As Kat Hernandez in Sam Levinson’s Euphoria, model-turned-actor Barbie Ferreira takes the male gaze, flips it and reverses it. Subverting the negative attention she’s received since she was a pre-teen for not being skinny, she monetises positive male attention as a financial dominatrix trading in bitcoin. She struts around the local shopping mall like it’s a sadomasochistic runway. And she fantasises about her online followers banding together and storming her high school, wielding chains and swords a la Game of Thrones and impaling everyone who has ever talked shit about her. Hot, right? What you might be surprised to learn is that, as she describes it, the 22-year-old’s dramatic debut revisits elements of her own adolescence.
“People aren’t used to fat characters on TV who aren’t entirely likable,” says Ferreira in a cafe in Silverlake, her new home in LA (where she moved from New York to film the show). “I see kids online write stuff like, ‘Why does (Kat) annoy me so badly?’ and I’m like, ‘Because she’s not just an accessory to the other girls and she actually advocates for what she wants.’”
She’s right – Kat is so much more than the ‘fat best friend’, the typical trope assigned to female actresses over a size six. Instead, she walks the high-voltage, teenage tightrope of private vulnerability and public bravado. Over the course of the show, we see her transform into an emboldened young feminist who champions sex and body positivity while procuring unique fetish garments in the middle of American suburbia. A bookworm who is sick of being so bookish and lets her peers know she no longer gives a shit about their opinions in sartorial and performative ways. It’s Ferreira’s own groundedness and sense of humour that brings a buoyant determination to the character, even amid the trauma that ensues when her first sexual encounter is filmed and distributed online without her consent.
Ferreira is no stranger to the internet. As one of the best-known curve models in the game, she boasts more than a million followers on Instagram, where she’s long been the star of her own story. Today, she refers to her teenage modelling days as her “buffer period”, a stopgap allowing her to figure things out before moving into acting. She also offers, through the lens of her experiences, a mature critique of the nature of the fashion industry’s attempts at inclusivity.
“I’ve done a couple of campaigns and lookbooks where I was wearing their clothes, but the clothes were cut open at the back,” the actress sighs. “Now I want to make it a priority where I’m not modelling anything that I can’t fit in or I can’t go into the store and actually buy.” It’s clear that, for Ferreira, the opportunity to play Kat means more than just her first acting role proper; it’s a riposte to girls like her always being sidelined in fashion and on screen. “I feel so creatively stimulated as an actor. Even if I’m working for a long time, it’s not that same kind of exhaustion because I know the bigger purpose, and I know the bigger picture.”
In Euphoria, we see Kat ditch certain aspects of her ‘old self’, but her insecurities still creep up on her from time to time. Do you relate to the idea of thinking you’re done with one stage of your life only to get caught up in your own bullshit again?
Barbie Ferreira: Hell, yeah! You put up this persona that is not entirely true, then you try things out, you go extreme, you make bad decisions... Teens make bad decisions. I think the best part of Euphoria is that no one is good or bad. With every character, you hate them one episode and love them the next.
Which episode was the most fun to film?
Barbie Ferreira: I loved filming my own episode, ’cos it had the Game of Thrones scene and the fan-fiction. But my favourite episode is the seventh, where Rue (played by Zendaya) deals with her depression. When I read the script for that episode I got goosebumps. The way Rue deals with her depression is so eerily similar to (me) – and I’m sure almost everyone else. Watching reality shows, Googling whether or not bipolar people know they are bipolar, the lack of energy to go to the bathroom, the manic states... It was all so well done.
What kind of music did you listen to while researching your role?
Barbie Ferreira: For the camming scenes, I listened to a lot of Rico Nasty – ‘Countin’Up’, ‘SmackaBitch’, ‘Poppin’’... It’s that female rage: rapping and screaming. Sometimes I’d listen to some throwbacks like Underoath, or some really embarrassing shit like Bring Me the Horizon. There were a couple of scenes where I had to be really sad and upset. ‘Cellophane’ by FKA twigs got me there for the last episode.
As a curve model traveling the world for fashion jobs, did you ever get the sense that clients weren’t actually creating clothes that worked for your body type?
Barbie Ferreira: Absolutely! When I was modelling I was like, ‘I don’t have the luxury of saying no because I am poor’. Now that I am reframing my career, I have more of a choice about who I work with and can be more selective about it. Why would I help you promote your brand, and help give you clout points for doing this, when you’re not even putting effort into making your clothes size inclusive? It’s really important for me to model stuff that is realistic for people like me because I wouldn’t want to see someone I relate to in an outfit, and then go to the store and find out it’s not available. That’s my worst fear. I hate going to stores. I hate in-person shopping. Where my friends can shop, I can’t shop.
“Why would I help you promote your brand, and help give you clout points for doing this, when you’re not even putting effort into making your clothes size inclusive?” – Barbie Ferreira
The psychological effect of clothes simply not being made for your body type is really interesting. As Americans, it’s so weird because consumerism is so central to our culture, it’s like, ‘Why can’t we consume fashion too?’
