Diego Calva: ‘It’s important for me to be proud of my roots’

Spotlight: Diego Calva | Soho House

The Golden Globe-nominated breakout star of Damien Chazelle’s ‘Babylon’ on his Hollywood rise and Soho House coming to his hometown, Mexico City

Thursday 19 January 2023   By Soho House

Babylon’s Diego Calva has a lot in common with his on-screen counterpart, Manny Torres. The Mexican actor – who stars in Damien Chazelle’s dizzying ode to Hollywood’s golden era, alongside heavyweights Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie – has spent most of his life mastering the art of filmmaking, both in front of and behind the camera. 

Born and raised in Mexico City, home to our first Soho House in Latin America, opening this spring, Calva started working on production sets at the age of 13, climbing his way up from various jobs as a construction and logistics runner, to becoming a nationwide heartthrob thanks to a slew of roles in Mexican indie films and TV shows: most notably his appearance in the third and final season of Netflix’s Narcos: Mexico, in which he played drug trafficker Arturo Beltrán. 

Still, his first day on a big budget Hollywood set was the same day as Babylon’s Manny. When we’re introduced to Manny, he’s a dogsbody for a silent movies studio, running outrageous errands (one of which results in him being defecated on by an elephant) but soon makes his way to the top as the studio’s chief producer, leading the charge as the film industry evolves into the era of sound cinema in the late 1920s. ‘We have a lot in common, myself and Manny,’ says Calva. ‘Babylon is the first American movie I have ever been involved in, and although the story is fictional, it felt real to me because my journey is so similar to my character’s. Being on set with Brad and Damien, having around 800 people as extras and being around all these big film toys was surreal – it’s not something I had ever experienced in my career in Mexico.’ 

Spotlight: Diego Calva | Soho House

Calva first auditioned for the role in early 2020, right before the pandemic hit and pressed pause in pre-production for the movie. ‘I had been sending in clips and auditioning, but as soon as we went into lockdown, I stopped hearing from Damien and everyone for around three months. I was convinced that they had cast someone else for the role.’ He eventually received a call from Chazelle, asking him to do a chemistry read with Margot Robbie, who plays silent movie starlet Nellie LaRoy. ‘At that point, I had already memorised the entire script, because I had spent months reading it. So, when I first met Margot in Damien’s backyard and we did the chemistry read, he told me immediately after that he saw fireworks between us and that the role was mine,’ he tells me – though if you’ve seen the film, you won’t have to be told.

Manny and Nellie’s love story is a rollercoaster that sees them straddling the line between friendship, romance and a dramatic desire to chase a shared dream. ‘Working with Margot changed everything for me,’ says Calva. ‘I never actually studied acting, so I haven’t always felt fully comfortable calling myself an actor – but after working with Margot, I feel 100% confident claiming that I am because I learnt so much from her. She’s incredible – my challenge every day was trying to match up to her level. It’s the best kind of training you can get to work alongside someone so good. She made me feel so secure, and when you feel like that you can perform the best.’ 

Spotlight: Diego Calva | Soho House

This spring, we’ll be opening the doors to Soho House Mexico City – one of our biggest new openings of the year and one Calva is particularly excited to see. ‘I heard that Soho House is opening in Mexico City – it’s amazing. I’m definitely going to become a local member. There is such a huge creative community there. Mexico City is my home, my childhood is there and I spent most of my life there. Right now, it’s changing, but for the better. Every time I go back there’s something new and exciting. It’s definitely a cultural hotspot at the moment and Soho House will create even more of that.’ 

Earlier this month, Calva was in the running for a Golden Globe, landing his first nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy. Daniel Craig, Adam Driver, Ralph Fiennes and the eventual winner Colin Farrell were his peers in the category. It’s clear that his trajectory is a bright one, but what have the past two years in Hollywood taught him about the business? ‘Well, I’ve learnt a lot from Manny – like don’t fall in love with an actress,’ he says, laughing. ‘But the main thing is to never betray yourself. That’s a big one for me. I never have to fake that I’m not Mexican, like a lot of Mexican filmmakers and actors had to in the 1920s to be accepted, so it’s very important for me to be myself and to be proud.’

Spotlight: Diego Calva | Soho House

‘Babylon’ is now showing at our Houses around the world. Check our screening schedule for dates and book your tickets.