Margot Robbie Will Play Hollywood’s First It Girl in Damien Chazelle’s ‘Babylon’

Margot Robbie may be gearing up to be a Barbie girl in a Barbie world for Greta Gerwig’s fuchsia-toned Mattel biopic in 2023, but the picture most likely to scoop her an Oscar nod next year is her turn in Damien Chazelle’s Babylon. After paying homage to classic Hollywood musicals with 2016’s La La Land, the 37-year-old director will celebrate an earlier period of Tinseltown’s history in his forthcoming drama: the transition from silent films to “talkies.”

Predictably, Chazelle’s ensemble cast for the project is on a par with Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up. Brad Pitt, who previously worked with Robbie on Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, will star as one of the industry’s first male pin-ups, John Gilbert, an MGM legend who reportedly got into fistfights with Louis B. Mayer on the lot and carried on a tumultuous romance with Greta Garbo after meeting her on the set of Flesh and the Devil (1926). With the advent of sound, though, Gilbert’s career faltered; critics roundly mocked his voice, and his name faded from history after he died of a heart attack aged just 38. Tobey Maguire, meanwhile, will play a more enduring Hollywood legend—Charlie Chaplin—with Spike Jonze, Jean Smart, Samara Weaving, and Olivia Wilde all appearing in yet-to-be-revealed roles.

From a fashion perspective, it’s Robbie’s turn as Clara Bow that’s set to rival Carey Mulligan’s Daisy Buchanan for pure ’20s glamour. Often described as Hollywood’s first It girl, Bow dropped out of school in a poverty-stricken area of Brooklyn in order to be a movie star, ultimately signing a contract with Paramount, where she became box-office catnip. On a personal level, she became notorious for her directness, various tabloid scandals, and chronic inability to fit in with her peers; “I’m a curiosity in Hollywood,” she once said. “I’m a big freak, because I’m myself!” In the first Babylon footage shown at CinemaCon in Las Vegas on April 28, Robbie’s Bow is seen filming a gladiator epic in the desert before declaring languorously: “You don’t become a star. You either are one… or you ain’t.” Like Gilbert, though, Bow struggled to maintain the same level of fame when the talkies became de rigueur—with her name forever associated with Singin’ in the Rain’s nasal, air-headed flapper Lina Lamont, a biting parody of Bow. With Babylon only due out in cinemas on January 6, 2023, there’s plenty of time to help reclaim her legacy by watching Bow at the height of her powers; start with her masterpiece, It (1927), before working your way through Mantrap (1926) and Wings (1927). 

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