michael cera and the magical cactus
"I'm going to a pretty place now where the flowers grow, I'll be back in an hour or so!" Michael Cera stars in the psychedelic road trip film Crystal Fairy and the [mescaline-filled] Magical Cactus.
Michael Cera, Crystal Fairy and The Magical Cactus, 2014
Everyone loves Michael Cera. His two minute long cameo in This Is The End as the threesome-having, Rihanna-slapping, cocaine-fiend version of himself is often said to be the best part of a totally hilarious film, mostly because he's known for playing the endearingly dorky protagonists in Superbad, Juno and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Crystal Fairy and The Magical Cactus was directed by Sebastián Silva and filmed over 12 days in Chile as a way to leave the country without feeling like they'd achieved nothing, after funding for the film they were supposed to be filming there (Magic Magic) didn't come through. Based on Sebastián's real life experiences twelve years ago of a hippy-girl who called herself Crystal Fairy and his search for the mescaline-filled San Pedro cactus, Michael plays the insufferable instigator Jamie, Gaby Hoffmann plays crazy Crystal and Sebastián's brothers play Jamie's Chilean mates. During filming, cast and crew took a real road trip, drank a real San Pedro cactus and found the real Crystal Fairy. Michael Cera talks to i-D about trips, ego, road and hallucinogenic...
Did you know Sebastian Silva before Crystal Fairy?
Actually I was a fan of his. I saw some movies he made and facilitated a meeting with him. I think he was in Los Angeles at the time and I didn't know if he spoke English or if he lived in the States or anything but it turned out that he'd lived in New York for 10 years or something so we had a good meeting and became friends pretty instantly and were just like "ok, well why don't we see if there's something we can work on together?"
You were in Chile anyway filming Magic Magic at the time…
Well I went down there and was studying Spanish for Magic Magic and we hadn't got all the funding for Magic Magic so it was kind of a leap of faith and then I was there for three months and the funding still hadn't come through so that's when I was like 'ok I get it, go home now,' because it didn't seem to be happening and then it felt a little hopeless, it felt like we might not ever make Magic Magic. That was sad because I'd spent all this time there, we'd really geared up our minds getting ready to do it and then it felt like it was never going to happen. So I went home and Sebastian called me up and was like 'why don't we go back, we'll just go and make this other movie that won't cost any money and will only take 12 days and we'd have something to show for it and not end on such a sad note?"
And you'd learnt a whole language for it!
How similar do you think you are to your character Jamie?
I don't think I'm close to him personally.
Was he based on someone you know?
No, not really, I took little elements from people I know, you know, just the way you do to make someone make sense to you but it wasn't really based on anything to do with me. You know, this is a true story, it happened to Sebastian. I don't think Jamie was based on him really but I think Sebastian has a definition of characters that have a lot of dimensions, they're not so black and white, like one is the bad one, one is the good one. I find my character sympathetic in a lot of ways because he's so irritating and sort of self-centred and self-serving and… annoying!
What about the Michael Cera you played in This Is The End?
I don't think I'm like that!
Did Rihanna actually slap you?
Yeah she did slap me. I think she was a little nervous about it at first! Everyone was hanging around and talking before the scene, there were a lot of fun people on set and there was a lot of hanging around so I met her briefly but I didn't think we were friends, I'd only talked to her for a few minutes but you know, she's ok. She finally hit me really hard because I think I was really encouraging her to… It looks bad when you don't make contact, you can kind of tell.
So you'd rather they always hit you for real?
Yeah! And she did it!
So anyway, how long did you spend in Chile?
I think in total something like seven months. I was there studying for a while and then I left and then I went back and then I went back again to do Magic Magic.
How long did it take to film Crystal Fairy?
We actually shot that movie in something like 12 days. It was incredibly fast.
So it was like a real road trip?
Yeah, we started in Santiago and shot the movie more or less chronologically and then drove all the way north to most northern part of the country and we were shooting in transit and would just stop in little towns and then just keep shooting all the way to the beach. The movie was really mapped out the way we shot it.
What was the most memorable part of the trip?
The whole thing was so much fun, it was just like a big trip with friends, we were all sleeping in a cabin together and eating dinner together and having fun during the day and kind of working. Some days would just be travel days and then we'd stop and do a scene, like a transitional scene that wasn't in the outlines, just to incorporate the location and beef out the story a bit.
Have you ever been on a real road trip?
Yeah I've done that a lot. Actually the first time I was in Chile I was with Sebastian's family and we went on a road trip, for two weeks we were on the road. It wasn't too different from the one in the movie, we went to some of the same spots and slept on the beach and I was really, really sick and it was freezing on the beach because it was winter but we had so much fun.
Have you ever regretted talking to or inviting a stranger somewhere in real life?
