Diego Calva’s Hollywood debut interview

Diego Calva starred alongside Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie in Damien Chazelle’s new feature film, Babylon, whose stellar performance earned the new actor a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical. The Mexican actor started his career back in his homeland, where he appeared in independent and critically acclaimed films such as Te Prometo Anarquía (Julio Hernández, 2015). Calva’s talent was recognized through a series of roles in local Netflix productions, which eventually led to him becoming a part of Narcos: Mexico cast.

In the country its role for BabylonCalva underwent a grueling process of casting and preparation led by Oscar-winning director, Damien Chazelle, who has previously produced critically acclaimed features such as La La Land and Neck snap. Chazelle mentioned that he was “really lucky to stumble upon Diego” as he believes the young actor is a “real movie star.” In fact, acting may be just one aspect of Calva’s passion for cinema – the actor has directed a few short films of his own during his time in college, where he studied filmmaking.

Diego Calva sat down with Hypebeast to talk about his experience arriving in Hollywood, working with some of the biggest names in the business, and his plans for the future.

How did you start your acting career and what kind of projects have you been involved in?

Te Prometo Anarquía was the first film I did in Mexico back in 2015. I did a couple more projects in Latin America and then I went to college to study filmmaking. Later, I was cast in several Netflix series, including Narcos: México. When we filmed NarcosI was called to audition for Damien Chazelle’s Babylon.

After working on Babylon for a year I went to Barcelona to work on the sequel to Bird box. This is where I am at the moment.

We saw a bunch of A-list celebrities Babylon’s supporter. What can you tell us about this new film?

Babylon is a star-studded film set in the 1920s. Many important people have parts and cameos in them. Even Spike Jones plays a character based on a director from that period. The premiere will take place in New York and LA on December 23.

How was your experience working in Babylon with Damien Chazelle?

The film had a lot of metafictional elements for me and I was living similar experiences at the same time as my character. I had just come to Hollywood to work on a huge set of A-listers. On my first day, Damien asked me to do the scene where my character discovers this world for the first time. The look you will see on my face is my natural reaction to what happened on set.

How would you describe your journey in landing this role?

It’s a little crazy. Damien had seen many actors from all over Latin America and he wasn’t sure about any of them. He saw a picture of me and asked his people to get in touch. I started sending them videos of me in scenes that weren’t even in the movie. Then he came back with Babylon’s Script attached.

When COVID-19 happened, I thought the project was over. So I took the script and started studying it for fun during lockdown. Finally, Damien called again and asked me to fly to LA. We ended up reading the entire script on camera, which he had sent to the studio to get approval for the lead role.

What was the preparation process like for this role?

For Babylon, I have never had the opportunity to prepare for a role in such a grueling way. I did not know how to ride a horse, nor was I familiar with weapons. Damien bet on me – he had me take lessons for over four months and I trained with the best dialect and acting coaches. This is not the norm, so I will always be grateful to Damien and Paramount for investing in me.

When a studio bets on you, they put all their chips on the table. There are a lot of responsibilities that come with this job alongside acting, so I’ll try to go with the flow and take things one day at a time.

We heard there was a funny story about you meeting Brad Pitt for the first time. Can you tell us what happened?

I first met Brad Pitt in LA when he was shooting a commercial that Damien directed and Babylon the crew also worked with. Damien wanted to start building the metafiction between us, made me pretend to pretend I was a production assistant. Brad had no idea that the guy who gave him water was also going to star in a movie with him. Of course he figured it out eventually, but we started bonding then and there.

Brad also taught me that actors should be curious, and you can’t be curious if you’re nervous. Being centered is what allows creativity to come out. It gives you the opportunity to explore things that maybe even the director himself wouldn’t have thought of.

Margot Robbie also stars in this film. What was it like working with her?

Working with Margot Robbie was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my career. She is so dedicated to her craft and during our first rehearsal together I felt a little out of shape. So she took me out of the room, looked me in the eye and told me I could trust her. It changed the whole dynamic between us and a level of vulnerability that I have never seen or experienced anywhere else.

What effect do you think Babylon will have on your career?

I believe this breakthrough will give me the opportunity to be more thoughtful about the career I want to build and the roles I want to accept. I want to continue working with directors who are eager to tell personal stories. In fact, Babylon has been in development for over 10 years. It was actually meant to be Damien’s debut, and those are the stories I want to tell.

Based on your experience, what is the biggest difference between Mexican film productions from the Hollywood industry?

I think all cinema can be equally good no matter where it is from in the world. Hollywood definitely has more tools at its disposal, but I think a good movie is a product of the work that goes into it. It starts with good stories, scripts and directors. Honestly, I was blindsided the first few days, but I got to work and everything else happened organically.

You studied filmmaking before. Do you have any plans to start directing in the future?

I have learned a lot from all these great directors. Each one of them has their own special techniques. Directing was my first approach to filmmaking, but now I also have acting experience under my belt. I would like to take the best from each of them and eventually create something of my own.

I want my first attempt at directing to be here, in Mexico. Right now I have no plans to move. Opportunities can come from anywhere in the world, so I would like to produce as much work as possible in Mexico and Latin America. I think we can all nurture our industry because we have so much talent here.

What are your thoughts on representing your own country and culture in this film?

I think it’s very positive that people can see themselves in you. Babylon puts a face on a character that didn’t have one before. He is Mexican, just like so many people who have worked in Hollywood since the beginning of the industry. There were always Hispanic people in Hollywood, but very few get to know more about their names and their stories. I hope others will realize that it is indeed possible to break into this world regardless of your origins.

Watch the latest trailer for Damien Chazelle’s Babylon here.

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