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01/21/2013 11:58 am ET Updated Jan 26, 2013

Michael Cera, 'Crystal Fairy' Star, And Gaby Hoffmann On Sundance, Career Reinvention & Beer-Bottle Tricks

Michael Cera has two films debuting at the Sundance Film Festival: "Crystal Fairy" and "Magic Magic." The former was supposed to be Cera's other Sundance feature, but festival audiences took a shine to the shaggy-dog drug comedy about an American buffoon (Cera, in full jerk mode) traveling around Chile with a trio of brothers and a free-spirited woman named Crystal Fairy (a very-naked Gaby Hoffmann) in search of a hallucinogenic cactus called San Pedro. And to think, it almost didn't even happen: According to Cera, "Crystal Fairy" was initially a film that he and director Sebastián Silva made while waiting for financing to come through for "Magic Magic."

I met Cera and Hoffmann at a makeshift studio on Main St. here in Park City, Utah. Cera was friendly enough, as one would expect; Hoffmann, however, was quite interesting. As a child, Hoffmann appeared in films like "Field of Dreams," "Uncle Buck," "Sleepless in Seattle" and "Now & Then." Years later, Hoffmann carries with her a seen-it-all vibe; post-child stardom, she wasn't even 100 percent convinced that acting should be her chosen profession. Being part of a movie like "Crystal Fairy," however, certainly helped ease her career doubts. She's also adept at balancing a beer bottle on her head ...

I saw a picture of you tweeted from last night where you were balancing a beer bottle on your head at a party.

Hoffmann: There's a picture?

Vulture tweeted it. It looked impressive.

Hoffmann: I go from standing up to lying down completely with the whole beer bottle on my forehead without touching it. And then I can also get back up, but I didn't manage to do that last night.

Oh, I didn't know that you stand up.

Hoffmann: [Stands up and demonstrates] I start standing up, beer bottle on my forehead, and I go all the way down to the ground like this.

Is it full or is it empty?

Hoffmann: Full.

And it's open?

Hoffmann: And open! It's very impressive.

[Michael Cera joins us] We were just talking about the beer bottle trick.

Hoffmann: He was looking at pictures of me from last night with the beer bottle. And he was like, "That's cute, but I don't know what's so impressive about it."

I did not say that. I said that they didn't explain that she stands up. And it's more impressive that she stands up.

Hoffmann: [Laughs] Right. No, that I lay down.

Cera: You thought she was just lying down with the bottle on?

And I didn't know the bottle was open.

Hoffmann: I'm going to have to write some sort of letter to the editor of New York Magazine. No, it was an amazing moment.

Cera: And then you, very quickly -- I'm sure you were aware of this, like, within moments -- you had a major crowd.

Hoffmann: I was not aware of anything, Michael. I was focused on my ...

Cera: You were, like ... it was so cool.

Yeah, the picture showed quite a crowd watching. So it seemed like you were the belle of the ball.

Cera: She's my hero. I couldn't do it.

Hoffmann: That's all I'm after. I just want to be Michael's hero. I've succeeded. I can go home now.

I keep hearing rumors that you guys just filmed "Crystal Fairy" while waiting for financing for "Magic Magic", but I don't know if that's true. Is that true?

Cera: It's kind of true. Yeah. It is kind of true. We were trying to get this other movie financed, "Magic Magic," and it hadn't really come through. And we had [laughs] even stooped to some, like, "Little Rascals" hijinks trying to get the money. Like, me and Sebastián, we went to the newspaper in Chile and we did this huge interview and they made it a big story where we're basically, like ...

Hoffmann: Asking for money?

Cera: Pleading for, like, any millionaire to give us money for this movie. We're like, "Hey, we want to make a movie."

Did you specifically ask for a millionaire?

Cera: Yeah. There was this specific Chilean millionaire. I can't remember his name. He's like their Richard Branson or something. You should ask Sebastián. He's got long blond hair. Sebastian showed me pictures of this guy.

Hoffmann: And you were like, "That's the guy!"

Cera: We need to get to that guy, yeah. But anyway, that's our man.

I will admit, because of that, I was dreading this movie in a way because it was just like, "Oh, this is something they did as a goof." But that's not the case. It had a real narrative. It wasn't just you guys walking around, like, "Oh, we're high."

Cera: Well, no. I think Silva always probably writes stories based on the emotional elements -- and that's really happened to him with "Crystal Fairy." So he had the experience in his mind and I think he knew that the story he wanted to tell was an emotional one. And he went from there and he had faith in what he was doing.

Hoffmann: Yeah. We all knew what the movie was about. It wasn't like, let's just pile in a car and drive around with a camera and see what happens. Sebastián was actually very particular and specific, even in the context of something with so few actors, you know?

I like that your character is kind of a dick.

Cera: Yeah. I think he's an unfortunate dick. He's a really unfortunate dick. I think he has a total -- like, he's so ugly in how he comes across, but I think it's probably for very sad reasons. I don't know what he's doing there, really. It seems like he's got some money. He's kind of an entitled rich kid.

He wants to pay for the gas.

Cera: Yeah, he wants to pay for the gas. He wants to have friends. But he also is just so -- who knows what it's like for him back home, wherever he came from, how people react to him? Maybe he's alienated everyone around him. He needs to make friends with these strangers, you know? But he is a dick. He's really ugly. [Laughs]

Was that a trait that you'd requested? Has that been something you've wanted to do?

Cera: You mean to make him an asshole? It was pretty much the crux of the story, I think. I mean, I invite Crystal because I find her very interesting. And I very unfairly turn on her when she takes me up on my invitation and that's really what the driving force of the drama is in the movie -- is that I'm turning on her because I'm an asshole. That's really all it is. Because I don't understand myself.

