Meet the breakout star of the La La Land director’s latest film
How did he become interested in acting?
Growing up in Mexico City, Diego Calva would wear out his family’s VHS tapes of Disney films. “I think that was my first interaction with movies,” he says. “My mother had to work all day, so I stayed home and learned how to rewind and play the VHS.” A favorite was Peter and the Wolf. “The wolf got me super-scared every time, and I remember falling in love with that feeling, that sensation of being scared by the screen. I think that’s why I fell in love with movies.” That love eventually led him to study filmmaking at Mexico’s Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica.
How did he get his start?
At film school, Calva initially gravitated toward being behind the camera, but one day, he recalls, “an actor didn’t show up for a friend’s short film, so I did that part, and then a lot of my classmates started asking me to be in their short films too.” Those experiences—along with his skateboarding skills—led to director Julio Hernández Cordón casting him as the lead in Te Prometo Anarquía (I Promise You Anarchy). That movie’s success took him to film festivals all over the world. “I realized, Hey, maybe this is my way into the industry. Let’s pause for a moment on the directing stuff, and let’s act.”
Which character does Calva play in Babylon?
Calva is now starring in Damien Chazelle’s Golden Age Hollywood epic Babylon, a much-buzzed-about Oscar contender that also features Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Olivia Wilde, and Tobey Maguire. A chemistry test with Robbie that had the La La Land director seeing “fireworks” won Calva the part of Manny Torres, an ambitious newcomer attempting to break into 1920s Hollywood—an arc that resonated with Calva. “I related a lot,” he says. “I was searching for my way in. I worked as a boom operator, catering, set dressing, and Manny’s the same. It’s pretty metafictional for me.”
Calva, who appeared in Netflix’s Narcos: Mexico in 2020, aspires to help bring more Mexican stories to the screen. “When [Netflix] opened the Latin American offices and started to make content with our stories and Mexican actors, it was a very important moment,” he says. His upcoming Apple TV+ medical drama series, Midnight Family, is another step in the right direction. “I’m pretty proud of it, because it’s the first Apple show shot in Mexico, with Mexican crew and actors, completely in Spanish,” he explains. “You don’t need to make a Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt movie [now] to be seen anywhere in the world.”