It’s Barbie Ferreria’s World—and We’re Just Living in It
The rising star on blind faith, big dreams and manifesting her destiny.
by : Joanna Fox- May 26th, 2023
When I speak with Barbie Ferreira, she’s at her home in Los Angeles, enjoying a brief moment of downtime before embarking on a busy multi-feature shoot schedule that will take her into the summer. The 26-year-old admits that prior to jumping on our call, she was playing video games. “I like really weird ones, like Animal Crossing,” she says with her lovely throaty laugh. As a fellow gamer and a fan of that one in particular (you build a society from scratch on a desert island), I’m thrilled to dig deeper. I tell her that playing helps me turn off my brain when there’s too much going on, that it clears my head. “Yes, there’s definitely that,” she agrees, then pauses. “And then there’s a certain part to Animal Crossing—because I’m a perfectionist—that’s not so fun anymore. Like there’s a thin line between enjoying myself and it being another job because everything needs to be perfect. I have big plans.”
Ferreira’s video-game-world building is nothing compared to the big plans she has in real life. The actor, whose parents are from Brazil, was born in East Harlem and grew up in New Jersey and New York. With her sights set on acting, she started out modelling for American Apparel while working in one of the brand’s stores as a teenager. (She went by Barbara back then.) She eventually used her modelling exposure as a stepping stone, landing a role in HBO’s Divorce, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, before being cast as the unforgettable Kat Hernandez in the network’s award-winning series Euphoria. Playing that character shot Ferreira—at rocket speed—straight into the spotlight. “I look back, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m living what I manifested,’” she says of her success. “My mom’s a chef and my grandmother cleans houses, so, you know, the chances of all of this happening were pretty slim.”
Ferreira attributes a lot of her drive and hustle to coming of age in a city like New York. “Being a kid and a teenager in New York is insane,” she says. “It’s like no other place, and it has definitely shaped who I am in a lot of ways, good and bad. But mostly good, I hope!” She describes herself and her childhood friends as having a shared quality. “We hustle,” she says. “We also grew up with so much creativity and insanity everywhere, so it kind of preps you for wherever you land in life.” This pretty much explains why Ferreira is so focused and incredibly aware of how far she’s come.
Acting is something Ferreira wanted to do from a young age; throughout high school, she did local theatre and took classes at acting studios to learn and explore the craft—without feeling any pressure—simply because she loved it. “I think the universe was on my side when it didn’t throw me into being a child actor,” says Ferreira. “I do believe that it’s nice to grow up and know what you want to do before you get in the public eye. I think that would be very challenging for a young person.” When she got the opportunity to step into the world of modelling, Ferreira saw it as a means to an end. “I started shooting for things outside of American Apparel, and then I ended up getting signed to an agency,” she explains. She became friends with well-known photographer, artist and director—and Canadian—Petra Collins, who at the time was working with American Apparel. (She has since gone on to shoot music videos for Carly Rae Jepsen and Cardi B and, more recently, an Interview magazine cover with Pamela Anderson.) The two young women hit it off (and are close to this day), and Collins continued to use Ferreira for shoots for more-high-profile publications, like Seventeen and i-D magazines. “After a couple of years, I was like, ‘Okay, cool, this whole thing was for the acting,’ and I was ready to start focusing on that. But it really helped me get where I needed to be, so I’m thankful.”
When Ferreira first worked with Parker, the famed actor really helped boost her confidence. “She was like, ‘I saw your audition—you’re so good,’” says Ferreira. “That was so powerful because I was literally freaking. I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’ I was so nervous. I almost couldn’t get through it. But I did.”
After Divorce, there were industry-wide rumblings about a new HBO show being cast. According to Ferreira, so many young people in New York were auditioning—not only actors but models, designers and influencers too. Everyone wanted a part in what would become Euphoria. “There must have been tens of thousands of people going out for this show, but for some reason, I thought, ‘I’m going to book it,’” says Ferreira. “I had this blind faith.” It was the first time in Ferreira’s life that she’d felt so confident about something, and after about eight callbacks, she got the role. “I’m just happy that they gave me a chance,” she says. “This role was everything I wanted, and I poured all my focus and attention into it.”
