Some filmmakers are defined by one distinct style that they tend to stick with for the majority of their career, while others revel in paying homage to the cinematic genres that inspired them. Damien Chazelle, however, is someone who could not accurately be categorized as either. Not only does he consistently succeed in reinventing himself with each new film, but each of his films has been a fresh and unique take on the genres that inspired them.
He made music school look like a nightmare with his 2014 breakout smash, WHIPLASH, defied conventions of the old fashioned musical romance two years later with LA LA LAND and unveiled the Neil Armstrong we never knew with his intense biopic, FIRST MAN, in 2018. Now, the Academy AwardⓇ winner is offering us a fictionalized inside-look at the lavish, cutthroat world of Hollywood during the last days of the silent era with BABYLON. The epic period drama boasts one of the most exciting star-studded ensembles of the year and the following is a guide to their own claims to fame.
Playing a veteran movie star named Jack Conrad in BABYLON is veteran movie star Brad Pitt, who recently won his first acting Oscar for playing the longtime stuntman of a movie star in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD – his second Quentin Tarantino-directed feature after INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. The lead of the action-packed 2022 summer blockbuster BULLET TRAIN landed his big break in 1991’s THELMA & LOUISE.
This would launch a stunningly diverse career that ranges from gritty crime thrillers like SE7EN, to subversive satires like FIGHT CLUB, ensemble comedies like OCEAN’S ELEVEN and even brief cameos in comic book movies like DEADPOOL 2. His greatest hits from behind the camera as a producer include 12 YEARS A SLAVE – which earned him his first Oscar – and the recent AMC Artistan selection, SHE SAID.
A BABYLON cast member who starred in a recent AMC Artisan Film called AMSTERDAM is Brad Pitt’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD co-star Margot Robbie. The Australian native, who plays up-and-coming actor Nellie LaRoy in the film, first took Hollywood by storm with her striking performance in Martin Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET in 2013.
She would go on to earn two Oscar nominations for fact-based dramas I, TONYA and BOMBSHELL, blow audiences away with her portrayal of Harley Quinn in DC movies like THE SUICIDE SQUAD and also receive acclaim for her performances in the likes of FOCUS, THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS and more. Audiences are excited to see her next in the perfectly cast title role of Greta Gerwig’s upcoming BARBIE movie.
Serving as the audience surrogate to the story of BABYLON is Mexican immigrant Manny Torres. He is played by Diego Calva, who is being referred to by outlets like Variety as the relative “newcomer” among the ensemble of mostly A-list talent. However, this is certainly not his first rodeo.
Calva got started by acting in films and TV shows produced in his native country of Mexico, one of which – a coming-of-age dramedy series called “Unstoppable” in English – was distributed as a Netflix exclusive in the States in 2020. The following year he appeared on the third season of the platform’s fact-based crime thriller, “Narcos: Mexico,” as drug lord Arturo Bertrán Levya.
Starring in BABYLON as Elinor St. John is Jean Smart, who is, perhaps, the most seasoned and experienced veteran among the cast. However, she is better known for her work on the small screen, having won five Emmy Awards out of twelve nominations so far – two for a recurring role on “Frasier,” one for her supporting starring role on “Samantha Who?” and two, most recently, for leading the HBO Max original comedy, “Hacks.”
In addition to those accolades, Smart was a regular on classic sitcoms like “Designing Women,” is an accomplished voice actor known for animated series like “Kim Possible” and is known for acclaimed dramas such as “24,” “Watchmen” and “Mare of Easttown.” As for some of her most notable big screen credits, she played Reese Witherspoon’s mother-in-law in SWEET HOME ALABAMA, Peter Sarsgaard’s mother in GARDEN STATE and Blake Lively’s mother in A SIMPLE FAVOR, to name a few.
Starring in BABYLON as a musician named Sidney Palmer is Jean Smart’s “Watchmen” co-star Jovan Adepo, who made his feature film debut in another star-studded period drama called FENCES as the on-screen son of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. He followed up the 2016 adaptation of August Wilson’s legendary play with a role in MOTHER! before playing the lead of the World War II era horror flick, OVERLORD, in 2018.
Adepo has also garnered an impressive small screen presence since he joined HBO’s “The Leftovers” cast in Season 2. He played adult Antron McCray on Netflix’s “When They See Us,” CIA agent Marcus Bishop on “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” for Amazon and one of the main protagonists of the 2020’s adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Stand.”
Li Jun Li
Also among the cast of BABYLON is Li Jun Li, whose big break came in the form of playing Liat in the successful Broadway revival of “South Pacific” in 2008. Li went on to land a recurring role on FX’s “Damages” before starring in movies like 2015’s RICKI AND THE FLASH.
Audiences may also recognize Li from her various roles in other acclaimed TV series – such as her starring role on Fox’s short-lived “Minority Report” series, recurring appearances on NBC’s “One Chicago” franchise as Julia Tay and tenure on another Fox TV series based on hit movie, “The Exorcist.” More recently, she appeared on “Why Women Kill” and had recurring spots on CBS’s “Evil” and Netflix’s “Sex/Life.”
This actually just barely scratches the surface of all the talented actors on the BABYLON cast, which also includes Samara Weaving, Olivia Wilde, Tobey Maguire, Max Minghella and Lukas Haas, to name a few. With an ensemble like this, Damien Chazelle may have his biggest hit yet on his hands. See for yourself when the movie hits AMC Theaters on December 23, 2022.