/Film Interview: Michael Cera And Sebastian Silva Talk 'Crystal Fairy'

Is Sebastian Silva's Crystal Fairy a drug film? A road trip film, or a comedy? Maybe a drama, or an experimental film? In fact, the movie is all of those things. Filmed on a shoestring budget while waiting to make another movie called Magic Magic, Crystal Fairy stars Michael Cera as Jamie, an American traveling in Chile hoping to trip on the psychedelic chemical in the San Pedro cactus. Along the way he picks up a crazy American girl named Crystal (Gaby Hoffman) and with three brothers in tow they all go on a very awkward journey of discovery. Basically, it's a film that defies any real classification beyond "captivating."

That nature is why I was so excited to talk at length with the writer/director and star of the film. We spoke to Cera and Silva about the film and talked about its eccentricities, its different tones, strong female representation, and the idea of Cera playing a total ass. (OK, we touched on Arrested Development, too.)

The film is now playing in select cities and on-demand. Read our interview below.

Note: There are some spoilers in here. They're clearly marked.

/Film: What I really like about this movie is the tonal shifts. It can be really funny one moment and uncomfortable and serious the next. How do you guys go about making sure that works in a movie? It can be so unsettling.

Sebastian Silva: I mean there is really no formula to it other than just keeping it as honest as possible. I mean if you believe in your characters and they're not just an artifice, any situation that you put them through, be it a little bit ridiculous, humiliating, funny, or very earnest, it's going to come out naturally like that.

Michael Cera: Life is kind of like that.

Silva: Yeah, life is like that. We could be making fun now and then my mom could call me crying because of something and then I'm like "No, Michael wait..." Life shifts just like that all the time, so that would be my answer, to keep it really, really honest.

Cera: Yeah, and what you said about it potentially being unsettling, that kind of jarring ever changing nature of the film is what's fun about it. I think that's part of the ride of it, you're not quite sure where it's going or where you're supposed to be at with it. That's the joy of it, I think.

The movie has a very simple narrative. Jaime wants to take his friends to do drugs and you introduce them to Crystal. Usually actors or directors have a narrative to grasp on to, like "I know I have this arc where we have to go from point A to point B." Here's its not necessarily like that. So what is that like when you don't have the narrative to work with and it's really just the character arc that's driving the film?

Cera: Yeah, but I mean I think that's... That, to me, is a very classic story. I was always thinking of it as an arc in terms of the context and where the characters were at and where their dynamics were at and how it was shifting. I did think of that as the ride of the movie and basically that's the story.

Silva: I don't see why there's no narrative arc within the psychology of the characters. I feel that that's where the narrative of this movie sort of lives, like maybe yeah it's A to B, because it's a road trip and most road trips are like that, but the movies that I like personally are not as eventful as whatever Hollywood movies are where they like steal a car, then the car explodes, then they need to run, they jump on a horse, then they get sucked in by a galactic portal....

That sounds like a good movie by the way. [Everyone Laughs]

Silva: But then you would say that there's so much going on, the narrative is so rich, but if your characters are not really growing on that crazy narrative journey, then the movie is shit, which is most of the Hollywood movies.

Cera: That's true, that's where it feels really thin.

[SPOILER START] Silva: Yeah, an extremely eventful movie with no real narrative arc, because a narrative arc of Crystal Fairy is really within the characters. Like Michael goes from selfishness to compassion. That's a huge change. It's a huge arc and Gaby goes from Crystal Fairy to Isabelle. It's big. It's big for our characters. [SPOILER END] There is a narrative arc, but it's within the characters.

Michael, your character here is quite different from what audiences are used to seeing you play. Is that why you wanted to explore a character like this with Sebastian? As I watched the movie a second time I found myself writing down adjectives and it's impossible to really define him as one person. He's a total dick. He's all over the map.

Cera: [He's] pathetic...

Yeah, everything. There's a long list of terms to describe him.

Silva: He's sweet.

