Babylon: Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie star in trailer
Awards season this year brings us three big movies about Hollywood; a self-reflective genre that industry voters just can’t resist. Joining Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, and Sir Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light is Damien Chazelle’s Babylon. The Oscar-winning director is following up Whiplash, La La Land and First Man with his 1920s set passion project. Unlike the lighthearted musical turns of La La Land, this period piece explores early Hollywood’s transition from silent to sound in all its raw and debauched reality. All the while juxtaposed with an incredible ability to produce such beautiful art amid all the utter chaos. Express.co.uk takes a look at the cast of the 3hr 9 min epic which hits UK cinemas today.
Babylon movie cast – Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie with Tobey Maguire and more
Who is in Babylon?
Babylon cast with director Damien Chazelle (far left)
Brad Pitt – Jack Conrad
Following in the footsteps of his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, the 59-year-old takes up the role of an established, ageing movie star; one who is increasingly feeling irrelevant to industry changes. The adulterous, alcoholic silent movie leading man is struggling to adapt to the new world of sound as the 1930s dawn. And as a result, is facing something of an existential crisis himself. Conrad is largely based on silent movie star John Gilbert, whose acting style didn’t translate well into talkies.
Speaking with W Magazine, Pitt confessed: “Sadly enough, that melancholy may be my natural mode of being, some congenital melancholy.But no, I think there’s a weariness that takes over with the character as he moves on. There’s a world-weariness that I can certainly relate to a little bit. At this time, more of us are trying to tear each other down than help each other up. I get a little weary.”
Margot Robbie as Nellie LaRoy and Brad Pitt as Jack Conrad
Margot Robbie – Nellie LaRoy
After Chazelle’s Oscar-winning La La Land star Emma Stone had to drop out of Babylon due to scheduling conflicts, the 32-year-old Aussie was cast as the hyperactive actress. Even before she’s discovered, Nellie asserts that you don’t become a star, “you’re either a star or you’re not”. Through sheer luck she does indeed become an A-lister, but one tragically enwraptured by her own additions and impulses.
Robbie’s character is based on real-life actress Clara Bow, who starred in the first Best Picture winner Wings. She was the original “It Girl” named after her 1927 movie of the same name. Although sadly she too struggled to be taken seriously as an actress when the talkies arrived with the Great Depression.
Robbie admitted playing Nellie, a part not too dissimilar in personality to her Harley Quinn, has been one of her favourite roles in her movie career so far. She told The Australian: “I definitely relate to Nellie’s drive. She’s hell-bent on making it in Hollywood. When you get to Hollywood, there are so many people wanting the same thing. You just need to want it more than everyone else.”
Diego Calva as Manny Torres
Diego Calva – Manny Torres
Babylon’s protagonist is a Mexican-American runner who is desperate to get into the film industry but faces a harder time getting his foot in the door because of his skin colour. Manny goes to every length to impress his superiors, compromising along the way by saying he’s actually from Madrid and convincing a Black star to wear boot polish on his face to keep racist audiences happy.
The 30-year-old Narcos actor told The Guardian: “I owe this role to Margot because something happened between me and her [during our chemistry reading]. That day in Damien’s back yard, I reached a whole new level. Like a video game, you know?”
Tobey Maguire as James McKay
Tobey Maguire – James McKay
The Spider-Man star, who is also an executive producer on Babylon, cameos in the movie as an unhinged LA mob boss. And it turns out the 47-year-old picked this role out of three or four he was trying out in read-throughs with the director.
Chazelle told EW: “It’s sort of funny now looking back, it was actually Tobey who picked out of this range of options this character, McKay, which was sort of the creepiest, the most depraved of all of them. I don’t know what that says about Tobey, but that’s what he picked.”
When asked why McKay spoke to him, Maguire replied: “Oh, that’s a good question. [Laughs] I don’t know. There was something kind of appealing about playing James, because he was unusual and I really liked the character. I liked the role that he plays in the story, and where he comes [into play], hoisting the film and these guys into that underbelly, into that world. It seemed like fun. And I didn’t have a really clear vision of what I would do, which was kind of exciting. There was just a lot of possibility in the characterisation.”
Jean Smart as Elinor St John
Jean Smart – Elinor St John
The 71-year-old’s powerful Hollywood gossip columnist is based on a number of writers from the period.
Speaking with Radio Times, Smart said: “There’s one girl, Elinor Glyn, who was a British screenwriter who came to Hollywood in the Twenties. And she also was a novelist – she is credited with coming up with the phrase It Girl and sort of helping Clara Bow become a star, and she even wrote one of the screenplays that Clara Bow did. She also wrote a novel called Three Weeks, which was considered sort of the Twenties version of 50 Shades of Grey. So she was also a rather unconventional person, but was attracted to what was going on out here and moved to Hollywood. And I think for all of her seeming to be kind of an objective observer, you see towards the end that she’s also caught up in the magic of filmmaking and how it makes people literally immortal.”
The supporting cast also includes Jovan Adepo as jazz trumpeter Sidney Palmer and Li Jun Li as lesbian Chinese-American cabaret singer Lady Fay Zhu. Notable cameo roles also include Katherine Waterson as Estelle Conrad (Jack’s third wife), Flea as studio executive Don Wallach, Eric Roberts as Nellie’s father Robert Roy, Ethan Suplee as McKay’s bodyguard Wilson, Olivia Wilde as Ina Conrad (Jack’s ex-wife) and Spike Jonze as German film director Otto Von Strassberger.
Babylon is out now in UK cinemas.