BabylonDamien Chazelle’s star-studded exploration of the debauchery and excess of 1920s Hollywood had its world premiere Thursday in Los Angeles alongside stars Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Diego Calva.
Chazelle first came up with the concept, which focuses on the era when Hollywood transitioned from silent to talkies 15 years ago, when she first moved to Los Angeles.
“I got really interested in the origins of all this craziness, and I think what really made me think there was a movie out there was that I would just read stuff out of curiosity and be continually surprised.” he he said the hollywood reporter on the red carpet. “I would read about partying, drug use, the way movies were shot these days, uninhibited, unhinged debauchery, and find myself with my jaw on the ground the whole time.”
“I felt like, ‘Okay, if I can capture something like that and put it on the screen, and not compromise it, not sanitize it,’ I feel like a lot of old Hollywood movies buy into the old Hollywood myth of everything being clean and fancy and it wasn’t that, at least in this time,” the writer-director continued. “So if I could do that, I’d feel like, ‘OK, that’s a movie worth making.’”
Pitt stars as fictional silent film star Jack Conrad in the film, with Robbie as aspiring actress Nellie LaRoy and Calva as Mexican immigrant Manny Torres, looking for his big break. In casting all three of his leads, Chazelle said Pitt was the first to sign on and “I don’t think there are a lot of people who can play Brad in this. The character is an all-time movie star, so you need an all-time movie star to play him; there aren’t many of those today. With Margot, you needed someone who is a movie star but also someone who has just arrived on the scene recently. I wanted someone who would kind of reflect the journey of his character and also be absolutely fearless.”
As for Calva, who counts the film as his first big project in English after appearing in Narcos: Mexico, Chazelle said: “That was kind of the Hollywood cliché of a true discovery. I had a dream that it would be someone in that role that we didn’t know, that was a newcomer to people, but that’s a hard thing to do, to find someone who’s really new who can hold their own against Margot and Brad and people like that. So I was lucky, it was the luck of the draw to be able to bump into Diego and find him and put him on screen. I think he is a real movie star.
One of the biggest talking points of the film has become its crazy and wacky scenes, which included hundreds of extras, snakes, alligators and a party scene so debauched it took almost two weeks to film.
Pitt admitted that when filming the party, “the first day was a bit of a shock, even for me. I was like, ‘Wow, wow, we’re really doing this,’” jokingly there was “a lot of nudity, a lot of nudity. And then day three was like, ‘Yeah, a lot of nudity.’ And then two weeks later, it was like another day at the office.”
The star also pointed to another scene “where we’re racing with the light and there’s 700 extras behind us, and we’re trying to capture this shot and everyone’s panicking to get it and they’re rushing and the crew goes crazy, that to me represents making movies, that is often what it is”.
Pitt added about exploring 1920s-era Hollywood: “It’s a whole different style of acting. They were big, they noted, and it wasn’t until I started studying them that I could see the real charm and artistry in what they were doing.”
In addition to his main trio, Babylon features an all-star ensemble that includes Jean Smart, Tobey Maguire, Olivia Wilde, Samara Weaving, Max Minghella, Flea, Lukas Haas, Eric Roberts, Jovan Adepo and Li Jun Li.
Minghella recalled first reading the “crazy” script, saying that Chazelle had “a singular vision, it was so clear that she saw something that none of us would be able to see until we were there.” When I sat down to watch this movie, I almost cried from the joy of seeing something so cinematic.”
Li said when she first saw him, “I remember holding my face so tightly that I had handprints on my cheek after I came out. I also remember Jean Smart and I were at the same screening and we walked out and we were both like, ‘Wow, we forgot to breathe,’ because it was such a wild ride.”
It may have been the wildest ride for the production team, as producer Matt Plouffe said when he first heard Chazelle’s idea 13 years ago: “I thought it was probably the most impossible movie I’d ever get involved with. Honestly, I’m so grateful to be here because for so long I thought, ‘This movie will probably never get made. There are very few places in the world that would make this movie, to be honest, and Paramount stepped up and did something that is unheard of, to support a movie like this, made this way.”
Added Plouffe: “I really felt like every day everything could fall apart, so it was almost like there was something spiritual looking out for us, maybe our Hollywood ancestors.”
Babylon hits theaters December 23.
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