Cera: Yeah, there's a moment where he's kind of funny and actually enjoying himself, which is one moment when they are playing "Would you rather?" He actually laughs, so he's having fun, but it's the only time you see that, otherwise he is really freaked out.

You always think he's going somewhere mean though...

Cera: Oh, of course. (Laughs) But I think that's pretty honest. I think there are people like that that are burdened by their own shit. The impetus to do the movie was really to work with Sebastian and I knew I liked the kind of stories he tells with characters. All of that stuff just sounded like a lot of fun to play. I love that the crux of the movie, basically the conflict is he invites this woman and then he hates that she is coming. He hates that she accepts his invitation. It's so unfair. I mean that right there is a great character.

Silva: It's so unfair, but yet it's so relatable. He invited her and then is like "Who cares..."

You could argue that Jaime here is a step towards to the "Michael Cera" of This Is The End — that character is almost the uber-Jaime. Did you think about that, that when the movies were going to come out that the two characters were kind of similar?

Cera: I wasn't thinking about that. That was just my friends invited me to do that and it was he craziest asshole you can imagine, this guy doing blow and getting blown in the bathroom.

Silva: I want to see that. Is it out?

Cera: Yeah, it's out.

Silva: Fun, man.

Cera: Go while Crystal Fairy is screening [at Los Angeles Film Festival] tonight.

While at Sundance I missed Magic Magic so I haven't seen it, but I did notice that this and Magic Magic both have a strong female character at the center, with Gaby here and Juno [Temple] in Magic Magic. When you were developing the movies, was that something you really wanted to explore, the strong female character?

Silva: It's something that I guess I'm good at. Like if you see any of my movies, The Maid is a female character, Old Cats there's like two female characters, The Boring Life of Jacqueline, which is an HBO thing that I do, is also a female character. I guess I just have the sensibility to write for a woman. I guess Magic Magic is a girl... Like I remember my playwright friend in New York was like "Come on, just make her a man. Just transform your entire movie and make her a man."

Cera: Why?

Silva: I don't know, because he felt that I was not exploring men enough and it was more interesting that I would see that weakness in a man. But then it's sort of like for Magic Magic she's having early schizophrenia, and a young women triggers schizophrenia at that age, like early twenties, and men don't. Men, I think, have that later in their late to mid-thirties, so it was also like a clinical thing with why I decided to make her a woman. I guess that's the answer. And then Crystal Fairy, I don't know if you know, but it's something that really happened. Twelve years ago I went with my buddy to take mezcoline and we invited a woman that went by the name of "Crystal Fairy" and the story just came with a woman.

Cera: It'd be interesting if Crystal Fairy was the guy.

Not knowing that, I saw Crystal Fairy and Jaime as a ying and a yang where he's really high strung and she's really laid back. Is that a dynamic that you guys were honed in on or did that happen in the characters?

Cera: Yeah, but with Crystal Fairy I think it's all such a put on. I mean I think they are actually very similar.

[SPOILER START] Silva: Yeah, they are similar. I don't feel that she's actually that laid back. She is so conflicted with herself, like when she's in the grocery store and she's like "Don't buy sugar. What are you doing?" She has this whole premade speech and then you see her gulping on a Coca Cola bottle. She doesn't know what she's doing. She's really not chill and she's going by this name and she finally reveals that she was raped and then after she tries to bring that bunny back to life and she is completely frustrated by her.... Yeah, this fantasy life that she's been trying to lead and then she knows the bunny is not coming back to life, so what is she doing? She is so frustrated and then after that I feel that she becomes Isabelle. [SPOILER END]

Cera: Yeah, they are both escaping themselves through different means basically.

You said you had real life inspiration, but when you're making a movie of it, do you have like road trip movies or drug movies in mind? It's a cool genre with great movies in there.

