How Brad Pitt And Margot Robbie Feel About The Tragic Life Of Actors On Display In Babylon

Damien Chazelle’s Babylon is a celebration of filmmaking and cinema history, but it’s not just a love letter; it’s a warts-and-all depiction. There’s a whole lot of fun and excess, but also a whole lot of tragedy and death. The movie particularly shines a light on the hardships of being an actor in the industry – and it made me wonder how the stars personally reflected on the depiction compared to their own careers in modern Hollywood.

I interviewed Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jovan Adepo, and Li Jun Li earlier this month during the Los Angeles press day for Babylon, and one question that I asked all of the actors was about how they processed the sad lives of the characters on screen dealing with the hardships of the industry. Pitt – who plays Jack Conrad, an A-lister whose star begins to fade in the transition from silent films to talkies – mused that the “messy” lives of the protagonists are more a reflection of the human experience in general than just performers, though he acknowledged that the stars of the 1920s and 1930s lived life a bit less responsibly:

We were just talking about it. I mean, we humans we're messy. We're wonderful, and we're awful and it gets complicated, and we're all over the place. So I think, you know, it's just the same in any kind of environment you land. I haven't quite run into the dysfunction to the extent of some of this, except maybe in the younger years. When people starting out were a little more reckless.

Following up her co-star’s comments, Margot Robbie attributed some of the real-life insanity as depicted in Babylon to the youth of the industry – in multiple respects. Her research led her to realize that burgeoning movie studios were being run by people in their mid-30s, and there was a level of shock that set in when lives were changing overnight. She explained,

You start researching some of the people that Damien [Chazelle] pointed us towards, and you start racking up how many people died really young at this time, and how young everyone was just in general: people running the studios at 35 and people were going from being dirt poor to being the biggest movie stars in the country, like so quickly! And they were 20 if that, and then they were dead by the time they were 25, 30. It was kind of insane and it felt like, at this time, everyone was just 'live fast, die young' sort of vibes. I don't think it's quite like that now for a number of reasons; the industry has evolved. But yeah, it was a crazy time. I don't think it feels quite the same.

One thing that has certainly helped is Hollywood learning from history. The characters played by Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie in Babylon are fictional, but they are essentially amalgamations of real people, and in certain cases those people can be looked at as cautionary tales. The industry is still riddled with all kinds of scandals of similar ilk from the first half of the 20th century, but things certainly are different now.

Paired with Li Jun Li, Jovan Adepo was able to finds links between the experience of being an actor now compared to the era in Babylon – though his focus was more about being on a set. In the film, there is a sequence where Margot Robbie’s Nellie LaRoy is shooting her first performance in a talkie, and dealing with the delicacy of sound causes tempers to flare as the production is forced to do repeated takes. Adepo can relate, saying,

Not about confronting fear, but just like seeing the things that they had to deal with back then and noting it as it still kind of exists now – especially like with like the issue with sound and like the issue with like trying to get the lighting right.

Featuring an outstanding cast that also includes Jean Smart, Tobey Maguire, Lukas Haas, Max Minghella, and Olivia Hamilton, Babylon is now playing in theaters nationwide – and it has certainly stirred up a lot of conversation. Once you’ve seen the film, check out our analysis of the ending, and listen to the new ReelBlend interview with writer/director Damien Chazelle.

For a preview of all of the exciting films that are currently set up with release dates in the coming year, check out our 2023 Movie Release Calendar.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.