Writer-director Damien Chazelle knew Diego Calva would go big or go home while casting for “Babylon.”
The Oscar winner selected “Narcos: Mexico” alum Calva after a 2020 screen test opposite Margot Robbie. Chazelle filmed the chemistry read on his cellphone and immediately compared Calva’s raw talent to that of legendary actor Al Pacino.
“He had this kind of Al Pacino-level ability to command the camera without seeming to do anything,” Chazelle told The New York Times. Chazelle noted that Pacino’s arc as Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” films in part inspired Calva’s role as Hollywood newcomer Manny.
Co-star Robbie shared of Calva’s performance, “It’s so transformative to act with him because he’s so present that you forget you’re doing a scene. He was the greatest scene partner I could ever wish for.”
Calva, who is nominated for a Golden Globe for his turn in “Babylon,” told IndieWire that playing Manny was “a different adventure every day,” adding, “It was a different mood and a different situation every day.”
He continued, “I like to tell the story of how we had the same first day on a Hollywood set. My first day is his first day, so some of the surprise faces or the awe you see in my face, or in Manny’s face — it’s me, sometimes. We share a lot of first new experiences, like meeting Brad Pitt, working with Margot Robbie, working with Damien, and in his case, maybe Nellie and Jack.”
And Calva isn’t the only “Babylon” star drawing comparisons to other Academy Award-winning performances. Eric Roberts, who also appears in the silent era-set film, likened Robbie’s scene-stealing turn as actress Nellie to Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis’ landmark performances in Mike Nichols’ “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
“I don’t watch myself anymore, because I’ve seen everything I do,” Roberts said. “But Damien Chazelle’s movie, I have watched that. I will also tell you that Margot Robbie is going to win an Academy Award for that. She gives the most incredible performance in ‘Babylon’ that I have ever seen. The two incredible actresses in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ gave perfect performances, and it’s on that level. She blew me away. I couldn’t believe how brilliant every minute of every day she was.”
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