called me up and said he really wanted me to be a part of the film,” Ferreira shares. “It’s a cameo.”
As a real-life Barbie, are you excited that The Barbie Movie is coming out soon?
I am. I keep seeing the word ‘Barbie’ everywhere. I’m like, oh my god, that Barbiecore life—like ‘Yeah baby, you know I’m Barbiecore!’ Nicki Minaj calls everyone ‘her Barbz’ and ‘Barbie,’ and that is my name, so I do feel really special. As a kid I loved Barbie because she had so many careers. I was more of a Bratz girl myself actually, though. They were little more edgy—you know me, always being a little more edgy.
And it’s that edge which has made Ferreira a hot property. Yves Saint Laurent Beauté has taken note. In spring 2022, YSL Beauté announced Ferreira as a new US beauty ambassador alongside Troye Sivan and Indya Moore.
What is it like being asked to be the US face of an iconic brand like YSL Beauté?
When I got that call, I was like, ‘Are you serious? Aaarrh!’ I just screamed. I remember looking at the YSL Beauté lipsticks growing up, and feeling that my dream in life would be to own one. The gold ones with the jewel. So fancy, just so stunning. I like working with people who have a really strong vision for their brand. YSL Beauté is just so chic and hot. I love the product so much. I was doing my makeup earlier, and it’s not even a plug, because I love Lash Clash, I love everything about it.
Have you been to YSL atelier headquarters in Paris, seen it all up close yet?
I would love to. I haven’t been to Fashion Week for a couple of seasons because I’ve been working. YSL Beauté makes me feel… really sophisticated. I see myself as a silly person. I love wearing silly clothes. Then with YSL Beauté, I put on this character, of this badass, really Parisian-esque girly. ‘Paris camp.’ Luxurious, sophisticated, grown up.
Do you have any particular role models?
I have so many! Isabella Rossellini, Tilda Swinton… I just love eclectic, talented actors. People who do movies outside of the box have always been inspirational to me. People who have good taste in what they do. Like Angelina Jolie, Drew Barrymore… I love all the 90s actors, I can’t even name them all. All the icons that I look up to from all my favorite cult movies, in specific roles as well, like Natasha Lyonne in But I’m a Cheerleader, or Rossellini in Blue Velvet.
Drew Barrymore has been through so much, the whole Hollywood rollercoaster, and now she’s come out on top with her show. Or Isabella Rossellini on her Instagram—like she is this iconic European beauty, incredible muse, had partners like David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, and now she’s all about her farm, her chickens, with her family all around her.
She’s so cute! That’s me right now at 25. The only way to keep yourself sane is to have your chickens now. I think I realized that pretty young. Thankfully, I didn’t start super early as an actor. I kind of had my life already thought out a little bit. But it’s tough to deal with everything, it’s tough to deal with criticism, it’s tough to deal with that amount of attention on you. And I see a lot of good examples of that, and bad examples of what happens. At the end of the day, you have to be with your chickens.
These actors of the past were your role models, and now you’re the role model and an actor of the present and future—how does that feel?
It’s fun, but it’s scary. Actors are always deeply flawed individuals… We’re like these creative, ‘precious’ minds… So I try not to go down the route of the ‘tortured artist’ vibe, because people can easily romanticize that. I want to be like my role models, but also to be a very fulfilled human being. To be able to handle it, you have to go internally, and to have a really stable life outside of acting. And that’s been my goal, to have a really stable life, with a lot of things to keep me grounded, so I can I enjoy life.
And she has been. Having just bought a house and learned to drive, this East Coast transplant has been actively making the effort embrace the slower and more mellow LA lifestyle. “I learned to drive during the pandemic because I couldn’t get anywhere,” Ferreira shares. “I did my test four times… Four times a charm. (laughs.) I actually nailed it so hard on my fourth time, I only got one thing wrong out of dozens. I’m honestly not a bad driver.
And how about all the other aspects that LA has to offer, beyond the industry?
Being in LA is so nice because it feels like I really get to be internal, like water my plants, pretend I’m Oprah in my garden. My tiny, small version of a garden. But it’s fun to have a little bit of grass, the basket, that fantasy. A little bit of suburbs in your life. I love to be at home, l’m a homebody. In New York, I never had different areas where I could go, like I never had a dining room. My house is an older house from the 1940s, and I renovated it, but I made it over into the exact opposite of how people would usually renovate something like that—all minimalist. Mine is Maximalist, Art Deco meets 70s… just a trippy-ass house. For me in The Sims, my favorite thing was always building a house, I didn’t want to do anything else. But now it’s a little more stressful as there’s no motherlode cheat code or anything. I’m super into houses and design, and I love LA for that. There are no rules. You can literally build whatever you want. And people do.
It sounds like a lot of right ingredients—would you say you are happy?
Yeah! I’m actually really happy. Sometimes things get a little too overwhelming, and I don’t have the time to really process my emotions, but now I’ve had a lot of time to process my emotions recently. Its been really just wonderful. I’ve taken a break, I went on vacation, I saw my family. And now I’m ready to go back at it.
We leave the restaurant, and a moment later, her car pulls up and Barbie Ferreira is whisked back to the home she’s made for herself, and her new dog Cowboy, her cats, colored walls, books, and garden. I can’t help but marvel at how well this bright, fresh, but also startlingly mature human being has made the quantum leap from the blue-light glow of the digital underground to winning at the game of Real Life. Completely on her own course, she sails above all the bullshit with an attitude perhaps best summed up in the slogan I glimpsed on her purse, which reads in pink letters: “Jealousy is a disease, get well soon.”
On my own way home, it is with total pleasure I connect Barbie Ferreira to the dynamic meme tagline: ‘Unbothered. Moisturized. Happy In My Lane, Focused and Flourishing.’ A formidable, forward-moving force, her feet firmly on the ground and her head square on her shoulders, she’s not about to dip into a negative space for anyone, even for a second. No matter what she decides to take on next, she’s going to be unstoppable. She who laughs most, laughs last.
Photographed by 91 Rules at The Canvas Agency
Styled by Chris Horan at The Wall Group
Written by Hannah Bhuiya
Hair: Ken Paves at Lume Management
Makeup: Kali Kennedy at Forward Artists using YSL Beauty
Set Designer: James M. Rene
Flaunt Film: Nate Rynaski
1st Ac: Shei Marcelline
First Photo Assistant: Ram Gibson
Set Design Assistant: Ryan J. Elliott
Location: Hubble Studio, Los Angeles