'It Was Dangerously Close To Being Disastrous': Barbie's Simu Liu Tells The Story Behind Why The 'I'm Just Ken' Oscars Performance Almost Went Horribly Wrong

 Ryan Gosling and co. performing "I'm Just Ken" at the Academy Awards.
Ryan Gosling and co. performing "I'm Just Ken" at the Academy Awards.

After speculation regarding whether Barbie’s Ryan Gosling would perform “I’m Just Ken” at the Oscars, fans of Greta Gerwig movie had the feels when it was announced that the Kenergy would absolutely be alive and well at the 96th Academy Awards. The "Best Original Song" nominee was performed by Gosling amid what was ultimately a stunning display filled with music, camp and the color pink. Interestingly, though, his Barbie co-star, Simu Liu, shared the story behind how the big musical number almost went horribly wrong and came “close to being disastrous.”

When Barbie’s dance sequence was first teased, who would have thought it would eventually become an Oscars performance and the highlight of the night? Well, Simu Liu admitted on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon that he foresaw this musical number getting some Oscar attention before anyone else thought it would. However, during the talk show episode (which was shared to YouTube), Liu went on to explain why it was a somewhat precarious process getting it together:

It was exciting because it was dangerously close to being disastrous. I don't know how long Ryan had with it, but we got the call relatively late in the game. So, the Oscars are on Sunday, we show up for the first rehearsal on Thursday, which is in studio with Ryan and his choreographer Mandy Moore, who is amazing they worked together on La La Land. And so we're there for the first time, myself, Ncuti Gatawa, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Scott Evans, the Kens, and of course, Ryan. And we spend hours and hours going through this choreography, we're like 'OK, I think we can do this.'

I can only imagine how nerve-wracking it must have been to be called in last-minute for an Oscars performance. When you think about all of the hard work that must have been put into Greta Gerwig’s “I’m Just Ken” scene, I’m sure it took more than three days to be able to accomplish that film number. Ryan Gosling reportedly felt “relaxed” during the Oscars rehearsals, though, with his spirits apparently “high" as well. It seems that after hours of rehearsal ons that Thursday that Simu Liu felt confident that he had the live dance number in the bag. Yet it sounds like the vibe somewhat changed on Friday:

And then Friday comes around, we're in Dolby Theater, because it's not a dress rehearsal yet, but we're on the stage. We show up, and the first thing we realize is the choreography is completely different, it's somehow changed entirely from Thursday to Friday. So, we're like 'OK, yeah, we're working with it.' Saturday, we're getting costumed, we're doing a dress rehearsal, and we show up again, and we realize that the choreography is completely different again. So it's just changing constantly every single day.

That must have been incredibly stressful to go through hours of choreography only for there to be last-minute changes. But, according to what choreographer Mandy Moore told The Hollywood Reporter, it’s common for alterations to happen when it comes to live performances involving A-list celebrities. In this case, everyone had “crazy schedules,” as Ken actor Ncuti Gatwa wasn’t able to come into rehearsal until Friday, and musician Slash arrived the morning before the Oscars. So I wonder if the choreography had to be changed around to make it easier for everyone to learn it at the last minute.

And just when you thought Friday Oscars rehearsals were tough, the Shang-Chi actor also discussed the "poorly" done dress rehearsal that occurred that Saturday:

We have on Saturday night what was supposed to be our only run-through in costumes. And we do it, and it goes so poorly. Not for any other reason other than it's just logistically it's 70 Kens, 70 dancers, on stage with a steady cam that's a big thing that's moving around stage. I think something had caught on the camera, one of the dancer's costumes had caught. So, when everything is moving and the one thing catches, you can't finish. So, everything just kind of stopped.

Not that wardrobe malfunctions never happen at the Oscars, but I can understand how important it is for that not to happen during a live dance performance. You wouldn't want a costume mishap to lead to any injuries while dancing, of course. That's especially true when it comes to live TV, as you can’t yell “cut” and start again.

Despite the snafus, some behind-the-scenes info about “I’m Just Ken” shed light on the fact that Ryan Gosling planned everything out with Mandy Moore. That even included the Canadian actor sitting behind Margot Robbie at the start of the set and kissing the cameraman’s hand near the end. So I’d like to think Gosling and Moore were looking after the Ken actors to ensure they didn’t give them anything they couldn’t already handle on stage.

Simu Liu went on to talk about how rehearsals on the day of the Oscars would be a redemption day of sorts following Saturday’s rehearsals:

So, immediately, we come back from Saturday and we're just like 'wait, are we just gonna wing it on Sunday?' It must have been like midnight we get home and we get a call from The Oscars and they're like 'We need you to come in on Sunday.' This was day of the Oscars we get called in for the last, last rehearsal because we sucked so bad the night before.

It looks like it was a good call to do rehearsals the day of the Oscars to keep it fresh, as everyone on stage gave a spectacular performance we all loved. Based on the behind-the-scenes reactions everyone gave as the performance was about to start, Oscar attendees may have had an inkling that they were be in for a memorable dance sequence. It was like a sing-along rock concert, as the lyrics were up on the screen so everyone could sing along. Even seeing Margot Robbie and Billie Eilish’s A+ reactions to the performance was entertaining enough, as they were laughing and smiling throughout.

You can imagine what a relief it must have been for Simu Liu that “I’m Just Ken” was a successful moment on Oscar night:

We pulled it off, thank goodness.

Yes, they did! While the “I’m Just Ken” rehearsals were “dangerously close to being disastrous,” the Oscars performance for the ‘80s-sounding ballad was anything but. From Ryan Gosling paying homage to Marilyn Monroe with his bedazzled pink attire to all of the Kens rejoicing in song, the nominated song performance was flawless with its strenuous rehearsal process being all the more worth it. I don't know about you, but I'm grateful that the team pulled off one of the most memorable Academy Awards moments in years.

You can see Simu Liu’s Kenergy in Barbie available on your Max subscription. Make sure to look at our schedule 2024 movie releases so you’re up to date on the talented actor’s future film projects.