Diego Calva Prepared For Babylon By Pretending To Be Brad Pitt's Assistant

Damien Chazelle's "Babylon" may not have had the best of luck at the box office, but that doesn't necessarily speak to the quality of the movie. The film is a sweeping and bold epic that revels in the chaotic nature of the period in which it's set while also having themes focused on, as Robert Daniels wrote for /Film, "the fight between identity and assimilation." Just as Chazelle put his fascination and love for old Hollywood into the work, the actors he cast for the ensemble were sure to find interesting ways to get into the mindset of their characters. In the case of Diego Calva, who played the role of Manuel "Manny" Torres in the film, Chazelle found a way to get Calva to basically live out the role he would play in the movie.

In "Babylon," Manny is a Mexican immigrant who works odd jobs in Los Angeles and aspires to become a filmmaker. Manny works some thankless gigs early in the film, as the character soon finds the right connections that get him into the industry he admires. Eventually, Manny finds himself working as an assistant for Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), a famous silent film star who's time in the spotlight may be coming to an end. To prepare for that dynamic, Chazelle brought Calva on the set of another project with Brad Pitt — under the guise of a production assistant.

Life imitates art

In an interview on the Kelly Clarkson Show, Diego Calva talked about the preparation to play his character and an amusing story that involved Damien Chazelle inviting him to another project before "Babylon" started production. The director took the idea that "life imitates art" quite literally, as Calva recounted how he first met Brad Pitt under the meta circumstances orchestrated by Chazelle:

"Damien [Chazelle] took care, at least with my character and with me, to try, like, weird situations. So I was in Mexico City, and Damien called me, and he said, 'Diego, I'm going to direct this commercial. Brad is the lead of the commercial. I think it's a good idea if you come to Los Angeles and meet him.'[...] So I flew to Los Angeles, and right before we started shooting the commercial, Damien told me he wanted me to pretend that I was his assistant or a PA on the commercial."

Calva took the task in stride and was more than willing to step into his character's shoes in real life. The best part of this story is how the actor went seemingly undetected by his co-star Brad Pitt, whom he hadn't met until that point. Calva described his day on set and how he hilariously tried to be of assistance to his soon-to-be co-star:

"So I worked for one day, I had, like, my backpack full of Coca-Colas, and I was literally giving Coca-Colas to everyone and [saying], 'Hey Mr. Brad Pitt, you need something, like a coffee or anything? I can help you.'"

The jig is up

As Diego Calva explained in the interview, the crew for the commercial Chazelle was shooting largely overlapped with the production of "Babylon." Eventually, it was Mary Zophres, the costume designer for "Babylon," that would expose Calva and leave Brad Pitt confused about the entire situation:

"She [Mary Zophres] came to Brad [Pitt] and said, like, 'Hey Brad, have you met Diego? He's going to play Manuel in Babylon.' And Brad just turned to Damien [Chazelle] and to see me, and he said, like, somebody had to explain. 'Damien, what's going on?' It's a very, very funny way to meet Brad Pitt, actually. In this case, I think the shock was on his side, not mine."

Calva and Pitt would end up having a lovely dynamic in the film, with their characters' arcs crossing with each other in opposite directions. Where Manny Torres adapted and rose to success in the changing Hollywood landscape, Jack Conrad would stumble and fade into irrelevance. The two actors play a critical role in the epic and chaotic ensemble, and their early dynamic in the movie as a hot shot actor and his do-it-all assistant was likely aided by the odd time Calva pretended to be a production assistant.