Sitting Down with Michael Cera and Sebastián Silva to Explore Their New Film ‘Crystal Fairy’

To tweak the words of Richard Brautigan: sometimes life is merely a matter of mescaline in a cup and whatever intimacy your shared hallucinogenic trip affords. Whether consciously or unconsciously, everyone wears a mask in order to go about their lives. But when stripped of our inhibitions and chemically inclined to expose what lies under, there’s much to be explored within the self and those around you. And in Sebastián Silva’s latest feature, Crystal Fairy, he transforms the typical drug movie or road movie into a larger tale about unearthing the personalities of his characters as they set off an a psychotropic journey on the beaches of Chile.

As the fourth feature from Silva, Crystal Fairy was a spontaneous departure for the 34-year-old Chilean director. While his previous films followed a tight screenplay and production, this film was a much looser experience, allowing the movie to breathe on its own and letting the idiosyncrasies of its characters penetrate the screen. Starring Michael Cera as Jaime, the film focuses on his personal journey from an abrasive and impatient need to speed life along while constantly looking for an escape from reality, to someone who allows himself to be in the moment and connect with the people and nature around him.
 
After being coked out and drunk at a party, he meets an eccentric and loving woman known as Crystal Fairy (played wonderfully by Gabby Hoffman) and invites her to go to join him on a trip up the coast, where he and his friends plan to find a San Pedro cactus, make some mescaline from it, and roam the beaches. When she actually shows up the next morning, he regrets his invitation. But what at first feels like the burden of an outspoken and almost too-hippie-to-handle presence on their trip becomes a fragile yet comforting figure for them as their journey continues. The most interesting part of the film kicks off when the drugs finally begin to take affect, as we see Jaime’s personal transition into a better person, and Crystal Fairy’s fanciful facade begin to chip away.
 
Based on a real experience he had more than a decade ago, Silva’s Crystal Fairy doesn’t adhere to the myriad genres it would assume to fall under, but rather plays out with a feel-good attitude that’s worth the psychological trip to the beach. Yesterday, I got the chance to sit down with Cera and Silva to talk about the freeing process of crafting a film like this, their relationship with one another, and waking up with blank script pages covered in ketchup.
 
I thought Crystal Fairy was much more about the characters’ psychological journey throughout the film, rather than it being just a road or drug movie. Was that the story you wanted to tell, rather than what someone might assume from hearing about it?
Sebastián Silva: Yeah, and it’s nice that you noticed that because some people like to call it a drug movie, but that doesn’t really make much sense. They would call it a car movie because there’s a car in it. It’s weird.
Michael Cera: I think it’s because drugs are tantalizing to people. The topic, the contraband aspect of it, that excites people.
SS: But I did want to share Jaime’s journey—how he comes from being judgmental and impatient and selfish to realizing those same aspects of himself and feeling like he needs to overcome them. He ends up shedding tears for somebody else’s tragedy and I feel that’s a really big step in his spiritual life. That was important for me to portray in this movie. And the journey of Crystal Fairy is really important for me as well, but it seems a little more simple too. The fact that you would cover yourself up with a fantasy and create an alterego just to hide from your pain.
 
But she was much more self-aware than Jaime.
SS: Yeah, exactly. She was hiding something and knowing it, whereas he was completely unaware.
 
How did you connect to Jaime? Did you two collaborate on who you wanted him to be?
MC: Yeah, we talked about it before going out there. It’s really just in his actions and his treatment towards Crystal Fairy. For me, the key to the character and his own kind of self-serving attitude is that he invites her and then she calls him and he’s like, "How dare she?" So he’s just unfair and unconcerned with other people’s situations and feelings—not because he’s evil but because he’s ignorant and blind in a way. So the character came out of those actions.
 
And you’re watching it removed from the trip they’re on, it’s not subjective. More than seeing his drug journey, you’re seeing his personality change.
MC: The drug is the thing that he’s projecting all of this importance onto for some deeper meaning. It seems to him like a fix for a lot of problems he’s not even consciously able to address, and then when it doesn’t fix them, he doesn’t know what to do and freaks out. And it seems like going through the exhaustion of freaking out and suffering something, coming face to face with it, he can relax, and exorcises something for that moment.
 
How did you two meet and begin working together?
MC: I wanted to meet Sebastian after seeing The Maid, so I sought him out and we met and then it happened naturally after that. He had a script for a movie called Magic, Magic that we ended up making and there was a part in it that I really loved and wanted to play. So then Crystal Fairy came about while we were waiting for that to get funded and we just decided to go and make this movie. 
 
