Damien Chazelle’s ‘Babylon’ is set in old Hollywood, when movies were still silent and the industry itself was rather chaotic and trying to find its footing. Even then, the magic of movies had already caught hold of people’s imagination, and many arrived in LA with the dream of becoming a movie star or being a part of the filmmaking business in some way. Manuel Torres also wants to work in films. He starts from the bottom, taking whatever role is given to him, and slowly works his way to becoming a movie executive. As we see him find success in Hollywood, we can’t help but wonder if a story like his could be true. Could Manny Torres have been a real person? Let’s find out.
Is Manuel “Manny” Torres Based on a Real Producer?
No, Manny Torres is not based on any particular movie producer. However, like most other characters in the movie, writer-director Damien Chazelle was inspired by several real-life people to concoct the character of Manny. In an interview with Roger Ebert, Chazelle revealed that he watched ‘The Parade’s Gone By’ and ‘Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film’, along with several interviews he read while researching for the film. This is where he found the pattern of people who found their break in the film industry from a very meager job and eventually rose to a prominent position.
“I started becoming aware that there was a lot of the same kind of stories being told. Basically, some version of “I was walking down the street and then someone yelled out, ‘Hey, you! Come help. And then they gave me a megaphone or they gave me this, and then before I knew it, I was on a film set and then a year later I was a director.” It was always this crazy happenstance sort of thing,” Chazelle said. This “in the right place at the right time” thing is what the director wanted for Manny’s character, which he believes could only be possible back in the 20s because the industry “was still somewhat a new unbridled art form and industry that hadn’t quite contained itself”.
While Chazelle didn’t point towards any particular person, there are several people who resemble one or the other aspect of Manny’s life. René Cardona, who went on to become a director, producer, and actor, among other things, seems to be one of the people who influenced Manny’s character. One can also compare him to Eddie Mannix, who worked for MGM and was involved in fixing things for the studio, much like Manny is asked to do for Kinescope. In the movie, Nellie LaRoy’s character is inspired by Clara Bow, who had an affair with Gilbert Roland. Their real-life relationship mirrors the bond forged between Nellie and Manny.
One can also find similarities between Manny and the Mexican-American actor, Ramon Novarro. To make things easier for himself, Manuel adopts the name “Manny”. Novarro too let go of his real name José Ramón Gil Samaniego, to make himself more accessible to the American audience. There is also a comparison between Manny and Dudley Murphy, an experimental director, who brought his expertise on board to help the studio sustain through a rather tough time.
While there are these filmmakers with whom we can compare Manny’s character and find similarities, actor Diego Calva revealed that he didn’t really have a reference point while preparing for the role. So, he tapped into his own experience as a Latinx actor to feel what Manny would have felt like trying to get his foot in the door so that he could become a part of Hollywood. “I (was drawn to Manny’s) love for movies and all the hustle he is doing to just be part of this idea of ‘There’s something bigger than life’. I really relate with that and also the idea of a Mexcian being successful during the ‘20s. When I was doing research, I didn’t find a name, so that was pretty exciting too,” Calva said.
The actor said that there were many scenes where a certain situation with Manny reminded him of an incident he’d been through himself. “I tried so many things before landing in acting, and these stories, you hear them and you think they are not true, but I was literally in Mexico City and two years later, I’m here,” he said. Considering all this, it is clear that Chazelle imbued Manny with the stories of real people and Calva enriched the character with his own experience to make Manny Torres realistic for the audience.
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