Brad Pitt calls Babylon, a movie set in 1920s Hollywood, ‘mayhem’, Latest Movies News - The New Paper

Brad Pitt calls Babylon, a movie set in 1920s Hollywood, ‘mayhem’

LOS ANGELES – Babylon, the latest offering from acclaimed director Damien Chazelle, is a sprawling, chaotic tale of ambition and decadence set in 1920s Hollywood – a time of sex- and cocaine-filled parties as well as real cultural change, with the move away from silent films.

Expectations for the movie, which opens in Singapore cinemas on Thursday, ran high ahead of its release in the United States in 2022.

This was because of A-list leads Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie as well as the hype around Chazelle – the hotshot film-maker behind the Oscar-winning musical dramas La La Land (2016) and Whiplash (2014).

But the film divided critics after its debut in the US last December, where it bombed at the box office, with many viewers complaining about its long run time of 189 minutes.

And it turns out that Pitt and other members of the cast also had doubts about how Chazelle would pull off his lengthy, ambitious film – a story Pitt describes as “mayhem” and Robbie calls “insane”.

At a screening in Los Angeles, it is revealed that there was even a four-hour version, with Chazelle and his stars wistfully recounting all the elaborate scenes they shot that ended up on the cutting-room floor.

Says Pitt, who plays a silent-film star named Jack Conrad: “The script was 180 pages long and it’s hard enough to shoehorn 120 pages into a film.

“So my first question to Damien was, ‘What’s going to get cut?’ And he said, ‘Nothing. I’m going to pace this thing at a minute a page,’” recalls the 59-year-old American actor, who won an Oscar for another drama about Tinseltown history, Once Upon A Time In... Hollywood (2019).

“And it pretty much turned out that way, to Damien’s credit. I was surprised at how much stayed in the movie.”

Pitt says he had been itching to work with Chazelle since his breakout work Whiplash. And the film-maker’s reputation got a further boost in 2017, when he became the youngest person to win the Best Director Oscar for La La Land at age 32.

Then Pitt read the script for Babylon. “And – you saw it – it’s mayhem,” he says with a smile.

But the story is also “really well grounded” in the history of Hollywood’s silent era, he adds.

“I had kind of dismissed that era,” Pitt says. “I hadn’t really paid attention to it because it’s not an acting style I relate to and it’s not what we gravitate to now. It wasn’t until I saw some of the films, at Damien’s urging, that you find a real charm and warmth in them.”

Margot Robbie and Diego Calva in Babylon. PHOTO: UIP

Robbie had a similar reaction to the screenplay, which casts her as an aspiring actress named Nellie LaRoy – a character based on silent-film sex symbol Clara Bow.

Says the 32-year-old, who starred in the comedy The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013) and was Oscar-nominated for the biopic I, Tonya (2017): “I remember reading the script and being particularly terrified and excited by the whole thing.”

She wondered how she would pull off two especially wild scenes, one involving a rattlesnake and another, throwing up.

“You know when you read a script and even the night before (filming), you’re, like, ‘I don’t know what to do in this scene, it’s so insane.’”

Chazelle was also unlike any director she has worked with.

“I give it a lot on my first take, like, I go big,” Robbie says. “But Damien comes up to me after that first take and he’s, like, ‘Um, that was great, we just need way more.’

“And I was, like, ‘I don’t know if I have more.’”

But she rose to the occasion and, while it ended up being the “hardest I’ve ever worked on a film”, Robbie loves the fact that Chazelle demands so much.

“My favourite thing about him is that he expects so much from you as an actor,” she adds.

Babylon opens in cinemas on Thursday.

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