You were shooting off a treatment and not a full screenplay?
SS: Yeah, the treatment, but it was more of a screenplay with numbered scenes but no dialogue. And it was about twelve pages of that or more and beside it there were so many notes with lines for dialogue or little nuances or objects. It was weird, I remember waking up in the hostel in the town for the gypsy scenes and being like, What are we doing? What is this movie? This is never going to work. I would wake up and look at the screenplay, like, what are we doing today, like I usually do when I’m shooting, but this time, I would wake up and have these gross pages full of ketchup stains and be like, what is this shit? Where are we? It just felt like we were never going to pull it off for real—
MC: I never knew that you had ketchup all over.
SS: But I remember having these seven pages of nothing and being like, where is my movie, man? But it worked out just fine.
MC: I never felt like there was a lack of confidence.
SS: But because it felt that it was such a small scale—even though there was money involved and we needed to respond to that and there was a responsibility—for some reason I didn’t feel any pressure whatsoever. 
 
Did you find that freeing?
SS: Really freeing! Yeah. But at the same time it made me feel like lazy—like, am I being a mediocre director not knowing what I’m doing and not having so much control? It’s a fine line where you’re asking yourself, should I just get more involved and try to control things more or just stand back holding the magic and give it a path? And it worked out fine and a lot of fears were overcome by the process. It made me such a much more confident director and taught me about trusting my instincts and trusting actors, and not rushing so much with time and learning that control is not always a good thing. Sometimes it can really get in your way when you’re trying to be so controlling. 
 
Did you bring that sentiment and what you learned on Crystal Fairy into making Magic, Magic?
SS: Absolutely. It was amazing to have made Crystal Fairy right before because on the set of Magic, Magic—which was the biggest movie I’ve made budget-wise, and it was a full-length screenplay and working with a ever prestigious DP—it was a lot more pressure. But that didn’t get in the way of bringing the spontaneity that I learned in Crystal Fairy to that set. I remember when we were directing the jumping rock scene I felt like I was on a Crystal Fairy set. I was just yelling shit like, "Now do this! Now do that!" And the camera would roll forever, so I learned a lot of techniques about how to get stuff from Crystal Fairy
 
As an actor, how it is going from one film that’s so loose and to something much tighter in succession and with the same director?
MC: I knew that they were such different movies and that they couldn’t be the same process. But the fun thing about working on a movie is that you’re finding the tone and creating the language of it. So of course they were such different experiences but just as enjoyable, how different they were was just as fun too. 
 
Did your idea of the film change as you went along because it was spontaneous?
SS: Not really. Although before you start shooting you always have an idea of what your movie’s going to look like and be like and how the tone’s going to be. And then luckily I’ve been pleasantly surprised that it is somewhat similar. But it’s like imagining in a painting and then painting it—they’re so far away really. Or if someone describes a person to you and then you imagine the person and then you meet them, and really they look nothing like that. If you drew them before it would be totally different. So then I usually look at footage the first day and I get the tone from what we did. It’s actually watching the footage even more than being there shooting it that really sets up the tone of your movie for me—to see it on a square and you’re like okay, this is how it looks, this is how they talk, this is how the camera is going to move, this is how loose it is. And I was completely satisfied the first day. But in terms of structure and story, it was similar to what I had imagined.
 
I remember a few years ago a friend telling me about what an amazing dancer Gabby Hoffman was. And then of course, the first time you see her in the film she’s dancing away.
SS: Oh yeah! 
 
She was totally perfect for the role.
SS: Yeah, it’s amazing how perfect she was. I can’t imagine anyone else playing Crystal Fairy now, she is Crystal Fairy, she’s more Crystal Fairy than the Crystal Fairy herself.
 
She was based on someone you really had an experience with, so have you tried contacting her?
SS: The whole story is based on a real experience that I went through like twelve years ago. She was traveling around South America at that time and I bumped into her at  Whalers concert and we went and took this cactus together and one morning we had breakfast and then she took off. I don’t even remember her real name. I haven’t heard from her ever. I don’t have a her email, can’t look her up, anything. But yeah, working with Gabby was amazing. She is a very free spirit, very courageous, brave woman in general and as an actress, that is really amazing. It’s also that they’re your age, like Michael and Gabby, they’re around the same age as me, so you can be like, "Come on dude just fucking jump from the rock! I’ll do it, I’ll jump first." Because if you’re working with a 40-something you’re like, "Oh would you please jump from the rock," and they’re like no and you’re like come on, man! When it’s younger people your age the communication is different and if that’s not there then it;s really a problem. If the people are still your same age and it still feels awkward, then your collaborating with the wrong people. But going back to Gabby, she’s just at your mercy, she really is available for whatever you want and she does it so skillfully too and she’s so natural. Her fearless attitude is contagious and it was great to have her around.

Watch a Trailer for Sebastián Silva’s ‘Crystal Fairy’

We’ve already seen some footage from Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva’s first collaboration with Michael Cera, Magic Magic, which hit the festival circuit and will be released on DVD later this summer. This week, we have a new trailer for the second collab, a film called Crystal Fairy, which won Silva the Sundance Directing Award for World Cinema (Dramatic). You can probably guess by its name, does indeed involve drugs and a certain kind of whimsical female stock character.

