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How Ryan Gosling Planned Out Every ‘I’m Just Ken’ Performance Detail, From Marilyn Monroe’s Inspiration to the Cameraman Kiss

How Ryan Gosling Planned Out Every ‘I’m Just Ken’ Performance Detail, From Marilyn Monroe’s Inspiration to the Cameraman Kiss

All Ryan Gosling needed was a 40-piece orchestra, 62 dancing Kens, over 24 gigantic Barbie heads, four “cameo Kens” and a Guns N’Roses surprise to turn his highly anticipated performance of “Barbie” track “I’m Just Ken” into one of the most unbelievable moments in award show history.

After all the protracted speculation about whether Gosling would perform “I’m Just Ken” at the Oscars, the news broke in late February that he had been confirmed for a song and dance extravaganza. But in fact, Oscars producers had been talking to Gosling for months.

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“Ryan Gosling is a true professional, that man — we met with him on Zooms months ago, talking about that performance,” said Molly McNearney, who produced the show with Raj Kapoor, Katy Mullan and Rob Paine. “Greta Gerwig weighed in creatively as well. He was so committed to it. His choreographer, Mandy Moore, is exceptional — she was on all the calls. So was Mark Ronson.”

According to McNearney, it was Gosling’s idea to make the number a tribute to “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 10: Ryan Gosling performs 'I'm Just Ken' from "Barbie" onstage during the 96th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 10, 2024 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Ryan Gosling performs ‘I’m Just Ken’ at the Oscar on pink stairs, the stairs and costumes were a tribute to Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Diamonds’ performance in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.’

In an interview the morning after the Oscars, choreographer Moore elaborated: “That’s where the pink suit, and everybody else in black came from — and the stairs in the back. And we had an homage to the candelabra girls: We had Ken-delabra men.”

Gosling was heavily involved in the process of bringing “I’m Just Ken” to life. “He was pretty clear about his overall structure of it,” Moore said, revealing how the actor had mapped out almost every movement.

“He wanted to start in the audience, come up see Mark, see Andrew [Wyatt the co-producer], ignite the Ken-delabras and then join the 10 dejected Kens on the stairs,” she said. “From there he wanted the rest of the number to evolve as if Kens were coming from everywhere, ‘Calling All Kens.’ Eventually ending in a huge celebration revealing Slash.”

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In the previous Zoom sessions, Gerwig said her biggest wish for the performance was to simply get the entire audience on their feet and singing along. So the producers blasted the lyrics on the screen and unleashed the charisma machine that is Gosling in full-Ken mode into the aisles.

Gosling shared Gerwig’s vision, according to Moore: “It was really important for him to jump down and include Margot [Robbie] and Greta and America [Ferrera]. He said, ‘I really need those ladies in the front, because I’m gonna go over to them. I want them to sing.'”

He even singled out the exact line he wanted to share with longtime friend and colleague Emma Stone as the song neared its crescendo (who later confessed that she might have busted the back of her dress in the Ken-off while accepting Academy Award award).

The Busby Berkeley sea of Barbie heads homage was another Gosling request.
The Busby Berkeley sea of Barbie heads homage was another Gosling request.

Everything was planned, right down to Gosling’s kiss of the cameraman’s hand.

“We practiced that,” said Moore. “[Gosling] was very sweet he goes, ‘Can we just make sure that Sean the steady is OK if I kiss his hand?'”

The consensual kiss was yet another symbolic gesture of Ken love, thematically calling all Kens to join the stage. “Everyone is a Ken here: We have construction Kens, we’ve got grip Kens, we’ve got camera Kens, we got all of them,” said Moore.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 10: (L-R) Wolfgang Van Halen, Slash and Ryan Gosling perform 'I'm Just Ken' from "Barbie" onstage during the 96th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 10, 2024 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Wolfgang Van Halen, Slash and Ryan Gosling perform ‘I’m Just Ken’ from ‘Barbie’ onstage during the 96th Annual Academy Awards.

Rehearsals began about four weeks before the big day, with Gosling’s vocal team and Moore’s associate choreographer Gillian Myers. Together, they started looking for their “movement language” for Gosling, because the actor wasn’t just sitting and singing he was dancing, climbing stairs all while singing live.

The practice sessions kicked into high gear in recent days, right up until Slash flew in on Sunday. “The producers put months of blood sweat and tears into it to make it so that it was easy for the talent to learn and make it look as effortless as they did on Sunday night,” said Disney unscripted and specials exec VP Rob Mills.

Even the music director Rickey Minor was on a tight deadline. “We only had two six-hour days to record and rehearse everything,” he said. “After that, there’s only one extra day to record with talent. We make adjustments and we mix it and get it ready for the performance.”

Ncuti Gatwa, Simu Liu, Ryan Gosling, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Scott Evans perform "I'm Just Ken" at the 96th Annual Oscars held at Dolby Theatre on March 10, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Variety via Getty Images)
Cameo Kens Ncuti Gatwa, Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Scott Evans surround Ryan Gosling.

Just as all the pieces were falling into place, the “cameo Kens” appeared. The original “Barbie” movie actors including Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Ncuti Gatwa and Scott Evans would be added to the team a mere days before the final performance.

“Two days, two days!” Gatwa told Variety at the Vanity Fair Oscar party. “I flew in from London on Thursday, and hit that stage. Mandy Moore kept us going.”

“I’m still processing it, to be honest,” Liu said only a few hours after his performance. “I think I’m in shock still. I kind of blacked out up there. I didn’t know if I did any of the choreography right? I just knew vaguely where I had to be. Greta was screaming, she was so happy. I was just like, ‘You know what, this is a big moment. I don’t know what movie I was auditioning for up here, maybe it’s some sort of musical?'”

In the end, “I’m Just Ken” was a sensation, with praise pouring in from all over. Co-star Ferrera called for Gosling to take his act on the road. “Past Lives” star Greta Lee said witnessing “I’m Just Ken” was one of the standout moments of the evening, “I felt like I was in Vegas. In the best way. I missed Celine when I went to Vegas, but I got to see Ryan.” Even Slash had fun, “Ryan Gosling was great, and it was a blast to jam with Wolfgang [Van Halen] and Mark Ronson. It was a memorable evening,” the guitarist told Variety over email.

But what did Gosling think after the curtain dropped?

Moore described his mood backstage, after all was said and done. “He just gave me a huge hug,” she said. “And then he got all serious, and asked, ‘Were the shots right? Did I do a good job?’

“I’m like, ‘Yes! Oh, my God, are kidding me? Did you hear those people? They were freaking out!'”

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