Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie said Hollywood has largely kicked its former drug-filled excesses, as their new film “Babylon” about 1920s Tinseltown hedonism entered the Oscars race.
The eagerly awaited Paramount movie from “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle, also starring Tobey Maguire and Jean Smart, had its first screening for critics late Monday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles.
It charts the fortunes of largely fictional Hollywood actors and producers trying to navigate the transition from silent movies to “talkies” — as well as a lifestyle of cocaine-fueled, no-holds-barred parties and wild on-set misbehavior, all depicted in graphic detail.
Asked at a post-screening discussion if “Babylon” had made her nostalgic for the movie industry’s so-called “Golden Age,” Robbie noted that “there’s way less drugs now” in Hollywood.
“Sadly true!” joked Pitt.
The movie from Chazelle, who won a youngest-ever best director Oscar for “La La Land” and was also nominated for the screenplay of “Whiplash,” is one of the final major award contenders to be shown to voters this year. Reviews remain under embargo.
Across three hours, “Babylon” portrays a nascent 1920s and 1930s Los Angeles filled with wild parties featuring drugs, elephants and topless dancers, along with spendthrift, lawless film sets in the California desert.
It also tackles topics such as racism, and the devastating effect that rapidly evolving technology had on stars of the silent era, many of whom were abandoned almost overnight by the industry.
Chazelle said he was inspired to make the film after reading about the “weird phenomenon where towards the end of the 20s, there was this rash of suicides, deaths that seem that they could have been suicidal drug overdoses.”
Those deaths coincided with Hollywood’s transition from silent movies to sound, and “gave it this brutal face,” said Chazelle, who based his characters on multiple real silent-era stars and moguls.
Pitt said he and Chazelle had discussed a period of history when Hollywood was “the wild, wild west.”
“I had kind of dismissed that era — hadn’t really paid attention to it — because it’s not an acting style I relate to. It’s not what we gravitate to now. It’s very big,” he said.
“They had to communicate because they don’t have language, of course.
“They had to communicate with the face… it wasn’t until I sat down and saw some of the films at Damien’s urging that you find a real charm in them, and a warmth in them.”
“Babylon” is released in North American theaters December 23, and elsewhere next year.