Listen Closely For Damien Chazelle's Voice Cameos In Babylon

This post contains mild spoilers for "Babylon."

Damien Chazelle's "Babylon," an exciting, raunchy, expressionistic tale of debauchery in late '20s Hollywood, is currently — and quite unfortunately — bombing at the box office. This is a pity, as large-scale, R-rated Hollywood art epics are rare animals in the film marketplace of 2022, and audiences might find something striking and fun and even a little bit naughty at their local multiplex. "Babylon" tells the tale of three hopefuls, each trying to break into, or break back into, the film industry during its wild, lawless days. There is the film's Dickensian narrator Manuel (Diego Calva) who aims to work in a technical capacity. There is the ambitious would-be actress Nellie (Margot Robbie), a wild ball of madness who fights a snake. And, on the way down, is Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) a man whose career will definitely not recover from its current doldrums. 

As the film progresses, Nellie proves herself quite adept at screen acting, and plenty capable of producing an exact number of tears for a take. She will enjoy a very fast and only briefly sustained stint at the top before she becomes subject to attacks of gossip and hearsay. This will climax at a fancy party wherein Nellie, tired of the town's ultra-rich snobs mocking her, vomits directly and copiously onto the host. "Babylon" is pretty wild. 

Throughout "Babylon," Nellie is mocked by a litany of off-screen voices, adding to the swirling nightmare quality of the movie. In a 2022 interview with EW, Chazelle and his cast revealed that, after some encouragement from Pitt (who was also the film's producer), he himself played the nightmare voices. 

The mocking voice of Damien Chazelle

Damien Chazelle didn't necessarily want to have his voice heard in "Babylon," but it was almost everywhere. In the EW interview, Diego Calva revealed that every voice sample of mocking laughter was indeed the film's director. There is also a scene partway through the film wherein Nellie is hiding in a bathroom, and some of the high-class Hollywood partygoers are trash-talking her. Those segments, Brad Pitt revealed were also Chazelle, improvising cruel words. 

The director fully intended to have his own voice replaced by that of a professional actor, but it was Pitt who insisted otherwise. "I actually fought to keep Damien outside the bathroom talking s*** about [Nellie]," he said. "It's so spot on." 

Chazelle's voice cameo is in keeping with a long tradition of directors appearing in their own films in non-visible capacities. John Waters played the voice of Ted Bundy, heard on an audio cassette, in his film "Serial Mom." Both Dario Argento and Quentin Tarantino have played the hands of stranglers and killers in their movies, even while other actors played the killers on camera. Peter Jackson did appear on camera in his film "The Frighteners," albeit in heavy punk makeup, and may not be recognizable. Oliver Stone played a voice in "Nixon," M. Night Shyamalan played a telephone voice in "The Happening," Stanley Kubrick's voice is hiding somewhere in "Full Metal Jacket," Eli Roth played his own severed head in the film "Hostel," and, of course, John Huston's face isn't quite so clearly scene when he hands out a few dollars to Humphrey Bogart in "Treasure of the Sierra Madre."

Chazelle is in good company.