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How Margot Robbie's dreams of making it in Hollywood shaped her role in Babylon

In Margot Robbie's latest film Babylon, she plays Nellie — a dreamer trying to make it big in Hollywood. It's something the actor can relate to. 

"Nellie kind of bursts into Hollywood like, 'I'm a star. I'm gonna make it,"' Robbie told ABC News. 

"I don't have the kind of confidence that she has, I don't think. She's got a lot of bravado. But I definitely have the same kind of drive and ambition."

Robbie got her start on the Australian soap opera Neighbours. She now stars in some of the biggest films in Hollywood.

"I was like, 'I'm gonna make it. I don't care what anyone says, I will make them pay attention. I'm gonna get on a film set.'"

Co-star Diego Calva 'tried so many things before landing into acting'

Babylon — directed by Damien Chazelle and starring an ensemble cast including Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Li Jun Li and Diego Calva — chronicles a group of actors in the 1920s, right at the point filmmaking is transitioning to sound.

Diego Calva plays opposite Margo Robbie as Manuel, a Mexican immigrant who meets and becomes smitten with Nellie after he helps sneak her into a party.

Babylon is Calva's breakout English language film — he previously starred in Netflix's Narcos: Mexico.

"I tried so many things before landing into acting," Calva said.

"I worked in sound, I worked [being] the coffee guy, catering, construction.

"And then finally I went to college and in college, one day an actor didn't didn't show up, I was a boom operator, and that's how I landed here.

"So I guess it's the same as Manny, like luck and hard work at the same time."

Among the challenges for Calva on set were his scenes with long series of dialogue in English.

"Damien [Chazelle] gave me the most beautiful gift that is time," Calva said.

"I probably started working on the movie way before all the other actors.

"He literally paid for my English lessons, and I worked with a beautiful dialect coach."

Chaotic scenes

One of the early scenes opens on a chaotic Hollywood party — hundreds of partygoers, dancers, a jazz band, wild chickens, snakes, cocaine, alcohol, and an elephant.

"You can learn almost everything you need to know about a society by their parties," Chazelle said in the film's production notes.

"Within a Hollywood party, people can move up and people can move down in the blink of an eye."

Chazelle is known for directing 2016's La La Land, which received 14 Oscar nominations.

While the film features some explicit and over-the-top sequences, Robbie said there was one scene during filming that she remembers in particular.

"Li [Jun] Li and I were doing this driving scene and I found out in the middle of the take that Li Li can't drive manual — she can't do stick shift in this 100-year-old, obviously manual car.

"So I was literally out of the corner of my mouth teaching her how to change gears."

Hollywood has 'further to go'

The film touches on themes of identity, and features a culturally diverse cast whose lives intersect in chaotic, funny and sometimes tragic ways. 

Robbie said Lady Fay, played by Quantico's Li Jun Li, was largely based on Anna May Wong, an American silent-era film actress who is considered to be one of the first Chinese-American Hollywood stars.

Robbie said representation was an aspect Chazelle wanted to focus on.

"It was like there was opportunity, but only to an extent, you know?" she said.

"Anna May Wong had an incredible career, but she was completely put in a box at the same time.

"So I think that was important to Damien [Chazelle] to include. And it's definitely come a long way now, but we've got further to go."

Calva said Hollywood was becoming more diverse.

"For me, it's very easy. Like Manny has to lie that he's [not] Mexican, you know, he has to change his name from Manuel to Manny.

"And when asked, 'Are you Mexican?' He has to say, 'I'm from Spain'.

"I never have to do that."

Babylon opens in Australian cinemas on January 19.

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