Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus and 2012 follows a group of Millennials traveling through Chile. Jamie (Michael Cera), an American, is obsessed with indulging in the tenaciously illusive mescaline juice, of the San Pedro cactus, while his three Chilean hosts seem more interested in a beach holiday. Last minute invite Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman) is the catfish that stirs and disrupts Jamie’s idealized intentions. In a privileged moment with director Sebastian Silva and lead actor Michael Cera, I learn how their friendship bloomed into a road movie, with honed improvisational storytelling.
For the full interview, read on.
JustPressPlay: The first question I have is for the both of you, so please feel free to just weigh in. I've been on a few road trips, and it's cool to watch how you get that road trip camaraderie to unfold in Crystal Fairy. I was wondering what your experience was with road trips, and if you brought that into the cinema.
Sebastian Silva: Actually, the movie is based on the same story. 14 years ago I went with my best friend and a woman that went by the name of Crystal Fairy to take mescaline, at the same place, in the film. So, it's based on a true story. It's based on that exact road trip.
Michael Cera: And you know, I had gone on a road trip a few months before we shot this movie, with Sebastian's three brothers, who were in the film. The four of us went on a road trip, basically exactly like the one in the movie. We went up to northern Chile. We didn't go all the way up to Pan de Azucar, but we went to this beach called Punta Choros. We slept on the beach, and we were traveling together for like over two weeks, just the four of us.
SS: Very similar.
MC: Sleeping in a tent on the beach. It was very similar.
JPP: Sounds like a good time.
MC: Yeah. It was great actually.
JPP: Go through San Pedro?
MC: No. We didn't go that far.
JPP: You didn't take cactus with you?
MC: No. We didn't have any cactus. We went to La Sarena, Valparaiso. They were basically showing me the whole country. It was my first time driving around Chile. It was great. It was really beautiful trip.
JPP: Thank you for letting me in on that. How did you two meet and get talking about this movie?
SS: Michael talked to me after watching The Maid (2009) in New York, and then I happened to be in Los Angeles, when he returned. So we got together, and we got along immediately, and then we collaborated on an HBO web series I was doing by that time . After that we knew we were going to collaborate on something else, and then Magic Magic (2013) came about, which is another movie. We were in Chile, waiting to make Magic Magic, and the finances were delayed, so we made Crystal Fairy as a consolation prize. But then it turned out to be great. We made Magic Magic, so we collaborated . . .
MC: Twice in a row.
SS: Yeah, twice in a row.
MC: They’re kind of sister films.
JPP: Can we take a little detour and talk about Magic Magic? I just discovered it this morning, when I was doing research. It's been out since April, is that right?
SS: Oh no. No. It's not out yet. It was shown in Sundance, in the midnight section of the festival, and now it's going to Cannes. After that we don't know when it’s going to be released or by whom.
JPP: The best of luck to you guys. I read over the synopsis. I'm very intrigued. Sounds very cool.
SS: It's really a fun great movie. I liked it. I liked it a lot.
MC: I love it. I can't wait to see it with French people.
MC: Throwing tomatoes at the screen.
SS: Or at us.
JPP: Do they sell tomatoes right outside the theatre?
MC: They do everything but that basically. It's like the rowdiest crowds in Cannes. They're famous for that. They boo for like nine minutes.
SS: They can start booing nonstop and not even listen to the dialog. They just keep on booing.
JPP: Now that episode in Entourage makes way more sense.
MC: It's at Cannes? They’re at Cannes, in the show?
JPP: Yeah. They made this really crappy movie called Medellin about Pablo Escobar, and it totally bombs. It's a great turn in the series...Returning to your real film Crystal Fairy, I heard in another interview that you didn’t have a screenplay. You had kind of an outline?
SS: Yeah, an outline, but it's very similar. People think the outline is the most improvised thing ever. Actually, it's a screenplay without dialog, that's what it really is. You have all the actions written, and dialog comes in handy sometimes, but other times there’s just stuff on your way.
Sticking with dialog doesn’t even give yourself room to come up with better lines, when you are with the actors, in the actual location. There could be a poster in the location that you would like the characters to mention, and how could you possibly write that before you see that poster? So I feel that's what an outline is really. It's a screenplay without dialog.
JPP: Can you give me an example of an action that you wrote in the outline, but with the dialog added later that you made up on the spot?
SS: When they stopped to buy empanadas. I wanted them to stop at some roadside place, but we saw the location, as we were filming. We thought, “Oh, that location looks great, so Jamie is going to get a phone call there from Crystal'. We get to the place and ask, “What do you guys sell.” “We sell empanadas,” he says. “Okay guys, ask for empanadas. You don't want one because you don't trust these people.” All of that was improvised, but from using little pieces from the actors lives. That he threw up once, from a seafood empanada.
MC: Yeah, based on a real experience.
JPP: That really happened?