What Ferreira wasn’t prepared for, however, was how big the show has ended up being and how far-reaching it is. She’d assumed that it would resonate with gen-Zers, but she thought that perhaps the drugs and sexual content wouldn’t appeal to an older audience. (I think that, ironically, that kind of content is exactly why people like HBO.) But it not only reached cult status with a younger audience; older viewer —especially ones with kids and teenagers—watched the scandalous lives these teens were living with a combination of shock, horror and intrigue. It was sexy and wild, it was sad and awful and, most importantly, it was enthralling. It also propelled Euphoria’s talented young cast—including Zendaya (who won two Emmys and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of drug addict Rue), Hunter Schafer, Sydney Sweeney, Angus Cloud, Jacob Elordi and, of course, Ferreira—into the cultural zeitgeist and to a new level of Hollywood fame.
“I don’t think it’s something you can prepare for,” says Ferreira of the response to the first two seasons of the show. “I learned so much more about myself and myself as an actor. Figuring out how to navigate this world is a very interesting journey because there’s no guidebook on how to be an actor on a show about teenagers that blows up on HBO,” she says with a laugh. “That’s, like, a hyper-specific thing, so I was thankful to have the rest of the cast [with me] because we could all relate.”
On the show, Ferreira’s character, Kat, is on a complex journey of self-discovery that leads to her moonlighting as an online dominatrix cam girl. This double life gives Kat a new-found confidence and an awareness of the power of her own sexuality; for viewers, it was refreshing to see a character who is outside the usual teen-show tropes. “It’s unique,” says Ferreira of her role. “A lot of people have seen me in my ultimate vulnerable moments.” On the one hand, Kat is badass and assertive; on the other, she’s sensitive and insecure. It’s one of the reasons Kat was so popular with fans of the show—she was extremely relatable yet also powerful in the sense that she took control of her narrative and owned it. “I think a lot of people can relate to Kat and to having people walk all over you until you lash out, either in a negative or a positive way, and then figure out your power and who you are and navigate that in a messy, chaotic way,” says Ferreira. “As teenagers do.”
In August of last year, Ferreira made headlines when she announced on Instagram that she would not be returning to Euphoria for its third season. There were rumours about a rift with creator Sam Levinson and her having walked off the set, but her reason for leaving was much simpler—and far less dramatic: She felt it was time to go. On Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast, Ferreira explained that her character had no real direction, especially after a bit of a lag in her storyline in the second season, and she was worried the show would not do Kat justice. “It was hard,” says Ferreira of the decision. “But I was thinking about this a lot because obviously Euphoria is something that is so important to me—it was such a big part of my life and is what I’m mostly known for. It was challenging to say goodbye to a character that I love so much and that I poured my life into. But as an actor, it’s really exciting to start a new chapter and explore different things. And now I’m in a place where I get to end on a high note and actually move on—to explore myself and my craft and step into different characters. All I ever wanted was to be an actor, so I’m just so happy that I get to make this my life.”
“I do believe that it’s nice to grow up and know what you want to do before you get in the public eye. I think that would be very challenging for a young person.”
Before her time on Euphoria had ended, Ferreira was already spreading her wings. She starred in 2020’s heartwarming film Unpregnant—her first feature—alongside The White Lotus star Haley Lu Richardson, about two teenage girls travelling across the U.S. to terminate a pregnancy. In 2022, she appeared in Jordan Peele’s critically acclaimed sci-fi thriller Nope. “Jordan is amazing,” gushes Ferreira. “He called me up and was like, ‘I have this tiny role,’ and I was like, ‘I’ll do anything!’ He’s an absolute genius, so it was definitely very cool to be a part of that.” But as Ferreira enters this new chapter in her career, she’s looking for more challenging roles. “I dreamt of this time; it’s my time,” she says of this new phase. “I’m open to anything, really, as long as it has a good script and a great director and just good vibes. I’m looking for things that are a little bit different from what I’ve done before.”