Taking a spiritual journey abroad the way many truth-seeking, young-people do, narcissistic, boorish Jamie (Cera) finds himself in Chile, but doesn’t seem to know a whole lot about the language, or anything else except for that he wants to party. He meets another American, a free-spirited sprite named Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann!), and together, they head out with some friends to experiment with drugs and find themselves along the coast. At one point, Michael Cera steals a cactus from a woman’s front lawn. The film will be released on July 12th, but in the meantime, watch the Manu Chao-packed trailer below.

The Fifteen Most Anticipated Films at This Year’s Sundance Film Festival

Amidst the delirium of award season, the annual Sundance Film Festival creeps up every January to remind us each year that the scope of Hollywood is changing and being infiltrated with a host of new talent and emerging artists from around the world. The festival is a beacon for A-list talent as well as those new to the world of cinema who are getting their first premieres and chance at large-scale recognition. With an enormous slate of films, the festival will commence on Thursday and feature new work from those you already know and worship and those whose names are on the tip of our tongues.

Among the films being shown are sophomore efforts from writer/directors Zal Batmanglij, James Pondsoldt, and Shane Carruth, as well eagerly-awaited follow ups from Richard Linklater and Michael Winterbottom—to hint at the list. In the past few months, we’ve had a chance to see some of the films before their premieres, and it’s safe to say that this year looks to be a truly thrilling one as distributors latch onto films and prepare them to hit theaters later this year. So for those of you not heading to Park City this week, here’s a list of our most anticipated Sundance narrative features for you to get excited about.

1. The EastZal Batmanglij

Someone is attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to consume harmful products they manufacture. An elite private intelligence firm is called into action and contracts ex-FBI agent Sarah Moss to infiltrate a mysterious anarchist collective, The East, suspected to be responsible. Skilled, focused, and bent on success, Sarah goes undercover and dedicates herself to taking down the organization. She soon finds, however, that the closer she gets to the action, the more she sympathizes with the group’s charismatic leaders.

2. Upstream ColorShane Carruth

Kris is derailed from her life when she is drugged by a small-time thief. But something bigger is going on. She is unknowingly drawn into the life cycle of a presence that permeates the microscopic world, moving to nematodes, plant life, livestock, and back again. Along the way, she finds another being—a familiar, who is equally consumed by the larger force. The two search urgently for a place of safety within each other as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of their wrecked lives.

3. CO.G.Kyle Patrick Alvarez

David has it all figured out. His plan—more a Steinbeckian dream—is to spend his summer working on an apple farm in Oregon with his best friend, Jennifer. When she bails out on him, David is left to dirty his hands alone, watched over by Hobbs, the old farm owner and the first in a series of questionable mentors he encounters. First there’s Curly, the friendly forklift operator with a unique hobby, and then Jon, the born-again rock hound who helps David in a time of need. This first film adaptation of David Sedaris’s work tells the story of a prideful young man and what’s left of him after all he believes is chipped away piece by piece.

4. The Spectacular NowJames Ponsoldt

Sutter Keely lives in the now. It’s a good place for him. A high school senior, charming and self-possessed, he’s the life of the party, loves his job at a men’s clothing store, and has no plans for the future. A budding alcoholic, he’s never far from his supersized, whisky-fortified 7UP cup. But after being dumped by his girlfriend, Sutter gets drunk and wakes up on a lawn with Aimee Finicky hovering over him. Not a member of the cool crowd, she’s different: the “nice girl” who reads science fiction and doesn’t have a boyfriend. She does have dreams, while Sutter lives in a world of impressive self-delusion. And yet they’re drawn to each other.

5. Touchy FeelyLynn Sheldon

What happens when a family’s delicate psychic balance suddenly unravels? Abby is a free-spirited massage therapist. Her brother, Paul, an emotional zombie, owns a flagging dental practice, where he enlists the assistance of his equally emotionally stunted daughter, Jenny. Suddenly, transformation touches everyone. Abby develops an uncontrollable aversion to bodily contact, which seriously hinders her chosen profession and the passionate love life she once shared with her boyfriend. Meanwhile, rumors of Paul’s “healing touch” begin to miraculously invigorate his practice. As Abby navigates through an identity crisis, her brother discovers a whole new side of himself.

6. Interior.Leather bar.James Franco/Travis Matthews

The 1980 film Cruising, starring Al Pacino as an undercover cop investigating a murder in the New York City gay, leather, bar scene, was plagued with controversy, and its director was forced by the Motion Picture Association of America to cut 40 minutes of sexually explicit material. Those 40 minutes have never been screened publicly. Filmmakers James Franco and Travis Mathews set out to reimagine what might have transpired in those lost scenes in this intriguing film about the making of a film.

