Michael Cera sheds his "funny guy" geek act to play troubled drug tourist Jamie in Sebastian Silva’s Sundance award-winning Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus. While trekking through Chile in search of a fabled hallucinogen, Jamie finds himself accompanied by a merry band of modern pranksters, including hippie queen Crystal Fairy (the dead-sincere and often nude Gaby Hoffman, sporting unaffectedly bushy pubes). Cinematic drug-fuelled roadtrips have been well-immortalised by the likes of Fear & Loathing, On the Road, etc. But never before by such a ragtag young crew, and for such uncertain reasons. Then again, never before has it been so easy and popular for western backpackers to travel abroad in order to access more "exotic" psychedelic brews, like Ayahuasca in Peru, whether for spiritual growth, expansion of consciousness or just a huge mental mindfuck.
“At least some of the conflict comes from Jamie being compulsively obsessed with the goal of trying a new drug at any cost"
It's worth noting that while drugs were once used by the 60s generation to feel "connected", in Crystal Fairy, Jamie and his gang often just feel alienated. Yet the pay-off – the final, oddly tender and revealing scene of them drinking the cactus brew on the beach – is pure magic. Here Cera spills on his magical filming experience in Chile, how he made tripping seem so real, and what it was like talking to the real Crystal Fairy.
Dazed Digital: You’re known for being a funny guy. Was it challenging to play a more 'serious' role?
Michael Cera: No, it didn't feel more or less challenging than any other job I’ve done. This particular role maybe didn’t feel like that because we were all having so much fun. We’re were all excited about what type of film we were making. It was unlike any other work experience I’ve ever had.
DD: Much of Crystal Fairy’s script seems improvised. Did you have a hand in developing it?
MC: Basically, the director, Sebastian Silva, already had a detailed outline based on his own real-life experience. All of the character dynamics were there, what every scene would be, more or less. We rehearsed by just hanging out together, talking about it in the van, seeing how we worked as a group.
DD: Was the line ever blurred between reality and the script?
MC: The only thing was that Sebastian’s two brothers actually play his brothers in the movie. They were basically being themselves. They have this wonderful, reliable energy as really great friends.
DD: Even though Jamie starts out an asshole, do you think most young people can identify with his searching?
MC: Yeah, I think so. Though most people aren’t brave enough to be as big of an asshole as he is. But I could relate to the character and sympathise with him. Everyone’s looking for love in some roundabout, confused way. A lot of people have demons too. They just don’t wear them on their sleeve like Jamie. What makes the movie not so typical is that there are moments when you sympathise with Jamie, and Crystal Fairy’s annoying. But then it totally shifts around, and we end up holding hands or something. It paints a little more of a humanistic image of the characters.
DD: How would you describe your strange relationship?
MC: At least some of the conflict comes from Jamie being compulsively obsessed with the goal of trying a new drug at any cost. He doesn’t consider anyone else’s situation. And that’s why he and Crystal Fairy have this battle of wills. He wants to focus on getting the cactus, and she wants to control the situation so it's about everybody having a good time. But I think she gets a little too involved in that, lying to herself a bit about who she is. It's unfair of my character to latch on to it, because he likes her but still makes her feel completely unwanted.
DD: Why is Jamie so obssessed with this 'magical' cactus brew?
MC: His back story isn’t really talked about, like where he's from and why he’s alone in South America looking for this drug. Jamie’s alienated from a lot of people and has probably done that a lot in his past. He’s a Type A, self-serving asshole who’s also lonely. He really hurts himself the most. He kinda figures that out for a second in the film, but still, you don’t have total faith that he’s on the right path.
“I know at least one person who went to Peru and took Ayahuasca with a shaman. But I’d be really afraid of it"
DD: What do you generally think about drug-fuelled journeys in search of self-growth?
MC: I know at least one person who went to Peru and took Ayahuasca with a shaman. But I’d be really afraid of it. The magic cactus we eat in the film is more like peyote, or mescaline. I don’t think it's a bad thing for young people to try if they’ve got stuff that they wanna figure something out and explore, but obviously if they get hurt, it's not good.
DD: How did you prepare for the realistic tripping scenes?
MC: What helped was that the actual ground was piping hot, so that made just standing still uncomfortable. I felt like my character could’ve had a similar experience even without the drugs, just from his overwhelming sense of dread.
DD: Anything to add?
MC: Actually, a few days ago, Sebastian got the number of the real Crystal Fairy. He hadn’t spoken to her in 12 years. So we called her up. It was unbelievable. She sounded so sweet and had a southern accent. She’d watched the film, and was just charmed by the whole thing.
Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus is out now digitally, VOD and on DVD
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