She just finished filming House of Spoils, a supernatural thriller starring Ariana DeBose and Succession’s Arian Moayed, and is stepping into her first leading role in Faces of Death, a horror film inspired by the 1978 found footage of the same name—which was one of the first viral video —opposite Stranger Things’ Dacre Montgomery. After that, she’ll be working alongside Michael Shannon on The Young King, about a drag king reconnecting with their estranged father.
When I ask Ferreira about navigating Hollywood, she tells me that she has a solid crew of friends in Los Angeles—people she can really rely on—from her early New York days. She goes to events for work, but for the most part tries to avoid the spotlight, instead opting to hang at home (she just bought her first house) with her two cats and dog and watch Housewives. “I just feel like the work speaks for itself, especially nowadays,” she says. “It’s like you can create your own identity and you can have your own power—you are your own brand. I love talking to people who are super talented and learning from them, but I kind of just avoid the frills of it all. It’s not really for me. There are a lot of people in the industry who believe in me and who are giving me amazing opportunities, so I’m just sticking to the work and letting it speak for itself.”
“I dreamt of this time; It’s my time. I’m open to anything, really, as long as it has a good script and a great director and just good vibes. I’m looking for things that are a little bit different from what I've done before.”
Through both her modelling and her acting, Ferreira has become a body-positivity role model for many people, but when the conversation veers in that direction—Ozempic, weight loss and the fact that celebrities seem to be shrinking—it’s clear that she has other things on her mind. “I honestly don’t think about it at all,” she says. “When I was in the fashion industry, there was a bigger focus on that. My favourite part about being an actor is that it’s a little bit less about that. When it’s all about looks, it gets a little bit silly and a little bit redundant. So I just try to do everything I can to prove people wrong—despite any pushback—and continue [doing what I do].”
And it’s certainly keeping the actor busy. Not only does she have a packed shooting schedule but she’s partnered with Pandora jewellery and collaborated with Levi’s on 501 jeans. And she’s also working with brands that are close to her heart—and her roots. She’s the face of celeb-adored Brazilian beauty brand Sol de Janeiro’s new summer fragrance line, and she has also partnered with sandal giant Havaianas on an upcoming project. (She was recently at an event in Rio de Janeiro to tease the Havaianas collection, and she sported a custom pink pair with ties that criss-crossed up her legs and a dreamy matching veil.) Despite trying to lie low most of the time, when Ferreira does go out, she definitely makes a style statement, and she admits that she’s loving creating her looks these days. “With modelling, you’re dressed up but not in the way you want to be, so I actually feel way more empowered to wear what I want now,” she says. “The possibilities are endless.”
That’s what I learned while speaking with Ferreira—that the possibilities for this young talent are endless. “The other day, my mom said to me, ‘If you told me you want to be the president of the United States, at this point, I don’t think I would doubt you,’” says Ferreira, laughing. “I love that.” And her mother is right. It’s Barbie’s world we’re all just living in it.
Find the full story in the Summer 2023 issue of ELLE Canada — out on newsstands and on Apple News+ May 29. You can also subscribe for the latest in fashion, beauty and culture.
Join our mailing list for the latest and biggest in fashion trends, beauty, culture and celebrity.
Here’s How to Rekindle Your Passion for Reading
Get over that reading slump!
by : Patricia Karounos- Jun 2nd, 2023
The Ultimate Father’s Day Gift Guide 2023
From a hybrid chess set to a coffee maker worthy of a work of art.
by : Joëlle Paquette- Jun 2nd, 2023
The Designers We Loved at Vancouver Fashion Week
There was a collection for everyone, from super-wearable streetwear to future-forward designs.
by : ELLE Canada- May 29th, 2023