Babylon breakout star Diego Calva: ‘I owe this role to Margot Robbie. Something happened between us’
His smouldering looks enliven Damien Chazelle’s new Hollywood hedonism film, but life hasn’t always been easy. He talks about being catapulted into the big leagues – and leaving behind his struggles with depression
Damien Chazelle’s Babylon, a three-hour extravaganza about Hollywood hedonism in the silent era and beyond, could never be accused of subtlety. There is, though, a flash of understatement near the beginning of the film, when Nellie, a dizzy ingenue played by Margot Robbie, turns to Manny, the indefatigable studio dogsbody, and tells him: “You know, you’re not bad-looking.” Manny is played by the smouldering newcomer Diego Calva. How handsome is he? Put it this way: one smile from him, even on a fuzzy and faltering video call, and it is as if Ramon Novarro never existed.
The 30-year-old actor is under the weather today, but his whopping hazel eyes still gleam beneath their sleepy lids, and his voice sounds darting and musical, sandpaper-scratchy though it is. “I feel a little sick but we’re good to go,” he says through his sniffles. Calva was meant to be in Los Angeles but illness has kept him in his New York hotel room, where he squints into his webcam as we talk, and pads around restlessly in nothing but a pistachio-coloured sweater and his underwear. The impulse to hop on a flight to JFK bearing soup and a blanket is not an easy one to suppress.