‘Babylon’ stars Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie talk Old Hollywood debauchery and drugs

BABYLON, Margot Robbie, 2022. © Paramount Pictures / Courtesy of Everett Collection

Margot Robbie in Babylon. (Photo: © Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Damien Chazelle is no historian, but he’s likely to change the way many people see the “sanitary” days of old Hollywood with his star-studded, drug-fueled new excess-in-show business odyssey, Babylon.

“The old Hollywood that we have in our minds as a preconceived notion is this kind of tidy, elegant, tidy, weirder world,” the La La Land and whiplash director tells Yahoo Entertainment in a new interview. “In many ways, [that was] a fabricated delusion designed to obscure this kind of reality… But it was free for all from drugs, sexual liberties, recklessness, all kinds of offenses. It was truly an insane milestone of mayhem.

Babylon follows the intersecting stories of three people who worked in the 1920s film industry just as silent movies are about to give way to “talkies,” changing the landscape forever. There’s Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), a hard-partying, hugely famous silent movie star; Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), an ingenious star breaking out just before menopause; and Manny Torres (Diego Calva), an assistant who aspires to become a producer.

They all cross paths at lavish Gatsby-on-speed parties thrown by studio exec types that include pulsating big band jazz, birthday suits, orgies, exotic animals and lots and lots and lots of cocaine.


“It was new and by all accounts it was the wild, wild west,” Pitt tells Yahoo. “An equal would probably be late ’60s, early ’70s rock and roll — that kind of Zeppelin-esque era we hear about.”

“Virtually everything you see on screen is inspired, even by a kernel, [by] something that happened,” adds Robbie. “So there’s going to be a story that Damien read somewhere and then he depicts it with fictional characters that are amalgamations of real people and real life stories… But yeah, it sounded like a pretty riotous time.”

“It sounded like a really good time,” Pitt laughs.

“It wasn’t a PC at all,” Robbie adds.

Li Jun Li (the comedian Lady Fay Zhu) says, “You have to remember that this was before we knew the dangerous side effects of taking so many drugs and drinking… And filmmaking wasn’t taken that seriously back then. It was just a really fun time.”

jean slim (Hacks), who plays a sensational journalist with the power to make or break careers, says she was shocked when she first read Chazelle’s script. “I thought, ‘Oh, this couldn’t have been! It’s not that long ago. But you don’t make movies about an average day or an average moment in someone’s life. You make them about the highs and lows.”

BABYLON, from left: Diego Calva, Brad Pitt, 2022. ph: Scott Garfield /© Paramount Pictures / Courtesy of Everett Collection

Diego Calva, left, and Brad Pitt in it Babylon. (Photo: Scott Garfield /© Paramount Pictures /Courtesy Everett Collection)

So what has changed?

After the advent of sound, famous in the groundbreaking 1927 film The jazz singerthe industry became more regulated, both off and on screen (most notoriously with the 1934 Hays Code, which banned profanity, nudity, and violence).

“These changes went through,” says Chazelle. “You see that as Hollywood gets big enough, the corporate world starts making enough money that the polite society, the centers of power on the East Coast, can’t pay them any attention. They can’t reject it. Then you start to see those kinds of factors come into play… You see it become more regulated and codified, and the moral codes come in… Then you wouldn’t be able to show people sleeping in the same bed, or you wouldn’t be able to kiss can show that lasted more than 10 seconds. They all came in the 1930s. They didn’t exist in the 1920s. And so, in many ways, this movie became for me the story of how we got from A to B, how we came from the wild circus, the hard-hitting madness of this, to the much weirder, tamer, more downtrodden Hollywood of the ’30s and beyond. ”

The hard-R madness is in full force BabylonThe film’s 188-minute running time and debauchery and frantic energy have surprised critics, who have given some colorful early reactions. “Babylon works best when it feels like the people who made the movie used as much cocaine as the people they made it about,” wrote David Ehrlich of Indiewire.

The parties felt real, Pitt acknowledged

“It was hard not to feel [the manic energy]Kalva says. “It was just hard not to get so immersed in it.”

“And also [with] the sheer ambition of what everyone was trying to achieve, [we] went so fast,” says Robbie. “Which I think is why everything [has] also a considerably increased energy.

“Damien was really brilliant in setting the scene for us, and just setting the environment,” says Jovan Adepo, who plays trumpeter-turned-fencing star Sidney Palmer. “You need that energy.”


Chazelle laughed when she heard about the “cocaine” comment.

“I’ll take it as a compliment, I guess,” he says. “It’s like the movie created its own medicine, fever-dream energy, such that — and I’m not sure, maybe certain people were under the influence, but as far as I know, at least we were technically sober. But we all got high from the movie. We all got drunk and high from what was going on around us… You put 300 people, half of them naked, in a room with music blaring, and you do it over and you sit there all day long. You forget what time of day it is. You kind of forget where you are.

“You disappear during that period. And you have someone like Margot Robbie dancing her head off, take after take. You’ve got Brad Pitt, you’ve got Jean Smart. You’ve got these larger-than-life people like that there, and you’ve got the band playing live. The whole thing felt like a party. It felt like a circus.”

Babylon opens December 23 in theaters across the country.

Watch the trailer:

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