Barbie Ferreira: What’s funny to me is that people are like, ‘It’s because you don't make money from having larger lines’. But why would they start from a size 2, when the national average is a 14 or 16? If you were really trying to make the most money, wouldn’t you be making clothing towards the middle of that spectrum and expanding from there?
Do you think people fear fatness?
Barbie Ferreira: Yes, even skinny people have this fear of one day getting fat because of how the narrative of being fat has been portrayed. It’s ‘lazy’, it’s ‘ugly’, ‘undesirable’. It’s so ingrained in people that being fat is bad, but the reality is everyone can lose or gain weight. Everyone will lose or gain weight. People are fearful of being judged or thought of as less attractive. Now that people want to avoid actually calling you fat, they’ll say, ‘You have such a pretty face, but the clothes that you wear don‘t fit you; I wish you wore clothes that were more flattering’. Or, ‘Maybe if you could wear something that would cover you a little more, you could pass as ‘skinny’ one day’. Those are all the same thing.
The irony is that most femmes, even archetypal skinny hotties who embody the normative ideal, feel like they look fat all the time. Noticing that gave me confidence as a teenager, because I was like, ‘Why hate myself for being fat if skinny people hate themselves for being fat too?’
Barbie Ferreira: In New York, all my friends were skinny models, and I know that if I was in a different place in my life, it would have been really detrimental, but I never really thought about it. Since my friends in New York were mostly skinny models, I was almost thankful that I didn't have to put myself through all of that. A lot of them struggle with their bodies and it’s an extreme of its own. Since we know these feelings are universal and never totally go away, it’s all about how you zoom out from them and how you live your life. I don't think anyone always feels good about themselves 100% of the time, but you can adjust how you have that conversation with yourself.
I hope more fat girls in high school are receive oral sex thanks to Kat’s cunnilingus on Euphoria.
Barbie Ferreira: I hope so too!
How has focusing your career on acting, rather than modelling, changed your life?
Barbie Ferreira: With acting, I’m following an actual dream of mine, whereas modelling I fell into because I was trying to act. I was like, ‘I need to find other outlets to get myself known.’ I knew how hard and competitive it was. I was auditioning (from the age of) eight, although my mom didn’t know about it. My drama teacher would help me out by taking me to auditions. When I started acting (again after modelling), the dynamic of my life changed. I always wanted to be in video, and eventually I did a docu-series (How to Behave) with Vice. I interviewed a dominatrix named Mistress Thick on the show; she’s incredible.
That must have been perfect for playing the character.
Barbie Ferreira: Yes, but I was (actually) doing the opposite in Euphoria, acting as a 16-year-old girl who had no idea about penis humiliation! Like, I know how micropenis humiliation works. I had to imagine how I would react to all of this fetish stuff as if I was a teenager who didn’t know anything about it.
Did you feel a certain sense of responsibility portraying a sex worker in the show?
Barbie Ferreira: When I auditioned, I was very well aware of the sex work industry. I wanted to be a dominatrix when I was 18. I was calling dungeons and stuff; I had friends who were doms, cam-boys and cam-girls. I was in a space where everything was normalised to me, so I actually had to walk into the situation by stepping away from all my knowledge about the fetish industry.
Kat hits her Juul so frequently in Euphoria. Were you smoking a real Juul on set? If so, what flavour were you hitting the most?
Barbie Ferreira: I would never actually hit my real Juul (on set) – not in locations and not in the studio. They were all fake pods that were given to me by the prop department. (laughs maniacally) But my Juul preference is Virginia tobacco. I used to smoke a ton of cigarettes, so I’m trying to get off the Juul soon. But Euphoria makes it hard!
What do you think is the most hardcore thing about you?
Barbie Ferreira: When I was 12, I used to pierce myself live on camera for people on webcam sites. I was insane. Now, I’m just a sensitive baby, but I used to pierce my nose, my nipples, all that scary shit. That’s the most hardcore thing I can think of – me piercing my nose for four hours, painstakingly, for an internet audience of 20 people on Stickam. I was way too young to be on that site.
What kind of character would you like to play next?
Barbie Ferreira: I like psychological thrillers and horror movies. I like things that make you think and leave a weird feeling in your chest. My favourite movies usually make me hold on to this feeling – Oldboy is a good example. I also like the campiness of horror movies – the papier-mache dead bodies in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, (or) Japanese exploitation (films), especially nun exploitation. Actually, Sam (Levinson) put me on to that, I didn’t even know that was a subgenre. Also, anything that is centred around girls murdering in a horror-movie context – stuff that plays up the femme-fatale trope.
If you were to launch your brand or one specific item of clothing, what would it be?
Barbie Ferreira: I’d say I would make earrings. Or really hot boots. Because there’s this real lack of hot boots. Backstory: I’m actually an accessories queen. I used to sell hats in high school, and people still have those hats. They were, like, the first wave of those grandpa hats with a little knitted thing on it. I would put little bathtubs and pugs on them. Barbie-clan hats! If you know, you know.
Hair Rob Talty at Forward Artists using Bumble and bumble., make-up Lottie at Lowe and Co using Surratt Beauty, nails Marisa Carmichael at Forward Artists using Essie, styling assistant Lauren Jeworski, make-up assistant Sara Robey, production Mini Title