Gaby, you really put yourself out there in this film. Have you ever done nude filming before? I have no idea if that's the right phrase, "nude filming."

Hoffmann: Well, I'm a porn star [laughs]. I've been nude on camera before. Nudity has never been a big deal to me. I sort of grew up with a lot of it in my family. I just come from a sort of naked world, so I've been naked a lot in my life.

Cera: You were born naked.

Hoffmann: I was born naked. I'm a natural. I'm a natural nude. So I've been on camera naked a lot. I don't know if any of them were real films. No, that wasn't -- that's not the challenge. That's not a challenge for me. I don't know, like, my dad [tapes everything] -- you know, there's always cameras around in my life, so that part is easy for me. That's not the hard part.

What's the hard part?

Hoffmann: Creating a character that works, and that has all the elements that I wanted her to have and I was afraid of not pulling it off because I wanted her to be -- I had a very specific idea of who she was and I wanted that to come across. So the acting is the hard part, not the being naked.

The San Pedro cactus, is that a real thing?

Hoffmann: Yeah, it is. In Mexico it's called peyote. It's in the same family.

It's just weird to see it just growing in peoples' yards.

Cera: There really were -- all the houses we go to and see the cactus in peoples' yards, they were really just there.

Is it dangerous?

Hoffmann: I mean, not unless you're afraid of hallucinogenic drugs, because you could have a bad trip and it could be dangerous.

Cera: I wonder if anyone's ever had some harmful experiences?

Hoffmann: Yeah. Probably not nearly as dangerous as, like, drinking. As far as I'm concerned.

Cera: That's probably true. Few things are.

Michael, is doing a movie like this or "Magic Magic a new direction for you? I mean, after doing well received movies like "Scott Pilgrim" and "Youth in Revolt," which more people should have seen. Did you now want to do something different?

Cera: I just ... no, I wasn't thinking about it. I just really wanted to work with Sebastián. I liked him a lot.

How did you two meet?

Cera: I saw his movie "The Maid" and I loved it and I wanted to meet him. And I didn't really know anything about him: if he spoke English or if he was ever in the country. He lives in New York. And he was in L.A. at the time for the Golden Globes and I just had a meeting with him at the Standard. We got along really well and both felt like it would be fun to work with each other and then kind of both kept that in mind and Sebastián showed me the script for "Magic Magic." And it was originally written for a Chilean character, but we talked about making him American. And yeah, it just worked out. I just knew he was amazing. He's an amazing filmmaker.

Do you like having two movies here? You're kind of the toast of the festival.

Cera: It's great. Yeah, I mean, I haven't really -- we haven't really been doing any "Magic Magic." So far, it's been mostly "Crystal Fairy." It's kind of compartmentalizing a little bit -- but it's exciting, yeah.

Where do you want this movie to go?

Cera: I'm just so impressed that people are watching it and enjoying it. It's so thrilling to me, because it's such a personal thing. We made it in two weeks and it's so personal. It's like a home video. And people are really enjoying it.

So you're pleased with the response?

Hoffmann: I'm blown away by the response. Watching the movie in an 800-person theater was, like, unbelievable.

Cera: Yeah, it's surreal.

Hoffmann: I just want to say "impressed," too, even though that sounds sort of ... I don't know. But everybody was on the same ride that we were on and I wasn't even sure that we knew what we were gonna do. But I wasn't even sure that we were pulling it off. And then to hear 800 people with us every step of the way was really exciting and rewarding. I've actually never had this experience with anything I've worked on.

Really? You've been in quite a few movies.

Hoffmann: Since I've been an adult, I haven't really done a lot of work.

And you had a break.

Hoffmann: A long break, yeah. So it's really nice to feel proud of something and to have people respond.

Are you happy with the way it's gone since coming back to acting?

Hoffmann: No.

Why not? You seem happy now.

Hoffmann: Well, I was very ambivalent for many years after I graduated from college and I wasn't really taking it seriously. I wasn't really doing work I liked, because I couldn't really get work. I didn't even care. I didn't even know. And only in the last year did I decide I really wanted to commit to seeing if I wanted to do it. I'm still not sure, but I was like, "Let me commit to seeing." And I've worked a lot in the last year and it's been really great and now I feel like I know that as an adult, I want to continue exploring myself as an actor. The rest is like ... I was a kid, it's like another person. So I hope that now, I'll be able to really do that. I haven't really had the opportunity to explore that because I haven't been getting any work, to be quite honest. So now, hopefully, that will change.

A movie like this could really do that for you, right?

Hoffmann: I would just like to continue to work. I just want to see what it's like.

Let me rephrase that. Does a movie like this make you feel better about doing movies? Because you seem really happy with this one.

Hoffmann: When I saw "The Maid," I thought I didn't want to keep making movies because I just couldn't -- I wasn't seeing ones I liked and I couldn't get involved with ones I liked. And I saw "The Maid," and it was actually a life-changing moment where I thought, oh, people are making movies like this? I want to keep making movies. So, yes, being in this movie is very exciting and I hope it's a tidal change for me. And I hope I get to keep doing stuff that's exciting. And, you know, that's all I'm after is being excited with myself and engaged.

The 13 new "Arrested Development" episodes all being released at once, which is kind of weird.

Cera: Oh, I know.

How am I supposed to watch them? Are you supposed to just mainline them?

Cera: I don't know. I guess that's independent ...

Hoffmann: There's a lot of pressure in answering that question.

Cera: Yeah. I mean, however you watch TV, you know?

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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Sundance Film Festival 2013
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Sundance Film Festival 2013

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