Babylon star Diego Calva has said being a part of the film felt “completely metafictional”.
The 30-year-old Mexican actor plays elephant trainer turned Hollywood actor Manny Torres in the period comedy-drama, set in 1920s Los Angeles as voice and sound is introduced to film.
Speaking to the PA news agency on the red carpet at the film’s premiere in London, Calva said: “Even this moment, like everything in this movie with me has been completely meta fictional, but I guess that makes it more special, way more special.”
Babylon – which also stars Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Olivia Wilde – traces the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood.
The film’s director, Damien Chazelle, has said he wanted a very new actor to play the role and selected Calva, who is known for starring in crime drama television series Narcos: Mexico, for that reason.
Chazelle, 37, who previously directed Whiplash and La La Land, told PA he wanted his latest project to “dissolve boundaries between the old and the new”.
He said: “I think so much of, I was gonna say Hollywood history, but really history in general, is cyclical.
“And so I think, especially with this movie, I couldn’t help but be constantly reminded of the parallels to today.
“We also wanted it to not feel like a period movie or a history lesson. So we wanted the movie to have a kind of modern sensibility and feel like it bursts through the screen for audiences today.
“So that’s my hope, to dissolve those boundaries a little bit between the old and the new, while telling a story about how the old became the new, about this key transition time where I’d say the old Hollywood became the Hollywood that we know today.”
Chazelle, who had been working on the story for Babylon for more than a decade before filming began, added: “It’s been a long road, which makes it all the more gratifying and rewarding… It’s just a dream come true.”
Li Jun Li, who plays Lady Fay Zhu – inspired by the Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong, reflected on historical prejudice against Chinese actresses in Hollywood.
“We have made a lot of progress, but we’re not finished,” she told PA.
She added: “It’s not nearly as bad as it was. Obviously my character was based on Anna May Wong and in my research of her life from 100 years ago, it was heart breaking to hear what she had to go through.
“And we get little bits and pieces of it today, but I just keep hoping that films like this will move people so that they can empathise and make changes moving forward.”
Babylon is set to arrive in UK cinemas on January 20.