7. Ain’t Them Bodies SaintsDavid Lowery

Bob Muldoon and Ruth Guthrie, an impassioned young outlaw couple on an extended crime spree, are finally apprehended by lawmen after a shootout in the Texas hills. Although Ruth wounds a local officer, Bob takes the blame. But four years later, Bob escapes from prison and sets out to find Ruth and their daughter, born during his incarceration.

8. Kill Your DarlingsJohn Krokida

While he is attending Columbia University in 1944, the young Allen Ginsberg’s life is turned upside down when he sets eyes on Lucien Carr, an impossibly cool and boyishly handsome classmate. Carr opens Ginsberg up to a bohemian world and introduces him to William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Repelled by rules and conformity in both life and literature, the four agree to tear down tradition and make something new, ultimately formulating the tenets of and giving birth to what became the Beat movement. On the outside, looking in, is David Kammerer, a man in his thirties desperately in love with Carr. When Kammerer is found dead, and Kerouac, Burroughs, and Carr are arrested in conjunction with the murder, the nascent artists’ lives change forever.

9. May in the SummerCherien Dabis

May has it all—a celebrated book, a sophisticated New York life, and a terrific fiancé to match. But when she heads to Amman, Jordan, to arrange her wedding, she lands in a bedlam of family chaos she thought she’d transcended long before. Her headstrong, born-again Christian mother so disapproves of her marrying a Muslim that she threatens to boycott the wedding. Her younger sisters lean on her like children, and her estranged father suddenly comes out of the woodwork. Meanwhile, doubts about her marriage surface, and May’s carefully structured life spins out of control.

10. What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About LoveMousy Surya

At a high school for the visually impaired in Jakarta, Indonesia, the students are like any other teenagers: they attend classes, pursue artistic endeavors, and fall in love. The most privileged of the bunch, Diana, patiently awaits signs of womanhood and humors her mother’s attempts to mold her into the perfect girl. The beautiful Fitri has no shortage of male attention and enters into a passionate affair with, unbeknownst to her, a hearing-impaired punk rocker who is masquerading as a doctor. Meanwhile, Maya, blind since birth, aspires to be an actress and performer. Regardless of physical barriers, the students find ways to communicate and collaborate, enabling them to connect—with each other and to the outside world.

11. Crystal FairySebastian Silv

Jamie is a boorish, insensitive American twentysomething traveling in Chile, who somehow manages to create chaos at every turn. He and his friends are planning on taking a road trip north to experience a legendary shamanistic hallucinogen called the San Pedro cactus. In a fit of drunkenness at a wild party, Jamie invites an eccentric woman—a radical spirit named Crystal Fairy—to come along. What is meant to be a devil-may-care journey becomes a battle of wills as Jamie finds himself locking horns with his new traveling companion. But on a remote, pristine beach at the edge of the desert, the magic brew is finally imbibed, and the true adventure begins. Preconceived notions and judgments fall away, and the ragtag group breaks through to an authentic moment of truth.

12. Il Futuro (The Future), Alisha Scherson

When her parents die in a car accident, adolescent Bianca’s universe is upended. Staying alone in the family’s Rome apartment and entrusted with the care of her younger brother, Tomas, she struggles to hold things together as her place in her surreal new world becomes blurry. Life is further complicated when Tomas’s gym-rat friends invite themselves to stay indefinitely. Using Bianca as a lure for a heist they’ve concocted, they convince her to initiate a sexual relationship with enigmatic blind hermit Maciste, played by Rutger Hauer. But as the two spend time together, Bianca unexpectedly finds normalcy and acceptance in the aging B-movie star and former Mr. Universe’s rococo mansion.

13. The Look of LoveMichael Winterbottom

Welcome to the scandalous world of Paul Raymond, entrepreneur, impresario, and the “king of Soho.” Seeing mediocrity in the smutty sex parlors of London, Raymond unveils his first “gentlemen’s club” in 1958 and gradually builds an empire of clubs and erotic magazines that brings him vast wealth while affronting British sexual mores. It also brings a litany of obscenity charges, a failed marriage, troubled children, and personal tragedy.

14. Before MidnightRichard Linklater

We meet Celine and Jesse nine years after their last rendezvous. Almost two decades have passed since their first encounter on a train bound for Vienna, and we now find them in their early forties in Greece. Before the clock strikes midnight, we will again become part of their story.

15. The Necessary Death of Charlie CountrymanFredrik Bond

Obeying the last wish of his deceased mother, young American Charlie travels to Eastern Europe with no plans. He lands in a truly unknown place—wilder, weirder, and more foreign than he could have ever imagined. Committed to spontaneous, explosive, and instinctive acts, Charlie now finds himself pursuing an equally lost soul named Gabi, a mysterious Romanian woman unable to shake her dark, violent past.