Silva: Not myself. It was a road trip, but it was an esoteric comedy to me. I don't know what it was. I really try not to define my movies into a genre. Whenever someone tells me "Let's go see this great comedy," I'm like "I already know I'm not going to be laughing, just because I know by the genre they are trying to make me laugh," so it just makes me really self conscious that every word that comes out of anybody's mouth is just for me to laugh. It just puts me off and I don't laugh.

That was one thing, like I almost felt bad laughing at Jaime being an ass.

Silva: Wait until you see Magic Magic. Then you're going to feel real bad. It makes you laugh. I really don't like genre movies, man. Very recently I feel like it's a premade...

Cera: Limiting...

Silva: Yeah, it's so limiting.

Cera: It does feel like the impetus to do a genre movie is to make it really consumable or easy to understand for people, but otherwise I think if people are really doing expressions of something that's really authentic to themselves, it'd be hard to pigeonhole it like that.

Silva: And how could you not enjoy a little bit of drama and a little bit of comedy within an hour and a half? It's so much richer, the experience. I would feel dumb laughing for an hour and a half.

Maybe you shouldn't see This Is The End. [Everyone Laughs]

Silva: Especially if you make that face, you'll feel so dumb.

This is such a beautiful movie, since you shot on all of these great locations. Did the script dictate location or vice versa? It felt so organic.

Silva: I agree. We went...

Cera: It's kind of where it happened for you.

Silva: Yeah, it's actually where it happened for real. That little town... then that national park... that's where it all actually happened. We improvised, like one location I think is where the guys stop to get the empanadas. Do you remember? Where you received the first phone call? That's the only place that was not in the shooting schedule and it was a place that we hadn't visited before and it worked great. So to answer your question, we knew where we were going to shoot. The screenplay determined the locations we were going to go to, but that one was the country. That was the exception to the rule. Photography-wise, we were following the characters. Photography was determined by the movement of the characters, like there was no pretentious...

Cera: You didn't have any shots in your head.

Silva: No, not at all.

Michael, what do you feel about your two Chilean movies? What did the experience teach you as an actor?

Cera: I don't know. That'd be hard to crystalize, but it was an amazing experience for me and a real gift. It was so nice to get to spend time in a new place and I've never experienced that, being a foreigner, showing up somewhere, trying to speak their language and sounding like a caveman and just being a total asshole for the first few months. It's a really humbling position to put yourself in. You really break down your personality and you're very basic. You are really... You need a lot of help and that was nice. That was a nice life experience and getting to live with Sebastian's family was an unbelievable experience in my life.

Did people recognize you in Chile?

Cera: Yeah, a little bit walking around Santiago.

Are you going to work together again, maybe forge another Scorsese-De Niro type thing? Become the famous Silva-Cera partnership?

Cera: That's the idea, right? (Laughs)

Silva: Yeah, I think so. I mean we are really good friends and Michael is planning on moving maybe to New York? So I'm there and he's already helped me a lot with a screenplay called Captain God that I'm trying to pursue. It's a bigger movie, but yeah we will keep on collaborating.

Cera: Unless something happens. Unless some crazy shit goes down. You never know.

I watched Arrested Development, all of season four in like a day.

Cera: Oh, wow.

I really, really enjoyed it.

Cera: Even doing it like that.

Totally. What was it like breaking that complicated story down? Not even as George Michael, but as a producer and a writer too?

Cera: It was just as confusing as it was watching it. Basically at any given moment, Mitch Hurwitz was the only person who had any answers to any chronological confusion. That was really a major challenge for everyone else and a lot of the times Mitch wasn't in the room, he would be on set directing. There was this writer's assistant who sat in the corner, she was the only [other] one who knew everything, so we'd be pitching a story idea and work on it for like ten minutes and then she'd be like "Actually, you can't do that, because Lucille is in the desert when that happens and it wouldn't make sense." It was a rubix cube, but really fun.

Well I hope we get to see more of that and you guys soon. Thank you so much.

Crystal Fairy opens July 12 in select cities and on-demand. Get more info here.