Margot Robbie and Diego Calva on the Real-Life Inspirations Behind Their Babylon Characters

real life inspiration behind babylon

“Babylon” held its Australian premiere in Sydney on January 16, with crowds of Australian celebrities and media personalities vying for spots at the State Theatre. As one of the most anticipated films of the new year, the three-hour epic from”La La Land” director Damien Chazelle is pitched as a “love letter to old Hollywood.”

If you’re a fan of “La La Land” don’t expect the same from “Babylon.” The film documents Hollywood’s transition of silent cinema to sound and colour, and tells the stories of restless, wild stars like Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) and Jack Ryan (Brad Pitt). These characters soon become caught up in what Robbie describes as the “seismic shift” caused by cinema’s transition to sound.

We had a chance to sit down with Margot Robbie and her co-star Diego Calva, who plays Manny Torres, to discuss the inspiration behind the film. 

Paramount Pictures

The Inspiration Behind “Babylon”

While “Babylon” is technically a fictional story, director Damien Chazelle drew heavily from the stars of old Hollywood while writing the script, offering Robbie and Calva many sources to draw on for their own performances.

“Damien pointed me in the right direction,” Robbie tells POPSUGAR Australia. “He said ‘here’s a list of people I’ve drawn upon for Nellie’, and I found my way with with the people who resonated or the aspects of people who resonated with me, and kind of cherry-picked like, ‘okay, that aspect of that person’s performance in that film was helpful’, and ‘that childhood of that person is helpful’.”

Armed with inspiration, Robbie says she was able to “build Nellie from there.” 

One of the actors that served as an inspiration for Nellie was Clara Bow, who became a sex symbol of the silent movie era. Bow experienced a lot of class discrimination during her time in Hollywood, despite being one of the industry’s most bankable stars of the time.

Calva, meanwhile, was given some direction for his performance and looked briefly at stars like Ramon Novarro and Rene Cardonna.

 “I based [Manny] more in real people, not literally people in the industry,” he tells POPSUGAR Australia.

Instead of looking to the Hollywood stars of the past, Calva turned to the people of Chaves Ravine to understand his Mexican-born character’s experiences in the United States and the Hollywood system at the time.

“Chaves Ravine was a Mexican community living in Los Angeles,” Calva explains. “It was good to see how Mexicans were living in LA during the 1920s, it was good to build Manny’s background. I based it more on real people, not people in the industry.” 

Related: The Real People Who Inspired Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and Max Minghella’s “Babylon” Characters

Robbie says that one of her favourite things about her taking on a new role is getting stuck into the research, and with “Babylon”, there was plenty to learn.

“There was a lot to go off and a lot that I didn’t know,” she says. “I’d seen a couple of silent films but I’d never done a deep dive, and I learnt so much and have such an appreciation of what they achieved back then and how quickly they did it, how fast they evolved with just the equipment that they had and the medium.

“It was just, it was just the Wild West and it was a very different time as far as what was acceptable,” she says, adding, “You know, for better or for worse things have changed.”

Diego Caval as Manny Torres in "Babylon"
Diego Calva as Manny Torres in “Babylon” Image credit: Paramount

Related: Margot Robbie Turns Her Red Carpet Gown Up a Notch With a Red-Lace Leg Slit

“Babylon” is in HOYTS cinemas from January 19. Buy tickets here.

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