Academy Award-winner Brad Pitt stars as Jack Conrad, a silver screen icon navigating the tumultuous transformation of cinema in Paramount Pictures’ critically acclaimed epic, Babylon. A tale of outsized ambition and outrageous excess, the film traces the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood.
“Brad’s one of the few people today where you get some sense of what the old school movie star really might’ve been like,” says Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, First Man). “That sort of larger-than-life aura that a star of that time could exude seemingly effortlessly. That’s the thing with Brad, especially at this point in his career. You don’t see the work… it’s completely invisible and effortless. That’s part of what’s so magical about it.”
We first meet Jack Conrad (Pitt) when he arrives at the Wallach party with his soon-to-be ex-wife, Ina (Olivia Wilde). Jack evokes the likes of John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino, leading men of the silent movie era. When he makes his entrance at the party, Jack feels like the adult in the room, but it’s clear that he is ready to partake in the festivities if the right situation comes along.
“Jack is sort of the uber movie star,” says Chazelle. “He’s the highest grossing leading man in the world when we meet him. He’s one of those guys who has reached the apogee of stardom right at that moment, and the kind of hysterical love and admiration that he inspires, at a moment in time when the whole concept of movie stardom was still relatively new, is really hard for us today to fathom.”
In a throng of admirers, Jack knows just enough about everybody in the room to address them and make them feel special, even for a brief moment, without pausing for a beat on his way to the bar. Everyone wants a word with or a glance from the most famous man in the movies.
“Having him play a movie star of this era felt meta in the most beautiful way,” says Chazelle. “But it also gave us something to collaborate on together, because the story became a canvas that he could inform with his own experiences, so that you could see the humanity underneath — the vulnerability, the insecurity.”
To play a silent film star, Pitt also did his own research. “I went back and studied. I watched a lot of Gilbert, Fairbanks, and Valentino. There’s a real charm in those performances,” says Pitt. “Silent films didn’t have dialogue to rely on, they only had the occasional title card, so the performances have a style to them that’s different than what we have now.”