Damien Chazelle's 1920s-set epic Babylon might not strictly be based on true events – but the writer/director very much leant on real history when crafting his latest film.


Many of the fictional characters who appear throughout the three-hour runtime are loosely based on prominent figures from Hollywood's Golden Age, and that includes Jean Smart's gossip columnist Elinor St John, whom Chazelle says is "modelled on a variety of writers and columnists".

Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com ahead of the film's UK release, Smart explained how there was one person in particular who she researched while she was preparing for the role.

"There's one girl, Elinor Glyn, who was a British screenwriter who came to Hollywood in the '20s," she said. "And she also was a novelist – she is credited with coming up with the phrase It Girl and sort of helping Clara Bow become a star, and she even wrote one of the screenplays that Clara Bow did."

Smart continued: "She also wrote a novel called Three Weeks, which was considered sort of the '20s version of 50 Shades of Grey. So she was also a rather unconventional person, but was attracted to what was going on out here and moved to Hollywood.

"And I think for all of her seeming to be kind of an objective observer, you see towards the end that she's also caught up in the magic of filmmaking and how it makes people literally immortal."

Babylon portrays a world that was characterised by outrageous excess, and Smart said that her immediate reaction on reading Chazelle's script was to ask if the period was "really that insane".

"I think what we see is based on reality, but when you put it all together in a film it's overwhelming," she explained. "So I mean, it's not as if those parties were your average day in Hollywood and things like that, but I just think the sort of freewheeling, no holds barred feeling is exactly what fuelled the industry.

More like this

"I mean, it is what attracted certain kinds of people. This idea, this new technology of making movies attracted people who were probably kind of outside the system, outside the norm."

Babylon is now showing in UK cinemas. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


Try Radio Times magazine today and get 12 issues for only £1 with delivery to your home subscribe now. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times View From My Sofa podcast.