MC: The story I tell is.
JPP: How bad was the seafood?
MC: It was terrible.
SS: Yeah, you were puking in front of a lot of people.
MC: We were at Sebastian’s friend’s house. It was like a beach house. It was a really nice time, but I was in bed all day, moaning in my sleep, apparently. Sebastian’s friend Manuella tried to take care of me with eucalyptus.
SS: Then, we were going to take off to the city, and you started puking on the driveway, in front of everybody. Everybody was sitting in the car waiting for him and looking at him puke.
JPP: I have been there...That’s a rough spot. Going back to the improvisation of the film, Michael you’ve obviously been more known for your comedic roles, but this film has a little more drama in it than I think people are willing to give it credit for.
SS: Yeah, definitely.
JPP: What did you look to in your comedic roles, to help inspire and prepare you for this one?
MC: I didn’t really draw from anything specific. It was more finding out, as we went, and figuring out what we were doing.
SS: I never really watched any of Michael’s movies. I mean, like one or two, so I was never aware that he was ever typecast. I was not working with Michael because he had something specific that I was looking for. He is just a smart funny friend that I think he could do anything. That's how it felt. We were not trying to pull Jamie’s characteristics from Michael’s other characters that I liked. It was like starting from scratch. It was a completely new character. It never occurred to us to ever even talk about a movie of yours.
MC: No, no, no no! That would seem really weird. I don't even remember us talking about other movies at all. We talked about the character, and talked about people we knew. Just all being around each other for like two weeks, talking about the movie is how I found the tone of us, as a group.
JPP: Came in with a real fresh point of view, it sounds like? It's refreshing.
MC: Yeah, the whole process was new to all of us, basically.
JPP: I just have to ask about this. It really stood out to me in the film, and I want to hear your perspective on it. At the very end of the film, Crystal reveals that she endured a pretty traumatic rape. Based on that, how does that character then feel comfortable, or what is her motivation, in being nude in public places? How does she feel comfortable, walking naked and alone, in the desert, and then getting into a car, with a stranger? What is her motivation for leaving a shower, completely bare, and walking into a room with four guys that she doesn't know?
SS: I feel that she is pushing it so hard, you know? I feel she is pushing that in an artificial way. Maybe it's not even natural for her to be doing that, and she is just trying to provoke, or maybe to prove to herself that she is okay. I feel that her whole character is a little bit like that.
Cera: Yeah, she is a dominatrix.
Silva: Yeah, she is a dominatrix on the side. She goes by the name of Crystal Fairy, and she is talking about love, and eating healthy, and just like constantly pushing a side of her that feels really forced. I think that maybe it's just to cover the pain and the humiliation that she went through. She is being such the opposite of what she should really be.
JPP: Thank you for that answer.
SS: Yeah man.
JPP: I was watching another interview where it was just you [Cera] and Gaby. The interviewer asked why the mescaline scene did not use more psychedelic cinematography. You and Gaby said that it didn't seem like something Sebastian would be interested in. I was wondering what your [Sebastian] take on that? Why did you decide to just show the way they were behaving, in a more documentary style instead of bringing the viewer in on that experience?
SS: I feel that the high of mescaline is not always the same. It’s a very subtle high. Whoever has done it, you know its not like DMT, like Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void (2009), which is something that everybody goes through, with kind of the same experience, seeing kind of something similar. It's a very specific high, DMT right? But mescaline is really more about getting in touch with yourself and how you feel and think. So it felt like it would be completely unnecessary and wrong to stain people's perception of the drug, by forcing them to go through this kid's specific ride.
MC: And it's not what the story is about. Especially at that point. I mean, it would just be such an off point.
SS: It would really get side tracked, if we start showing hands melting, or skies getting super colorful. It would have just had nothing to do with the movie.
MC: It would be off message.
SS: Also, I think it's easier for them to even project your own experiences with the drug, when you see someone just mellowing out and talking nonsense, you know? It feels like you've been there. I felt that was just enough to make people feel they were high. It was not really about the psychedelic part of drugs, but more of the insights that a drug would give you. Emotional and spiritual insights, you know?
JPP: I like that you let the viewer bring their own experience to it. It reminds me of the mentality in the best horror films. When you reveal the monster, it's not as scary, but it makes more of an impact, when you put in your own vision.
MC: Which is so much like Magic Magic. You never really know what it is that is the problem. It's just in her mind, which is like the most intangible scary thing.
JPP: Have you ever seen Ingmar Bergman's Through A Glass Darkly (1961)?
MC: No, I never saw that one.
JPP: From reading over Magic Magic’s synopsis, it sounds like it shares similar themes. Somebody has some sort of mental disorder or disturbance, and you never really get a look into her mind. If you’re interested, you should check it out.
Thank you guys for talking to me. That was really great.
MC: It's a pleasure. A pleasure.
SS: Nice to meet you.