Michael Cera plays selfish American Jamie in Crystal Fairy, a road trip movie about his character's pursuit to have a drug experience in Chile with a San Pedro cactus, which offers mescaline when properly prepared. In this story written and directed by Sebastián Silva, Cera is joined by Silva's brothers, but also Gaby Hoffmann, a free-spirited young woman who teaches Jamie an unexpected lesson in the importance of compassion. Silva is previously known for directing The Maid, a dark comedy set in Chile. Along with Crystal Fairy, Silva directed Magic Magic also with Cera, which is set to be released on VOD in the near future.
In an exclusive phone interview, I talked to Silva about his film, the non-reinvention of Michael Cera, the difference of American audiences' film interpretations compared to other countries, Crystal Fairy's evil film twin, and more.
Crystal Fairy opens in Chicago on July 19.
Do you think foreigners have a responsibility to understand or actively respect a country's culture when they visit?
I don't feel that these people are being disrespectful at all. I think he's being friendly. He invited a couple of transvestites to his place, and I like the fact that he is also into taking this very specific Chilean preparation to ingest mescaline. Of the awful people that go out to tour foreign countries, Jamie is a good one. I believe he is not looking for the Hard Rock Cafe to get wasted.
He doesn't seem interested in learning anything about his culture. He makes his other road trip mates work for him in some regard.
He is lazy, but I think that has to do with the fact that he is just selfish, as opposed to him being from America. He would be selfish American, not an American-selfish. He is selfish before he is from America. When we were shooting, I didn't even think about the fact that Jamie was American, but I do understand the social context that is intrinsic to the story, and that a lot of people have brought up that Gaby and Michael are playing obnoxious foreigners.
Do you see any strong difference between how American reviewers and Q&A people have responded to this film opposed to other countries?
I haven't really shown this movie anywhere else; so far I only have American audiences. With Magic Magic which is a huge difference, Variety had a very clever review, but a lot of other publications tend to compare the two between Magic Magic, and make one weigh more than the other. It just felt really strange. Even Sony thought that the movie was hard to understand and hard to market and decided to go straight to VOD, and was a huge letdown for me. Then when we took the movie to Cannes, where the audience really responded completely differently, and they were much more aware of the nuances, and got everything from the characters. The French really loved and praised the movie. But Crystal Fairy has only been shown and reviewed by Americans, and it has really been positive. I don't think they have misunderstood it at all.
So originally 'Magic Magic' was intended to be front runner of the two?
Yeah, absolutely. Michael was in Chile learning Spanish for Magic Magic for 3 months, and then I told him we should make Crystal Fairy in the meantime, and then we made Crystal Fairy in twelve days. And then when we heard they got the money for Magic Magic, we made the movies back to back.
Is 'Crystal Fairy' inspired by a specific lesson or mindset you wanted to instill in people about judging others, or art?
Yeah, absolutely. Not only the fact that I wanted to share when I saw the birth of compassion within myself, I think that was a really beautiful experience to really see the person behind Crystal Fairy, and it was really shocking in a way. It made me realize that she was a person and not a caricature of a person, and I wanted to share that. But it was also the element that came with that, the factors with the road trip and the mescaline and the retrieval of the cactus and the ocean and all of it.
Are you saying that you knew someone like Crystal Fairy in real life?
The movie was inspired by real events. I actually knew a woman who was named Crystal Fairy from San Francisco at a Wailers concert in Chile. Me and my friends were going out to the ocean to do mescaline and I invited her to come with us. We really had these experiences. I was never as judgmental and confrontational as Jamie is to the film's Crystal Fairy, but nevertheless she sort of disarmed her mask of that Fairy and became a real woman with a very sad story to share. And it was great to see that, that there was someone there for real.
Have you been in contact with this person since?
I wish, man. I remember trying to find her. Immediately after she left I didn't have her email or number, maybe I had it but I lost it on our way back to Santiago. When we made this movie I tried to reach out to her. I don't know where she is. When we did San Francisco [for the tour] we said, "Crystal, wherever you are ... !"
How many takes did Gaby's climactic speech take?
[Laughs] Not that many. It was such a tiny production that we were running out of firewood, and we had no artificial lighting at all. We just needed to rush it. We had dinner before we shot that scene, and she had a bottle of wine to herself. I think that also helped her tap into some emotions or memories which brought out the snot and tears.
How many Michael Cera films do you think you have seen?
I have seen only Juno. I tried to watch other movies, and I told Michael this, that I wasn't a big fan of his movies. They're just not my taste, I don't think they are bad or anything. I thought he was good, but he had always played the same kind of character. But when I met him in LA, it was not a plan to break the mold of how he is typecast or anything like that. I met him and his sense of humor is really funny, and he can be really sour and laugh at himself and laugh at tragedy. With this character and Magic Magic he took us with him, and I was surprised he hadn't played a wider variety of characters.
Have you seen any of the shorts he has recently directed?
I saw his first one, and I liked it a lot. It was very strange.
Are you to blame for any of that? The reinvention of Michael Cera?
I don't think he is consciously doing it. The reinvention of Michael Cera is something created by the media. Michael Cera is not some nerdy soft spoken person. That is just a screen, or a shell. He is a great artist, plays great music and writes really beautifully, and is really smart and savvy and ironic and rides his bike around Brooklyn. He's not like Juno. He has always been so many other things. He has always had a huge interest in film, and he is a huge cinephile. He is always writing short stories, and it was only natural that he would start directing. He's only 24, too.
I am excited to see 'Magic Magic.' Tease it for me.
I call the film the "feel bad movie of the year." I don't know if you are a fan of Polanski, but I am a huge fan of Rosemary's Baby. It was a really conscious trip to bring the tone of those movies which is for me the perfect mix of tragedy and comedy, and I feel Magic Magic has that. It was shot by a genius DP Christopher Doyle, who made the film look really really gorgeous. Everyone is really good in it. It makes you feel unsafe and disturbed, and it also makes you laugh. It has a comedy that is very sharp and seductive, at the same time while the character is going through an awful tragedy. It is constantly keeping you at the edge of your seat, where you are not enjoying but you want to see more. It is like the evil twin of Crystal Fairy. Quick Questions with Sebastián Silva
Favorite fruit? Watermelon, dry mango.
What did you have for breakfast? I had a blueberry banana muffin toasted with butter, and with green tea. I was going to have an early lunch so I didn't have a big breakfast.
Age of first kiss? I think it was like, uh, 30. It took me a while.