Six years after winning an Oscar for “La La Land,” writer-director Damien Chazelle is gearing up for a return to Tinseltown with his next feature film “Babylon.” This time, he’s taking it back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when silent films transitioned to talkies.
In a recent interview, Chazelle said he first came up with the idea for “a big, epic, multicharacter movie, set in these early days of Los Angeles and Hollywood, when both of these things were coming into what we now think of them as,” about 15 years ago. It was only after completing 2018’s “First Man” that he got to work on the script for the “massive” movie.
Like any Hollywood movie about Hollywood, the cast of “Babylon” is as star-studded as they come, playing a mixture of fictional and historical characters. Among them: Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt (reuniting onscreen for the first time since “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” another self-dedicated love letter); Olivia Wilde, Samara Weaving, Tobey Maguire, Jean Smart, Spike Jonze, Chloe Fineman and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. (The film is not to be confused with “Amsterdam,” David O. Russell’s 1930s caper with a similarly star-stuffed cast led by Margot Robbie, also releasing at the end of the year.)
What can we expect from the “Whiplash” filmmaker’s upcoming flick? Here, TheWrap takes a look at everything we know about “Babylon” so far – the cast, the plot and other details.
What is “Babylon” about?
Like 2011’s “The Artist,” the film will focus on the industry’s turn to sound and how it impacted the careers of stars in the late 1920s. The official trailer, which dropped Sept. 13, and first-look images reveal that it will celebrate the grandeur of the Golden Age and the “human cost” of the industry in its infancy (as Chazelle puts it), with the logline “Always make a scene.”
In the film, Robbie and Pitt will play Hollywood stars at very different stages of their careers. The trailer opens with aspiring star Nellie LaRoy (Robbie) and Manny Torres (Diego Calva) sharing their big dreams over lines of cocaine before descending into rapid-fire clips of debauchery and chaos. A swashbuckling Jack Conrad (Pitt) strolls through movie sets, falls off balconies and holds court as the life of the party; LaRoy challenges a snake to a duel; pistols are fired, spears are thrown and elephants run amok.
Who’s in the cast?
Originally, Emma Stone (who won the Best Lead Actress Oscar for “La La Land”) was slated for Robbie’s part, but exited in late 2020 due to a scheduling conflict. Robbie will play Nellie LaRoy, an aspiring Hollywood starlet drawn from It Girls of the era, such as Clara Bow, Jeanne Eagels, Joan Crawford, and Alma Rubens.
Pitt will portray “über-movie star” Jack Conrad, based on leading men John Gilbert, Clark Gable and Douglas Fairbanks.
Diego Calva plays Manny Torres, a Mexican immigrant who embodies the outsider’s (and the audience’s) perspective.
Tobey Maguire, who is also one of the film’s executive producers, will play a fictional character named James McKay that some viewers at CinemaCon pegged as a Charlie Chaplin type. Jean Smart of “Hacks” will play a formidable film critic and Hollywood journalist named Elinor St. John.
The supporting cast includes Jovan Adepo as Sidney Palmer, Li Jun Li as Lady Fay Zhu and Lukas Haas as George Munn. With the exception of Max Minghella, who plays real-life producer Irving Thalberg, all of the other characters are fictional.
Rounding out the players are Olivia Wilde, Samara Weaving, Flea, Katherine Waterston, Eric Roberts, Spike Jonze, Phoebe Tonkin, Chloe Fineman, Jeff Garlin, Jennifer Grant, P.J. Byrne, Rory Scovel, Frederick Koehler and Troy Metcalf. And that barely scratches the surface of the enormous ensemble cast listed on IMDb.
The crew consists of several of Chazelle’s regular collaborators, such as composer Justin Hurwitz, cinematographer Linus Sandgren, costume designer Mary Zophres and editor Tom Cross. Florencia Martin of “Licorice Pizza” and “Blonde” is in charge of the production design.
When does “Babylon” come out?
The Paramount film will have a limited theatrical release on Christmas Day 2022 and opens wide on Jan. 6, 2023. As of now, the film will be playing exclusively in theaters and will not be streaming upon release.
It’s been a long road for “Babylon.” Announced in 2019, the movie was originally slated to premiere on Christmas Day 2021. However, the Los Angeles shoot was delayed due to the pandemic, pushing the release date an entire year forward.
Shooting began in early July 2021 and wrapped in October. Boom operator Bryan Mendoza wrote on Twitter that “Babylon” was “easily one of the toughest projects” he’s worked on. He praised the crew as being “without a doubt one of the absolute best in all of Hollywood.”
Likewise, Chazelle told Vanity Fair that “Babylon” is his most ambitious project yet: “It was definitely the hardest thing I’ve done. Just the logistics of it, the number of characters, the scale of the set pieces, the span of time that the movie charts—it all conspired to make it particularly challenging, but it was a challenge that was pretty exciting to take on.”
Check out more first-look images from the film here.