Yeah of course, I've been stuck in conversations with people where you realise very quickly that you're trapped but I don't think I've ever done a road trip with someone that I didn't love. That would be hard I think, you'd just be stuck in a little car together driving each other crazy.
Sebastian Silva said it was based on a real life encounter, do you know what happened to him? Did you ever meet the real life Crystal Fairy?
Sebastian had actually lost touch with Crystal Fairy since the trip actually happened in 2002 or something and then he got in touch with her again not long ago, he got her phone number and he called her. I was with him when he called her, it was the first time he spoke to her in like a decade! That was really cool and she saw this movie with her name on it, directed by him, can you imagine how weird that must have been for her?! I think she probably had a real strange experience watching it…
So you actually tried the San Pedro cactus juice, what happened?
Yes, everyone who drinks it in the scene tries it but weirdly we didn't feel anything maybe it was the preparation of it or maybe it was the build up of it and we were all expecting something, I don't know.
Did Sebastian Silva feel something when he tried it in 2002?
Yeah, he had a real experience with it. I don't know what he went through with it specifically, I think it was not too different from the movie. In real life him and Crystal were much better friends than in the movie, they were really enjoying each other but he saw her in a different light and had much more love and compassion for her than he had felt before.
Where did you get the San Pedro cactus from in real life?
It was kind of like what we do in the movie. We drove around and asked people. We saw it in people's farmyards and we just asked them.
Would you recommend it to anyone?
Taking the drug? I don't know if I would recommend it, I don't know if I would recommend something like that to someone. I mean if someone is seeking that then they might benefit from it but you can have a good time or a bad time with it probably.
But Gaby had a proper trip…
Yeah, Gaby felt something. I'm not exactly sure what she went through. When she did it I wasn't there, she went off and shot herself and it was my one day off in the movie and me and Sebastian's brother went on a big hike up this mountain and we almost died coming down. We kind of bit off more than we could chew you know. At one point I was like '…should we really have done this?!'
Is Gaby a bit of a hippy in real life?
I don't know if I'd say hippy, she grew up in New York and she's really intellectual I think. I think she's just really individual, a very independent thinker.
Have you ever had a hallucinogenic trip?
No, I never really did anything like that. I actually got real nervous the night before because I knew we were going to be on camera and we were suppose to be working and I didn't know what was going to happen. Maybe that's why we didn't feel it so much because there was a really big build-up so it was a bit of an anti-climax. But Sebastian made it really safe, he said if anyone was having a bad time we could afford lose a day and just relax.
Do you think you'll ever try it again to see if it works?
I don't have any active plans to do that! I think if you're doing that then you have to be really focused on that, like that's what you want to do in your life, you have this mission to have this big experience, for it to be a big moment in your life.
Do you think it turned out to be as big an experience for Jamie?
I don't know, that's one of the big mysteries of the character to me like why is this guy on his own in South America, desperately, compulsively seeking this drug? I think it seems to me like he's one of these guys who just wants to have these experiences to talk about them. He likes to be an authority on drugs. But then I think he finds something out about himself, that maybe he unconsciously wanted to tap into.
If that part was filmed when you had all already drunk the San Pedro juice, how much of the film was improvised?
Well the whole story was very plotted and then the dialogue would be improvised I guess you could say. It's kind of a loose use of the word because it wasn't like improv where you had to find something in the moment like a joke or idea, we were just expressing whatever was happening.
So it wasn't too hard to improvise?
No, it was just like, if I was to talk to you about chocolate, you'd know what to do!
Previously you were typecast as a geek but now, in Crystal Fairy and This is the End, you've been playing more sort of egotistical characters, what were you like in school?
I was kind of a bad student. Not dumb but I didn't really apply myself too much but I loved my friends, I had some really good friends that I'm still friends with.
So you were never a geek?
No, I mean I don't really remember high school that way, is that how you remember it? High school for me wasn't like Saved by the Bell where you had guys with suspenders over here and leather jackets over here. Everyone was just trying things out, trying different ways to get people to like you, you know? I was always laughing with my friends, since the age of like five I always had really funny friends.
What are working on at the moment?
At the moment I'm about to start writing a script for something I'm going to direct for a television project called The Ten Commandments, the Weinstein brothers are doing a Ten Commandments anthology series. It'll be cool! I'm writing it with some good friends and then I'm supposed to do a play at the end of the year if it works out.
Is writing something you want to get more into?
Yeah, I mean I didn't really seek this out, it was offered to me, but that was cool, I was excited to be considered for something like that. It was a challenge and a bit nerve-racking but I decided to give it a shot.
What are you up to for the rest of today?
I'm going to go indoor climbing with a friend later and then I might go see Dallas Buyers Club because I hear it's worth seeing.
Text Felicity Kinsella